Increasing productivity: lots of work and no progress

I remember when I was an exchange student in Bangalore: every morning I’d have spicy flatbread and warm tea, walk across the central garden to go to lectures, and then hop on the bus that took us to a visit in town.
To avoid traffic, the driver entered the motorway from the exit.

bollywood matt

Ready for a Bollywood dance.

The month abroad was only available to a handful of students, so I put all my energy into increasing my chances of being selected. I said no to every summer holiday invitation, because I needed to stay focused. If they had rejected me, I would have had no plan B. It was all in.

It’s the power of having a single focus. Our resources are very limited: energy, creativity, willpower, they all deplete pretty fast. If you can channel them towards one clear objective, you will make a lot more progress than if you share them across many.


Does one focus mean one project?

We all have met people that put all their energy into one thing at a time. Very dangerous.
Life is a delicate game of balance: obsessing over one activity means neglecting part of that equilibrium. We’ve all known (or been) extreme workaholics that forget about everything else until it’s too late.

Different projects are good, as long as they’re not competing with each other.
Writer-who-draws Austin Kleon talks about productive procrastination in his book Steal Like an Artist:

“When you’re sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you left.”

This creates a positive circle that multiplies your energy and productivity.
So keep your projects interesting and diverse: learn a new skill, take care of yourself, make something creative, organise an event.

How many is too many?
Depending on how diverse and how energy-consuming your projects are, the answer could change. But it’s very difficult to take care of more than 5 projects.


Hang on…weren’t we talking about “single focus”?

Ah! You were paying attention.

Each project = One objective. At a time.
This gives you great clarity and forces you to get results, as opposed to the “spray and pray” approach that spreads you thin and gives you plenty of excuses to avoid challenges.

For my blog, my single focus is growing my readership to build my tribe, learn, and serve my readers at a scale. So when I saw the opportunity to create paid content for a collaboration on another website I had to take a step back and think: “will this help me grow my readership and give great content?”.

The answer was no, so I very quickly made up my mind and decided it wasn’t the right way to spend my time and energy.

“Will it help me achieve x?” is a very powerful tool to make decisions you will stick to.

What is your main project and what is your single focus for it in 2016? Send me an email and let me know.
I look forward to reading about it.


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