008: The Perils of Over-Productivity



Justin discusses how we productivity enthusiasts (including himself) can verge on the line of being over-productive and some strategies to avoid it.


00:00 Hello and welcome to Process. My name is Justin DiRose, owner of the Productivity Guild and today we’re talking about the perils of over productivity.

00:11 This topic comes as a suggestion from Guild member htmljen. Thanks so much for the topic idea. I feel it’s very relevant for today and something I’ve actually been thinking a lot about over the last couple of weeks, but before we dive in, let’s do some quick hits. In the last episode I announced that I am starting work on a new course over the note taking app Bear. I’ve officially titled this Making Sense of Bear and I plan to release the first few video modules of this over the next couple of weeks to the Pro members of the Guild. As I mentioned last week, this will be available upon its completion for separate purchase, but during the process of making this course, these videos will become available to Pro members of the Guild as I released them just throughout the whole process of making it.

00:57 Additionally, we’ve launched in new consulting service through the Productivity Guild. Basically, if you’re stuck somewhere in your system or you just want a one on one conversation with somebody about maybe the apps that you are using, how to utilize them better, the way you’re thinking about your work, this is, this is for you. If this is something you’re interested in, head on over to productivityguild.com/consulting, fill out the form and we’ll be in touch to set something up with you.

01:25 Now on to today’s topic. In my experience, there is such a thing as being overproductive. It’s something that some of us struggle where on the other end I think some of us struggle with underproductivity or procrastination, but to be honest, sometimes procrastination manifests itself as over productivity too and we’ll get into why that is in just a second. But over productivity generally sits in an area where the desire is to squeeze every bit of efficiency we can out of not just the work that we’re doing but our lives as well.

01:53 This can look like stuff like always trying to get the closest parking spot, or micro scheduling down to the minute and cramming every moment of the day full with something to do, or can even look like constantly tweaking our systems and automation just to get a little bit more efficiency out of them. Well, to see you why this is not necessarily the best thing. Let’s talk about the Pareto principle. The Pareto principle says that 80% of the results that we see often comes from 20% of the work that we do and the remaining 20% of results to get ourselves to 100% comes from 80% of the work. And when we apply this to the concept of productivity, that means that the remaining 20% of our efficiency comes from 80% of the work. To me that sounds a little bit off balance because that means we’re trying to eek 20%, just a little bit more efficiency out of our systems and out of our lives by doing a lot more work and spending a lot more time on it.

02:50 And in a sense, I feel like the value of that gets way out of balance when we’re dealing with productivity. So when you on trying to eke out that remaining 20% of efficiency, what happens? Well, in my personal experience and what I’ve seen with other people is that the focus becomes too much on the process versus the outcome. Our work is all about the output that we put out. My job at the Productivity Guild there is to make sure this podcast gets out, our courses get out, uh, our community members feel connected in our community and there’s discussion going on in the forums and our consulting calls get done. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. You know, obviously there’s other processes that need to take place in the operation of a business, but those are the main value things that provide value to our customers, to our people and our community and to me as a business owner.

03:43 But instead, if I were to focus on eking out this 20% of efficiency, I’d probably be looking at constantly tweaking all these little things on the forums or constantly trying to reevaluate all these little bits of marketing copy or you know, trying to make my video production process faster and faster and faster and faster all the time, whatever that is. But it then becomes, the focus becomes not on outputting content that’s valuable, but on the process to get the content out. And that’s not exactly the right place to be focusing my time. When you focus on getting that extra 20% of efficiency out, it can leave you feeling exhausted without much of a sense of progress, especially when that flips, that flip happens when you switch from focusing on the outcome to focusing on the process. And lastly here, leisure often takes a back seat to an ever increased focus on output.

04:32 This was the default of my life for a long time. I didn’t necessarily work a ton of hours, but I did find myself trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of my life, and this ultimately left me unsatisfied and exhausted because my worth doesn’t come from the output of my life or even from the efficiency of my processes. It took me a while, but I learned that my worth and value comes from the fact that I exist and that no work can raise or lower that bar or my, my sense of value. Now after realizing this, my mindset toward productivity didn’t change overnight. It’s been a year as long focus that I’m still battling against, but I’ve made a lot of headway in overcoming that and out of that process, I’ve learned and realized that sometimes our biggest productivity issues come with how we think about ourselves and our work, because ultimately how we think begets how we act.

05:18 So it’s possible that the way we’re thinking about our work and the way we’re thinking about our lives is resulting in us being overproductive. Additionally over productivity can root from trying to manage the chaos in our lives without setting appropriate boundaries. Frankly, this is why I scaled back my use of OmniFocus. I realized that I was trying to just manage everything in my life without trying to really evaluate what was most important. I had all of these pieces of information flying at me from having two different types of businesses, plus being a dad and a husband and involved in my church and all of these different areas of responsibility and I just had to step back and say enough and realize that there’s certain things that automatically trigger that need to get done. There’s other things that I need some help remembering, which is where my system comes into play and then there’s other things that just don’t need to happen. But when I was trying to manage all of these extra little things, most days I ended up just feeling overwhelmed by all the things I didn’t get done instead of appreciating all the things that I did.

06:15 With all that, we can see that being overproductive is, is maybe not the best thing in the world. There are some people that definitely do benefit from micro scheduling their moments because that’s what their life requires. There are some people that really do enjoy having the closest parking spot and there are some people that they really need to focus on getting more out of their systems. But there is a place where we do run into the law of diminishing returns and that is a fact for everybody where we can put more and more time or money or effort into a problem and we’re really only going to eke out a little bit more efficiency as time goes on.

06:53 So how can you avoid the trap of over productivity? There are a number of solutions out there. We’re only going to cover a few in this episode today due to limited time and my limited experience with other solutions. If you have other solutions that have worked for you, there will be a topic in the Productivity Guild Community for this. So go ahead and find that at community.effectiveremotework.com and share what you think and share what’s worked for you. I would love to hear from you. The first strategy I would recommend is to apply the Pareto principle. How this works in this context is listing out all of the activities that you can think of in an area where you’re feeling like you’re struggling with over productivity. Then find the top 20% of those tasks that are the most value adding tasks and then cut the rest out. Obviously you can’t just drop everything, but if you focus on those top 20% tasks, those are the ones that will net you at least 80% of the results, if not more. Then the other ones can basically become lower value tasks and while some of them may need to get done, some of them you can delegate to somebody else.

07:56 If you’re in a situation where you can do that or some of them you can even just get rid of. So then with the remaining 80% of those tasks, that remaining list, that’s, that’s not your high value stuff. Not all of those can be just dropped, so you may have to do some of them. Some of them you can delegate and then some of them you can just flat out get rid of all together, but if you focus again on that top 20% then you have a semblance of what the most important activities that you need to do in a given time period. Say a week or a month or a day, and then you can focus on getting those done and then you, you can have a satisfaction of knowing I got the most important work done today if the other stuff didn’t get done as well.

08:33 Another strategy is to be intentional with your leisure. A life that values leisure activity is one that’s more fulfilled and recharged. And leisure isn’t just watching TV or stuff like that. It’s things that we can do that aren’t our profession, that are rejuvenating to us. This can be things like even fixing something in our house or making something, changing the oil in our car, playing an instrument, going out for a run, whatever it looks like for you because this is going to differ for every single person. It’s more than just sitting down and watching the latest Netflix show though that can be lumped into this. I highly recommend though that you pick up Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport if you haven’t already, as he has a whole chapter in that book on reclaiming intentional leisure that explains this concept in great detail, but the point is if we can schedule our leisure in and be intentional with it, we create more space in our days.

09:26 We create more space in our lives to be able to actually recharge and reconnect because one of the things that happens when we focus on being overproductive and trying to eke out all this efficiency from our lives is we actually lose our effectiveness because their effectiveness comes from living in a place of balance and not necessarily this balance of like, I’m perfectly at peace inside and all of this stuff. No, it, it’s a place of balance of where we work and we rest. We work and we rest. We do hard things and we do fun things. We do investing things and and heavy things and then we do light things because we need that balance back and forth. We need a space of rest in our lives and leisure is one of the ways that we can achieve that, especially when it comes to physical things.

10:09 Another strategy that’s related to scheduling and being intentional with leisure is to create space for yourself. I’ve talked about this in the past. Having space for yourself is an important thing when we’re trying to recharge our minds. We can recharge our minds by doing physical activities, but we also need to recharge our brains by giving ourselves space. This can look like spending time alone. This can look like having scatter focus time like Chris Bailey talks about in his book Hyperfocus where basically we just sit down and let our brains connect or do an activity that’s a low attention focus and something that we enjoy and just let our brains process through the day because ultimately we’re meant to rest. We’re meant to have that cycle. And so in addition to leisure time, having this space for yourself to recharge your mind and think through problems and connect ideas, that’ll help you get above this chaos that happens in so many of our lives these days.

11:06 And it’ll help you be able to see above the demanding whirlwind of the now and be able to help you see the bigger picture. Because that’s ultimately where we get out of being over productive. Because it’s not just about cramming everything in every moment, but being productive is about seeing the longterm goal where we want to go and, and that idea of success and going for it. And that brings us into the last strategy is which is to know your definition of success and stick to it. If we remember our definition of productivity from episode to productivity has to do with success. When we know our definition of success, then our ability to be productive and chase after that and move forward toward it and develop systems that help us get to that idea of success. We’re going to be way more effective in the long run.

11:53 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode or if you want to connect with others who are in the process of becoming better on their productivity journey, head on over to the Productivity Guild at productivityguild.com. Or if you want to support this podcast and get access to video modules, productivity courses, and more, consider signing up for a Pro membership at the Productivity Guild for just $10 a month. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast. My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.


Oh man, is it being over productive or is it being over-burdened with unrealistic expectations in a world where we think faster computers, faster internet, better automation, and more tools will magically make us more productive? I’m struggling with this myself with multiple responsibilities and wearing many hats to many people. Yep, I’m thinking of redefining my own definition of productivity myself.

Thanks for remind us of the Pareto principle. Have to remember to refocus on the Big Prize. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Determine what’s important to us and redirect ourselves. I was just talking to a fellow bar-fly and he prided himself in going that extra step towards perfection that others wouldn’t. I had to question him about whether he’s just spinning his wheels getting to that last 5% when he should just say enough and go on to the next thing.

:slight_smile: Yes, I’ve come to realize this myself. I was spending way too much time in my task manager and needed to add more action time instead of planning time. I also had to set boundaries using OmniFocus by opening OmniFocus only when I am planning or reviewing.

Thanks for the tip. I’m starting to learn myself that I don’t always have to be a busy-body or look like I’m cranking out widgets. I don’t have to be guilty in having personal time for myself and the family. :+1:

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