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The Useless goal of Productivity

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If you are anything like me you probably find yourself sitting down some evenings and saying, “from now on I am going to be the most productive human being I can be.” You then take out a sheet of paper and write down a schedule detailing the most productive day ever. You fill every hour of that schedule and make a self pact to stick to it every day for the rest of forever.

While making it you recall that you once read somewhere that the most successful people wake up at 4:00 AM. You think that if it works for them it will work for you. So you start your day at 4:00. You schedule every hour, focusing on just the work, meals and bathroom runs come as they may, and breaks just won’t happen with this new you. With it all set, you lay down ready for the next day.

You wake up at 4:00 AM  exhausted, but you’re excited to follow the new schedule. You go minute by minute and manage to finish- or at least start- everything roughly on time. Meals and bathroom breaks start to frustrate you, but you push through. The first day you managed 90%, but you hate yourself for missing that 10%. You made everything perfect, why would you miss anything at all?

The next day you snooze the 4:00 AM alarm. Your body fights you as you force it to work hours on end during your busy schedule. You get angry at every phone call, every physical impulse you have. By 5:00 PM you’re sound asleep at your desk. By 7:00 PM you’re playing video games. “This is alright, just a lapse, a break- I’m doing great,” you say.

By the third day you didn’t even have an alarm. The sheet with your new schedule is hidden under a pile of papers. You’ve given up entirely on the ambitious plan. This is the world of productivity hacking. This is the reality behind the promises.

In my life I’ve made your mistake many times. I remember I was sixteen the first time I came up with a detailed schedule that would change my productivity forever, only to forget it by the end of the week. I still periodically make a detailed goal sheet and I still have troubles with reaching my desired effectiveness- however I am leaps and bounds beyond what I used to be at this.

The world today would have you believe that the only path to success is getting up at 4:00 AM and only doing “real work”. That the successful people don’t waste time and that you’ll never succeed if you drink, play video games, or spend hours online. There is some truth to this, for some people. I know that I feel like I’m wasting my life every time I open Social Media or turn on the Xbox. But the reality of productivity is far from this.

Some time about two years ago I got wrapped up in this farce. It wasn’t that 4:00 AM was the only way to be productive, but the appeal to me was the peace and quiet 4:00 AM brought. No one else is awake that early- the world outside is so empty you can practically walk around naked and no one would notice, No matter where you live it will be silent at 4:00. I lied to myself saying that it wasn’t about productivity.

And I did accomplish quite a bit those days. I counteracted my busy schedule by making every meal in the morning and completing my homework and studying before noon.  Was it the time I woke up that made me more productive? No. Waking up at 4:00 AM was my way to escape the people I lived with. It was my dedication to habitual actions that helped.

You see, waking up that early was a necessity of my life at the time. I had 4 to 8 hours of homework daily, 3 to 5 hours of classes, 2 hours to go to the gym, and on most days 7 hours of work to top it all off. There were days where I kept moving for the full 22 hours and still got up to start the next day.

What was the secret? Careful scheduling? Yes. Waking up early? It helped. Motivation? I hated all of it.

In fact I was more productive, but I was at best a B student during this period. So what was it that allowed me to get through the 4:00 AM wake up?

The secret was that it was habitual and gradual. Right now I am nowhere near as “productive” as I was back then, yet I accomplish twice as much in a day. Nearly every day by the time I go to bed I have worked on my books, my website, and read a considerable amount of material- I’ve also spent time with Moose, exercised to some extent, and had some fun. My life now is no less complicated, I’m just better at effective working- even if I miss some deadlines and take days off, I am still producing more than I was in 12016.

I’ve learned that it imbecilic to believe that waking up at a certain time is the essential tenet to productive living. At the end of the day, your total hours of productivity are exactly the same, roughly 12 hours of work. So why do so many successful people stand by the morning routine?

It has to do with total quiet time. While I am more effective, the reason I don’t feel as productive today is that I have a typical 9-5 schedule, that is I wake up and start working around 9:00 AM and I crash by about 5:00 PM. It just so happens that I start my part time work at around 5:00 PM, so I schedule my day such that I have to dish up extra energy when I work for other people. But because of the hours I am awake, I know that I am skirting between everyone else’s time between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. That means I have to do things for others that take me away from my work regularly.

This is why the 4:00 AM schedule works. From 4:00 AM to noon, other people are getting up and getting ready to start their days. By the time the 4:00 AM waker is done working and ready to crash, they have literally the rest of the day available to them. This is a supreme advantage no matter who you are. It doesn’t make you more productive, but gives you something you otherwise wouldn’t have.

…That is, without modern technology. You see, the 4:00 AM model is advantageous, but only  because everyone else around us doesn’t use it, because they’re stuck in a pre- smartphone mentality, post- smartphone age

Productivity now is just as time sensitive as it was 20 years ago, however now everyone has the advantages of the 4:00 AM wake up, simply by using their technology the way it was meant to be used. Now that I’m trapped getting my 8 to 12 hours of work in during the time everyone else is, I have the advantage of silencing my phone and setting notifications for when I need to quit one task and start another. I have access to apps that force me to create habits I didn’t have before without thinking much of it. I have everything the 4:00 AM waker has except the time I wake up.

I say this quite frequently but the main goal for you should not be to improve your productivity but to form new and helpful habits. That is what a resolution is about. This not only improves your own life by making you more well rounded, but it will make you a better writer and will ultimately lead to the effectiveness you desired in your original goals.

I want you to know that the successful writers are not the ones who get up early, nor are they the wealthy ones who write because they can. The successful writers are those who stick to their work with the aim of completing it. The best way to do this is to make writing a daily habit.

I’d like you to take a look at this book.  Those of you familiar with my blog will have seen plugs for it several times. That just goes to show how vital I find this book to improving life. Learning more about habit forming will improve your life more than any self-help book ever could. I personally believe habit formation is the secret cure to laziness and ineffectiveness in life. You will find that the path to habit formation is not an overnight cure. That said, any changes that happen overnight are changes we as humans will try to reject outright, and it is the gradual changes that we benefit the most from. Be patient, and time will reward you- so long as you remain persistent.

You see, I want you to keep at your schedule this year, I want you to focus on what 12019 has to offer, but I cannot stress enough that the goal of productivity is not a real or attainable goal. Everyone wastes time, everyone gets tired. Some of us, like me, have medical reasons for this. Real and attainable goals for success involve the slow process of habitual thinking. It is not that tomorrow I’m going to write 500 words and then do that every day until my book is done. It’s that my eventual goal is to write 500 words a day and I’m going to start by actually sitting in front of my computer and trying to write for 10 minutes, and then the next week 20, and then by the end of the month an hour, and by the end of the year have exceeded my original goals.

Successful people don’t get up at a certain time. Successful people aren’t productive. They are effective. Successful people are people who have formed a habit in pursuit of a goal and stuck with it in pursuit of mastery.

You are not going to be a famous author or a rich person because you get up so damned early, just focus on what matters to you. Make 12019 about you, about your goals and about your habits, not about drastically altering your life for two weeks, but about growing who you are over time.

Just make sure that you keep growing, my friends.


I’d like to extend my thanks to this week’s featured writer T.J. Eastwood, author of the Novella Avalanche, for his patience and submitting his book in for a feature.

If you’d like to be featured please send me a message on any social media platform. If you are published I will buy your book to feature you, so you can only gain from a feature! I want to feature as many writers as possible and I feature a writer every Thursday. The slots do fill up quickly and I am a bit lazy on message boards but I will get to you!

That said please feel free to check out work here , where you will find regular updates from new stories to book reviews and I have a lot of cool things in store for the new year so be sure to keep an eye out.

For each Blog I want to start a book recommendation discussion so please in the comments below tell us about a novel that made you want to improve your own life. I’ll give you mine right now, The lives of Tao by Wesley Chu. It’s the story of how an IT guy becomes a secret agent for an alien organization and let me tell you it certainly made me feel like I could be doing more with my life!

Thanks again for reading and until next time, keep writing my friends.


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