The real truth about personal productivity

Summary: Personal productivity is often confused with doing more, when actually, productivity means ignoring the unnecessary stuff and doing the right things.

Productivity is about prioritizing and focusing your time and energy. Productivity means doing the most important things. For me, productivity means doing less, while achieving more (even if doing more would mean achieving even more). If you insist on doing a lot, I can't stop you, and this post will help you workaholics as well.

This post will explain what true productivity means and how you can utilize that, whether you are looking free time for other things, doing more stuff or appear productive to keep your boss happy.


Are you interest in increasing your personal productivity? With that, you likely mean that you want to do more stuff. You have loads of stuff to be done and you want to get all of that done...

This is a major misconception. Personal productivity is not about getting loads of stuff done.

If we're talking about factories and robots, productivity might mean just that, but we're humans - last time I checked - so instead of raw numbers, how about looking at the quality of those numbers?

Otherwise, the false need to do a lot of stuff is forcing us to appear productive, even when we are not. With that in mind, I think productivity is about saving time and energy to do the right things by ignoring the things you don't need to do.

Thus, when you are looking for ways to increase personal productivity, you first need to understand the difference between true productivity and apparent productivity.

Efficiency Ratio = (Time Doing "Real Work") / (Time Spent "At Work") - Triple your personal productivity by Steve Pavlina.

Apparent Productivity

Apparent productivity is filling a work day without actually doing too much, to avoid the need to do a lot of stuff without being compensated for it. This is common for employees, e.g. cubicle slaves, when doing just enough to appear productive becomes the norm. Looking productive aims into minimizing the workload while still keeping your job.

Whatever you do, do not share this post with your boss, because keeping up the productive appearances will get significantly harder if the boss knows AND chooses to act on it. However, if your boss is keeping up the appearances for her superiors, you might share this to make things easier for both of you. Just don't blame me for not warning you if your hunch about your bosses tendencies are not correct.

Looking to be productive but actually doing very little and just what is expected from you. That's apparent productivity.

True Productivity

True productivity is doing only the stuff that really matters and not filling the time with unnecessary junk (but instead of doing more stuff that matters and/or use the time for "non-productive" fun stuff).

If your productivity directly affects how much money or free time you get, this is where you need to focus on.

All you need to do is finish the most important tasks with the the time you have (and the time you have for doing the tasks if largely up to you).

For business owners and employers the challenge is to make it worth while for employees to increase their true productivity through motivation and proper compensation, e.g. bonuses or recognition, otherwise they will continue keeping up the productive appearances.

Personal Productivity

Personal productivity is maximizing results you achieve with the time and energy you have. In its essence, personal productivity is learning to prioritize and ignore.

The first step to productivity is shortening the list of stuff you need to do. Productivity is as much about not doing stuff that is not important enough as it is about doing the stuff that is important.

Instead of wasting time on stuff that doesn't matter, you have more time and energy to finish the stuff that really matters. If you have more time than you need to finish all the important things, you can focus on becoming more efficient in finishing those important things by finding ways to automate and streamline what you're doing.

Becoming productive

When you know how to prioritize and identify the most important thing at any given time, and you become efficient in finishing the prioritized tasks, you'll have more time (and get more important things done if you want).

You can keep doing the most important things as long as you have time and energy, picking the next thing after you finish one.

  • If you want do less, decrease the time you allocate to doing the important things.
  • If you want to do more, use more time.

If you want to "do nothing" with the free time you have, that's OK, since you have already done the most important things.

Learning to ignore

How much stuff you need to do depends heavily on how brave you are with ignoring stuff. If you're into doing less and making time, you have to become master of selective ignorance.

This means finishing the most important things with as little time and minimal effort as possible, and have the discipline of not making up more stuff you think you need to do when you don't need to.

I call this the 99/1 principle (80/20 is too much work imho) - if one thing brings in enough results, why waste time doing the 19 others? As a blogger, this turns into lazy blogging - which has very little to do with laziness, and much more with doing (just) the right things.


Personal productivity is not to be confused with doing a lot of stuff. Personal productivity is learning to ignore the stuff you don't need to do and focusing all your time and energy on the stuff that really matters. How much stuff you actually do, depends on the amount of time you choose to spend on doing those important things.

The next post in this series will explain this productivity concept further and help you to increase productivity by doing less.

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Topic: Get Things Done
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