How To Be Insanely Productive In One Easy Step

There is a lot of productivity advice on the web--goal setting, things-getting-done-ing, etc.

You might have tried many of these things, and found that they didn't stick. In fact, you might even feel bad about yourself--maybe even blamed yourself for not being able to do something so seemingly straightforward as setting a goal, listing the steps, and ticking them off.

Truth is, not everyone is wired to do it that way. Ever take a Myers-Briggs personality inventory? They are actually pretty useful--as long as you realize that they are a tool to figure out what makes you tick, and not a predetermined limiter for what you can or cannot do. You can do anything. You just might find some things easier than others.

My personality type is INTP. This basically means that I am not a GTD kinda guy. I get sidetracked in ideas. I am not "driven" in the Tony Robbins Awaken The Giant Within kinda way. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't--this isn't a value judgement. But a lot of the self-help, productivity advice out there does make value judgements. You can easily beat yourself up because you didn't stick to the plan, follow the book, implement the template.

That's OK, too.

The truth is, we are all different, and there is no one way that will work--and if you aren't wired to be a GTD'er, it isn't a character flaw. You don't have to keep "getting back on the wagon." You don't need to make your Next Action lists, or Set Your Major Mission Statement. You're OK. You aren't wired that way. I'm not. But I don't need "fixing," and you probably don't either.

So--here is my single step, the one thing you can do when you feel like you are off track:

Think back to a time when you were insanely productive--when you were so lost in focus, that hours flew by like minutes. When, perhaps, you did the best work of your life. List all the things you can remember about that experience. Were you working in a team? Alone? With a list? Under a deadline? What were all of the salient details of that time that made it special?

Then, replicate those conditions as best as you can, whenever you need a boost. 

That's it. David Allen can't tell you, Tony Robbins can't tell you, no one can tell you exactly what those conditions are for you, but you already know what they are, because you've already been there. 

You don't need software, unless you do.

You don't need a Moleskine, unless you do.

You don't need a list.

You don't need a guru.

You already know what to do, better than anyone else possibly could.

The answer, as it has always been, is inside you.

Tweeting About Your Inbox

People who constantly post on Twitter that they have to go answer "300 emails" or "their inbox is OUTTA CONTROL!" are telling their followers one of two things:

Gosh, I'm really important,


Gosh, I'm a mess.

(Or both, I suppose, though that turns out to be unsustainable.)

Just so you know.


People who know me, know that I'm one of the biggest Apple fan boys ever, so it might surprise them to learn that I'm going to take a pass on Apple's new iPad. Your mileage may vary, but I have two particular use cases for such a device: First, I'm a road warrior--an inveterate frequent-flier--and I'm on the road for at least half the year. So, I'm looking for something lightweight, powerful and travel-friendly that I can work on. The second use-case I have is for something I can work on in coffee shops/restaurants or anywhere else I can snag Wi-Fi, since I don't work in a traditional office setting. For those scenarios, again what I need is something I can type on that has significant battery life, in case I need to be away from a power strip for a prolonged period of time.

Yes, the iPad is thin and light, and yes, it does purport to have up to 10 hours of battery life (which, using the MacBook Air Battery Distortion Calculator I'll take to mean 6 hours.) But--and this is a very big but--did you watch Steve Jobs try to type on that keyboard during his live demonstration? Did that look comfortable to you? I haven't seen a device so tailor-made to produce an ergonomic injury since Steve Martin invented the "OptiGrab" in The Jerk. You already know how the touchscreen keyboard is going to feel if you have an iPhone, and just because your typing surface is larger doesn't mean it's going to feel natural or comfortable. Without the haptic feedback of a physical key, the "give" that prevents fatigue from settling in as I type, there is just no way I am going to want to write on that thing for more than 10 minutes (go try it on your window for 5 minutes and tell me how it felt.) The promo video for the iPad trumpets its ability to adapt to how you want to work, but that is only a meaningful distinction if your greatest usability concern is whether to work in portrait or landscape.

If you are a knowledge worker, you already know you can't work on this thing for long. If you are a traveling knowledge worker like me, that means that you'd have to pack the iPad AND a laptop (and an iPhone). In other words, a third device. Jobs claims that the iPad is in fact a third category between the iPhone and the MacBook, but as a consumer I didn't ask for a third device to carry. Apple's marketing team would tell me that it isn't meant to replace the laptop, but if it can't at least stand in for one, it's too big to cart around in addition. The iPad implementation of iWork is pretty, but "I Work" with a keyboard. Even a stylus and some Newton-era handwriting recognition would have been a welcome addition.

This leaves the iPad as media player, and surely it is a beautiful one. Blows my Kindle away for eBooks (though the screen glare might prove fatiguing), and presents a superior experience for movies. Again, however, for my personal needs I am looking for things that travel light, and the single greatest feature of the iPhone is that it gives me the iPad experience in my shirt pocket. Had Apple started with the iPad and then come out with the iPhone a few years later, I might view the iPad differently. Instead, they made the iPhone bigger, which--again--I didn't ask for.

For my criteria as a hard-working, well-traveled knowledge worker, this is not a transformative device like the iPhone was. And yet it was built up to be just that--Apple fostered the hype prior to the event, and then pitched it like it was Moses' third tablet, not a computer. The icing on the cake was Jobs's positioning of the iPad's price point as some kind of boon to humanity. Maybe if it dispensed clean water, or cured TB he'd be doing the world so great a favor. But in the end, it's a big iPhone. Too big for my front pocket, too poorly suited as a writing tool, it is relegated to a coffee table curiosity, something cool to have laying around when your Windows-using friends drop by for drinks. My coffee table books are rarely read.