The Productivity Contradiction – Do We Really Want to be Highly Productive?

I wish I could grow back down and be young and carefree again. Life was so simple when I was in elementary school. I had no concern for time. Time was forever. There was always more time or enough time. As an adult, I’ve learned time is everything. Time is a non-renewable resource. Without a day being limited to 24 hours, we would care nothing about productivity. And productivity is all about the wise use of our time.

There are two types of productivity: one is vertical and the other horizontal. Vertical productivity is about how you can perform a specific activity as quickly as possible. On the other hand, horizontal productivity is how you fit everything you want into your life – work, family, and hobbies – and organize them so you can get to it all. But there is a contradiction. If we do everything in the most productive way possible, doesn’t that mean we will spend less time in some of the most enjoyable activities? What if the Sunday football game could be played in only 15 minutes? What if you could see and do everything you wanted on your summer vacation in one or two days?

Let’s do some soul searching. As adults, we are over scheduled. We have too much demand on our time from everywhere, not to mention all of those things we want to do for ourselves. It’s this feeling of being overwhelmed that’s a sure sign your life needs to change.   What I found works is to sit down in a quiet place, and in your mind’s eye, throw your whole life into the trash bin. Then reconstruct your life from nothing. What would you really take from your life today and add back? What new things would you include? How would you really spend the day tomorrow? The reason this is important is that often people are trying to optimize productivity for activities that they don’t want to be doing or shouldn’t be doing, so why do them? I often question why people want extreme productivity. If you work a lot and you love what you do, why do you want to do your work as quickly as possible?  Wouldn’t you rather continue working? Or is it that you really don’t like your work?

Now that you’ve determined what it is that you need to do, let’s look at being more productive by stopping those time leaks. Those things that seem to steal away your precious time, and before you know it, nothing you truly wanted has been accomplished.

1.Don’t allow work to drip into your to-do list.  I come from a computer software background, so for those geeks out there, don’t be interrupt-driven.  It’s easier to lump similar tasks together and do them at one time during the week, then to handle every request as it comes in. It’s easier and more efficient to pay all your bills on Saturday then when each arrives in the mail or inbox. Many tasks can be handled in this way. The trick is to keep the requestor happy and this can be done by simply telling them when they will get what they want.

Schedule everything or set aside blocks of time to do things. It’s the only way to get everything you want into a busy schedule. It’s more efficient to hold to your schedule and not allow exceptions except for absolute emergencies.  The reason is there are always exceptions.

2. Learn to say ‘no’. Don’t let other people make their problems, your problem. As you get older and more successful, there isn’t enough time in a day anymore. You can anything, but you can’t do everything. You need to pick and choose. Don’t speak at every meeting, don’t attend every networking event, don’t go to every conference, and don’t agree to every play date for your child.

3. The 80/20 rule applies to almost everything. It takes 20% effort to get 80% of the work done. How much of that remaining 80% of work effort are you willing to do to get to 100% completion or perfection? Is the incremental effort worth it? In my experience, perfection is rarely required so when is it good enough?

4. One of the hardest rules is to not let other people’s dreams and goals take priority over or eliminate yours. This is particularly difficult where you have an emotional bond such as children, spouses, or significant others. Children will demand 100% of your time. Spouses have their own sense of what’s important and what’s not, and it won’t always align with your view. It’s easy to fill your time doing things for others. You need to consider them, but you also need to follow your heart.

Ultimately, enhancing productivity boils down to thinking and planning what and why you are doing something, and then actually doing it.

Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia writes the Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog Cynthia has written the book, “Out of the Classroom Lessons in Success: How to Prosper Without Being at the Top of the Class.” The book serves up tips, insight, and wisdom to enable young adults and parents of kids to know what it will take to forge a successful career, no matter what their academic achievement.



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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