An exploration of sustainable and self-sufficient productivity

The modern productivity space has become overly saturated with hundreds of different products. Each product offers a slightly different solution aimed at helping users to optimize their productivity. In reality, almost all modern productivity solutions targeted at improving individual's productivity fall into one of two categories which both fail to address the actual problem of helping people to become productive:

1. Todo-lists and organization products

The first general category of productivity products are those that follow the todo-list format. There's no doubt that the todo-list concept (although its simple) is a great way to organize yourself and plan things out.

However, planning doesn't always translate to productivity. In fact, it often does not. The actual difficulty in doing something coms not in the planning but in the actual doing. For this reason planning based productivity solutions are only as useful as the person using them is disciplined. In other words, this kind of solution doesn't help unmotivated or unproductive people to become more productive, it just helps productive and disciplined people to become more productive. Of course, that in itself is a very good thing, but it still leaves a huge unsolved problem.

2. Restriction based products

The second category of products involves those that rely on restriction to help people become more productive. These are products like Motion that help eliminate distractions or enforce productivity on the user.

This type of product is effective in making people more productive, and it's able to successfully help people who are both unproductive and productive alike. The issue is that the product then becomes a crutch for people to lean on. In other words, users productivity becomes tied to an external enforcer.

Thus, these types of solutions fail to bring about self-sufficient and consistent productivity. Productivity dependent on external sources is unsustainable and insufficient. Users are just one click away from evading their entire productivity system.

What's the problem?

This goal of these types of products goes beyond just the concept of productivity itself. What it really involves is helping people to actualize their intentions and bring their goals to reality. The value of helping people to foster such an ability is so large that it's difficult to quantify. Enabling people to act on their dreams inevitably improves both their own lives, and the lives of the people that they go on to impact. For this reason, it's so important to consider this problem.

With this in mind, it's clear that none of the solutions mentioned above come close to meeting the standard. Current products are useful in their own niches, but they are unable to help people to develop sustainable and self-sufficient productivity from scratch.

So the question then becomes…

What makes a sustainable solution to the problem? In other words, what does it really take to enable someone with the ability to be productive and actualize their intentions. Specifically, we're concerned with helping people to make genuine productivity a habit in a way that's both sustainable and self-sufficient.

A new framework for productivity

From experimentation and observation, I've formulated a framework for productivity that I believe fosters true productivity. By no means is it entirely novel, but it serves as an abstraction for an effective productivity system that I believe could help many people.

There are three important factors that lead to this kind of productivity.

1. Internal motivation

The step to becoming productive is finding internal motivation. The person needs to be motivated enough to go beyond just the aspiration of productivity. They not only need to want to productive/achieve things or learn things (there are many people who have this aspiration), but they need to have the motivation to follow through with this intention, take the time to figure out their own productivity system, and also to get the work they set their self too done.

This is difficult because the barrier to starting is very high. Figuring all of this out can be both overwhelming and time consuming.

2. Realistic and careful planning

On top of motivation, people need to actually have a functional system of productivity. This involves accountability.

The most ideal source of accountability that is the most sustainable is being accountable to yourself (although this is often idealistic). The next best form (but its better if it actually works more) is being accountable to other people.

In order to be accountable, you need to actually set something that you can be held accountable to. This is where the second step to becoming productive system comes in: proper planning.

Good planning is more nuanced than it may immediately seem. People need to be able to take into consideration what they want to achieve and how they can divide this in a way that makes it feasible. Breaking down large and intimidating goals into smaller steps isn't easy.

It's also very easy for being to over-plan for themselves (this is very common). Since you don't have to actually do anything to write a plan, it's easy to set lofty expectations in your plans for what you are going to achieve. This is actually extremely damaging to any productivity system. Over-planning leads to a failure to meet goals, and a breach of accountability. Once this starts to develop, its difficult to get things done.

3. Building confidence in execution

The final step to becoming productive is actually executing on plans. If you are able to get to a point where you know you will execute on all of your plans (all this takes is just doing it), then you can trust yourself. At this point, you can focus your thinking energy on the planning step, knowing that you will follow through with what you plan. This is an extremely valuable ability (that comes as a result of good planning and consistent execution).

However, the process of executing on all of your plans is obviously much easier said than done. Most people set plans and then never get around to completing everything they set their self to do.

This issue of execution is actually very closely related with the planning problem. If you over-plan beyond what you are realistically likely to accomplish, you get into a habit of over-planning where you almost expect yourself not to accomplish what you set yourself to do.

This has two large detrimental effects. The first is that it can lead to a limiting mindset where you believe that you naturally are unable to achieve what you set your mind to (this is of course a fallacy - failure to achieve is more a reflection of unrealistic planning then it is some innate ability). Second, it leads to a breach of your accountability. Getting into a habit of breaching accountability is a surefire way to render a productivity system useless.

They key to building up planning and execution skills (these two skills must grow in relation with each other) is to develop the skills incrementally. Jumping into them too fast is a surefire path to relapsing (going back to being unproductive because of lack of motivation).

Execution is a habit that is built up over time as you continue to set realistic expectations for yourself and meet them, incrementally increasing expectations as time goes on. This builds confidence in your execution abilities which is important. However, its difficult to both A. know to build this incrementally and B. know your limits well enough to properly set incremental goals for productivity.

The ideal solution

Armed with this framework, we can now conceptualize what an effective solution to the productivity problem would look like.

We would want a system to help people incrementally develop planning and execution skills to help them build confidence in their own productivity. Such a system could help to significantly lower the barrier to becoming productive, helping people to develop sustainable and self-sufficient productivity that they could use to actualize their goals.