A (Short) Productivity Treatise

A (Short) Productivity Treatise

Free Time is De-Motivating – How to Stretch Your sp – Emails are Not Good For Your Health

I love to work, and I do a lot of things, so it is only rational that I spend a huge chuck of my time to think about how best to work – a productivity philosophy, so to speak.

One of the things my contemplations had led me to discover is this –there is a very, very, interesting direct proportionality between the quantity of workload(s) w, and productivity p, – i.e. the more work you do, the more productive you become (up to a point) beyond this point chaos sets in.

The red circle indicates the death of the direct proportionality between p and w. It is point where you get completely overwhelmed.

I soon discovered that this is the main idea behind the wildly popular advice, “if you want to get something done, give the busiest person in the room”. It’s also related to the psychology of the ‘resource curse’ – simply put, free time is demotivating.

Like I stated, there is a limit to this proportionality, I call this limit the ‘saturation point’ or sp for shorts.

Here are a couple heuristics I use to detect my sp; 1) a sharp transition from an organized scheduling to a chaotic one which becomes apparent in lagged turnover of ‘to-do-lists’; 2) sleeping LESS THAN 8 hours a day. (And if you think sleeping less makes you more productive, you need to think again.)

So, one of my utmost goals is to delay my sp while keeping quality of work intact. And in case you want to know, it is a hard thing to do.

Anyone who has tried this will tell you that this is very difficult in today’s world, riddled with recalcitrant rabbit holes.

How to Delay Your sp

Or how I have – and attempting to – delay mine:

Un, Check emails at most 3 times a day. Or, creative work is better than reactive work. When email was invented everyone was excited, we had thought it will make us more productive. It is no news that what he had thought will make us more productive is making us less productive. (One of the many paradoxes of progress.) In addition, switching between deep work (more on this later) to shallow works, like checking emails, messes with our attention residue, vitiates focus and shatters productivity.

Deux, Your To-Do List Doesn’t Like you. Have you ever attempted to write a list of things you want to do in the next eight hours but couldn’t manage to finish it in a week? Well, we have all been there.

There is something radically different between writing something you want to do on a paper and actually doing that thing. In the psychological parlance, it is called the optimism bias.

A bland list is not the best, but scheduling can make things better – putting time against things. Not a particularly easy thing to do. But, oh well, what other options have we got?

Trois, finish it if you start it. Or, only handle it once. Handling the same thing, multiple times is the best way to get demotivated. If there is any magic to productivity tips, it is this one.

Quatre, it is better to say NO. Sometimes.

I particularly love this quote from the octogenarian billionaire, Warren Buffet, “The difference between successful people and very successful is that very successful people say no to almost everything”.

You might be smelling a problem here, and rightly so, you have got a good nose – saying NO to things is not the easiest thing to do in the world. That, I can tell you.

Cinq, there is something called barbell and it works. The picture below intimates the idea.

And what does the picture tells us? It tells us a beautiful story, the representation of a bimodal strategy that involves embracing two extremes with little (or no) patience for the middle ground.

It works magic over multiple fields. In finance – investing in high risk (but extremely profitable) portfolios and in low risk portfolios (with a very low dividend, safety guaranteed). Two extremes.

In body building – maximum weight that one could carry followed by intense rest (and then repeat). Two extremes.

And since we are talking about productivity – deep work followed by deep rest. Two extremes.

Note that this will not involve susceptibility to clicking baiting, checking emails (or twitter) 100 times a day, instagraming every single minute or working in 5 minutes increments. Those are unacceptable.

It is means going deep! Working on a problem for a long time (without interruptions) followed by doing nothing, absolutely nothing (where nothing means resting).

Let me repeat, there is something called barbell and it works.

Six, practice fixed scheduling. Parkinson’s law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Put in another way: “The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task”.

I like Isaac Asimov’s version better, “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day”. Practice fixed scheduling.

Sept, rest. When I was in college, I was a rapper, a soccer goalie, and was at the top of my class almost throughout the entire time. The problem is, Nigerian higher institutions make participation in extracurricular activities utterly unbearable (I know, I know, it is stupid).

So, I worked, and worked, and worked, and worked. My work ethic led be to believe that if I sleep six hours (or more) in a day, then I am a low-life, then I am not taking life too seriously, then I am not going to be taken seriously, then I will be fail, then I will be miserable, then I will be sad. I believed it because I acted it out – three hours a night was not unusual at all.

Fortunately, I realized some years ago that my priority in life isn’t to win a game, but to win in life (which composes of many, many games). And that when one is going on a very long journey, ‘hard work’ can be counterproductive.

What am I saying here?

I am saying that playing soccer, accumulating academic degrees, starting a billion-dollar company absolutely requires survival, it requires you to wake up in the morning and work.

“I have realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest and goes on working all the same is a fool” I didn’t say that, the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung did.

Thank you for reading.

(Photo Credit: Barbell)

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2 thoughts on “A (Short) Productivity Treatise

  1. Michael Eggleston says:

    How do you define work life balance or do you think that’s a myth? I have seen so many different approaches to people’s success that I am convinced lies in the things that we love no in what we fear i.e. following our curiosity over playing it safe. However to an extent I have also felt a sort of loneliness at times trying to play my own game and learning as you say the hard game of saying “no” to the numerous cultural distractions that plague the creativity and joy of our society i.e. working for the weekend and ultimately putting off our lives till we retire just to realize that our health was the life we were given. What are your thoughts…?

    • Olatomiwa Bifarin says:

      Great comment Michael. I am actually working on an “Happiness” essay presently, and I think you might like it given the question you asked. You know, it’s a tricky question that I wouldn’t attempt to answer comprehensively. But I will say this, on average, I think we work more than we need to, to satisfy the goal of our happiness.

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