I’ve learned two things recently which I found valuable and I wanted to share with you.
The Reason I Get Nothing Done When I Have A Lot On My Plate
This is something I got from my friend Ethan, explaining his new personal productivity system. He explained the difference between throughput and capacity.
Capacity is how much something can hold. Throughput is how much stuff will flow. These terms are not synonymous– in fact, the more you have of one, the less you can have of the other.
A classic example is a freeway. When traffic is light, it moves very fast. But when traffic is heavy, the highway is practically gridlocked. The more you fill your capacity, the further you lower your throughput.
This has very important implications for how you structure your work, and has a lot to do with my recent resolution to design my work like manual labor. Basically, the more you can clear off your plate, the faster your throughput will be. Allow too much stuff to be going on at once, and you’ll be deadlocked.
So on the basis of this observation, I’ve been completely dropping off my list anything that has a dependency on any other action and I’ve started asking myself this very simple question: what needs to be done first? And then doing it, and only it, until it’s complete and I can go onto the next thing.
And the throughput has been amazing! Previously I’ve gotten gridlocked by thinking about all the other stuff I needed to do, wanted to do, or just wasn’t getting done, and the thing that I was doing took FOREVER. Now, I’m flabbergasted at how quickly things are going. (Of course the last few weeks have been rather light and have been very helpful for working through the back log of FIRST tasks, most of which were Creating Systems.)
The Reason Setting Strict Targets Doesn’t Work For Me
I watched the recent interview Leo Babauta did with Tim Ferriss, and something Ferriss said struck me very hard. He told Babauta a tip he got from a ghost writer who had like, 40 books to his name. “Just write two pages. If you do that, the day is a win.”
Ferriss went on to say that, psychologically, we make a target for ourselves and we don’t reach it, we are very disappointed in ourselves, and then we get even more discouraged because we think, “Tomorrow, I have 2x to do just to get caught up.” When tomorrow comes, we procrastinate getting started because we’re already overwhelmed.
This matched so precisely with how I often feel that I immediately took the advice to heart. It’s kind of like what I was talking about with goals. It’s not enough to just set a target- you have to set things up so you win. Maybe we shouldn’t take these little failures to heart, but the fact is we do, and that discouragement is far too damaging to be permitted.
He went on to say that the ‘easy win’, far from encouraging him to rest on his laurels, actual made him feel far more empowered and accomplished, encouraging him to do more.
That’s what happens to me too, but in the past, I’ve always used a really productive session as benchmark, against which all subsequent performance should now be measured, and that’s exactly the wrong approach– by doing this, you essentially punish yourself for your best efforts.
So. “Just two pages. If you do that, the day is a win.”