All productivity advice is flawed, no matter how well-intentioned or informed it might seem. Its limitation comes from blanket platitudes and generic research that applies to everyone but is specific to no one. Productivity is personal; one recipe for success differs wildly from another. What works for a CEO might not work for a writer or doctor. Of course, there are sound universal principles, but discovering a unique recipe for your success goes deeper than that. It's an endless journey of self-discovery within the context of personal desire, environment, and experience.
The five critical elements presented in this article provide a solution to this inherent flaw. It's a malleable model that can apply to a range of aspirations and lifestyles to highlight areas of strength and weakness in your productivity system.
The formula highlights five components fundamental to creating meaningful progress. Something that became very clear to me upon completing it was the varying weight between elements. It would be a misconception to hold all of them at the same level of essentialism. Execution and a vision are critical to results.
One has to have a desired destination (vision) and then take steps toward it (execution) to progress in anything. Many successful achievers utilize these elements alone—the remaining three separate good performers from the world's elite. Another feature of vision and action is that they lead the other three. Action is an exponential multiplier of skill acquisition and feedback, and the vision sets the foundation for your plan. Let's run through each component in a little more depth.
Vision defines what productivity means to you. It combines core values and intrinsic desires to paint a destination that gives your direction and embeds your journey with meaning. Life is about the journey, but all journeys would feel pointless without a destination. It is the Why behind your daily effort. The clearer the vision, the greater your motivation. The remaining elements make up the how and what you're doing to make progress.
People who lack vision will be confused, lost, and off track. They might experience a loss of motivation or incentive to act. When they take action, they risk progressing in the wrong direction and waking up one day wondering how or why their life turned out the way it did. The biggest threat to someone without a clear vision is a lack of focus, constantly becoming distracted by shiny new goals.
Progress exists through action. It's the common denominator among nearly every high-achieving individual, something you cannot say for the other four elements. Nothing matters more than it, and feedback wouldn't exist without it. It's simple. Do the work. Of course, knowing what and how to do things speed up progression, but nothing drives results more than the quantity of action—How many hours one invests actually doing the thing.
The amount of time invested in action decides the timeframe of achievement. Invest 100 hours into something weekly, and success will be relatively quick. Invest 2 hours, and it'll be slow. You decide how long your time horizon of results is with the quantity of time invested. Without action, there will be no progress. So much talent is wasted by too little effort.
Your skillset decides how much value you offer the world. Like execution, it dictates the timeframe of achievement because highly skilled individuals require fewer actions than lowly skilled ones. The higher your value, the rarer you become. How recognizable is your work within the sea of competitors? It's also noteworthy that being competent makes work more fulfilling to people generally. If your skill level is high, you'll find flow effortlessly, and the work will be more enjoyable.
Without skill, you have little value to offer yourself, the market, or others. It reduces the potency of your action. It's not limited to a career. Being a good father, mother, son, daughter, or spouse requires many skills, such as empathy and communication.
Where a vision is your compass and a plan is your map, feedback is the actual terrain. When you have an intention and act it out in the world, reality will provide you with information. Some forms are quantitative, like numbers and measurements. Others are qualitative, like internal resistance, fear, failure, and pain. Once received, you can use the information to improve future actions—thus triggering a feedback loop that elevates future plans and execution. The more repetitions of this loop, the faster your growth and learning.
Feedback is a natural reaction to your intentions in the world. You need to receive it to avoid having a false sense of the world and your current position. Progress will be infuriatingly frustrating without feedback because you can't be sure which actions are successful and which aren't. It will seem like the world doesn't understand you when, but in reality, you aren't listening.
Planning brings all other components together, resulting in a magnifying effect. Its advantage is it makes you highly proactive in deciding your behaviors, habits, and routines. It also has a unique value add because a plan is one of the practical tools to spark action if someone struggles with execution. Productivity is optimized when our daily intentions feed into weekly and annual goals, which feed into a life's mission. You hit a rhythm that builds exponential momentum as you align your days with core values and purpose. Planning is the tool that cultivates this process.
People that don't plan risk running in circles. Moving but not progressing. No plan eliminates a powerful boost to progress. The primary threat is you become reactive to your environment instead of proactive. The environment decides how you spend your time; you lose a say.
Each element has incredible depth, so much so that entire books and courses can be found for them. Although fundamental, they aren't exhaustive.
The formula exists at the peak of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs under Self Actualization, alongside other assets of self-fulfillment like mental models, creativity, and a growth mindset. The framework merely presents pillars of productivity, but Basic, Psychological, and other features of Self-Fulfillment Need's all play a role in elevating your productive potential.
Over the next few years, I'll be writing in depth about this framework, and its elevating influences, to educate myself and others in the area of meaningful progress. I believe in a new era of productivity where people download frameworks and run them through their aspirations to create optimized systems of action. The download doesn't happen passively; it results from active journaling and other exercises in pursuing self-actualization. I aim to deliver clear concepts and tools to help you construct a personal productivity system that's effective for your goals. After all, productivity doesn't work by reading a book or article; it works by actively engaging with its principles and discovering your unique recipe for success.
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