Imagine that you have a task to complete. You need to roll a 100-pound boulder up a steep hill. It’s really difficult, but somehow you manage to do it.
Now, you have to roll the boulder up the same hill again. You’re going to be smarter this time. You look around and find a path that is less steep. Progress! You roll the boulder up the hill again, and you get to the top faster. Because you were smart, you were more productive, right?
New day, same boulder, same hill. You’re going to be really smart this time. You strap the boulder onto some apparatus and you use a motor to pull the boulder to the top of the hill. All of this takes you half as much time as pushing the boulder, and you aren’t nearly as tired. In fact, you could move the boulder up the hill ten times if you had to. Now you have hacked your way to being super productive, right? You’ve leveraged technology to do your work for you.
But this isn’t productivity. This is doing something efficiently. This is why your productivity hacks don’t work. How fast and effective you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. That’s missing the starting point.
If you want to be productive, the first question you need to ask yourself is “What is my work?” Unless you find deep meaning in rolling a rock up a hill for no reason, then you shouldn’t be rolling a rock up a hill. Some of the tasks you are doing are just that: tasks.
The second question you need to ask yourself is “What tasks will produce the results I want and need?” There is a lot of work that shows up in your world that looks very much like rolling a rock up a hill. It takes time and energy, but it doesn’t produce any real, measurable results. It doesn’t move you any closer to your goals.
The real “productivity hack” is sitting down alone to decide what your real work is, what work you can invest yourself in, and how you plan to make a contribution. The best productivity hack is blocking the time to do the work that produces the results you want from your life, a big part of that life being your work, and work being one of the ways you make a contribution.