How often do you finish your day feeling great about the accomplishments you achieved? Were you able to go into the next day with that same energy? What about the entire week? A whole month? A year just seems out of question. Most people find that their productivity comes and goes in waves; one day, you check off your entire to-do list with extra time to spare, on other days, you struggle to roll out of bed—it’s never sustainable.
The reason for this is simple: we are measuring productivity purely based on output (or rather, achievements or accomplishments)–this is too linear. Instead, we should be measuring productivity as a relationship between input (effort, time, resources) and output (results). Once we understand this relationship, we can develop productivity systems that work for us.
Once a month, you spend 4hrs cleaning your living space. You might feel a sense of accomplishment because you finally got around to getting it done. On the other hand, if you spend an extra 2-5min each day tidying up after yourself, you probably won’t think much of it and won’t get a sense of accomplishment. However, if you calculate it by input and output, you actually only spent 2.5hrs (5min each day for 30 days) instead of the 4hrs if you were to do all the cleaning each month. Which option is more productive? Now you can replace the cleaning task with studying for an exam, preparing for a big presentation, or structuring your computer files and folders.
The opposite could apply as well, rather than spending intervals of time throughout the day or week, you can tackle your smaller tasks in batches, such as answering emails, managing your business social media accounts, or weekly meal prep. Regardless of which method you prefer, the process follows a similar structure, you are maximizing output with the limited time you intentionally set for yourself.
These routines and rituals are your productivity systems—you may not always feel a sense of accomplishment or achievement, but you are creating an environment for sustainable productivity. The more systems you create and naturally incorporate into your daily or weekly routines, the more productive you will be in the long term.
“Goals are for losers, systems are for winners.” — Scott Adams
This quote often raises eyebrows, however, there is some truth behind it. When people set goals, they often think of the end goal and work backwards, creating a series of tasks or objectives that need to be accomplished in order to reach their goal. This is similar to our measure of accomplishment, somewhere along the way, people falter and fail to complete the objectives or tasks they’ve set out for themselves—it’s not sustainable in the long term unless you are somehow able to maintain constant motivation (an unlikely feat).
That’s not to say making goals is ineffective, goals are great for planning and providing direction; think of it as the bigger picture or pivotal milestone you are striving to achieve. Systems are the processes you develop and apply to help you continuously progress towards your goal. Since they are not individual tasks, there aren’t any objectives or achievements you need to meet. Systems are processes you apply to your daily or weekly routines, it's quite similar to practicing discipline and maintaining healthy habits.
Rather than measuring our productivity based on accomplishments or achievements, consider the relationship between your input (time, effort, resources) and the results. Create productivity systems that maximize your output with the limited time you intentionally set for yourself. Use goals for planning and providing direction, but establish productivity systems to help you progress towards your goals.