Too much advice and not enough productivity?

Simple advice can usually be taken the opposite way.

  • Want to achieve your goals?  Make them public!  No, keep them private!
  • Want to focus better on revision?  Listen to music while you work!  No, sit in silence!
  • Want to save money on your shopping bill?  Make a list!  No, shop less strictly to bag the bargains!

You may have heard me say that one person’s poison is another person’s potion.  When it comes to uncomplicated suggestions from a friend, or a blog post with some quick tips, the advice won’t necessarily work for you.

 

photo by RobeRt Vega

photo by RobeRt Vega

If there was a single answer, we’d all take that route and we’d all love the success it brought.  Nobody would have to worry.  But, naturally, life isn’t like that.

The same goes for if a selection of answers all produced the same, successful, result.  Suggestions are great, but you have to make them your own before they’ll work.  Even then they may not yield the fruit you were expecting.

Yes, it’s frustrating, but life isn’t simple.  That’s why so many people are hooked on finding a quick fix or an astounding life hack.

Whenever you stumble upon something great, let’s call it ‘lucky’.  Without seeking any advice, you won’t be as lucky as one who does the searching.  You do have to ‘create your own luck‘ to an extent.  However, there is a saturation point where even the one who searches is wasting their time.

After all, there are so many blogs devoted to study tips and life hacks that it’s easy to spend too much time reading themDo you really want to save time, or do you want to procrastinate? At some point, you need to act on the advice you already have.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger made some great points over Twitter about all the supposedly time-saving advice out there:

“Problem with productivity techniques: so many focus upon how we can stuff more into life – which just sets us up for heart attacks later.  Not sure what the answer is but it strikes me that a better approach to productivity would be becoming focused and doing less things better.  Or maybe thinking about all this productivity stuff is just a distraction from being productive.”

Darren was inspired to make those comments because of this video:

We do face distractions.  They won’t go away.  Neither should we be forced to rid ourselves of all disruption.

However, the idea of ‘doing less things better’ is important.  Doing more isn’t automatically more impressive.  A limited number of key pursuits can be more convincing.  You may find that, in the transition, you focus on more demanding work within the deliberately limited scope.  The good news is that hard work under these conditions is often more satisfying.

I’m not trying to suggest that general productivity hacks and tips are useless.  Far from it.  Much of the advice I give on this blog is general.

I see the difficulties of taking advice working in two ways:

  1. Specific advice is easy to action because there is little need to interpret.  Just follow step by step.  However, it is less likely to yield as much success as the person who achieved it and advised in the first place;
  2. General advice is harder to action, because you have to take responsibility for making it your own.  You may develop the approach wonderfully, you may reach a dead end and seek out different advice, or you may find it too hard to take on that responsibility at all.

Advice, no matter how specific, should be examined and considered, but at no point should you expect an automatic win.  Even if you’re persuaded it’s a no-brainer.

It’s great to take a punt and win.  It’s hell to expect the best and lose.

The advice I give is based on my own experience and those of others.  I sometimes advise stuff that doesn’t (or hasn’t yet) worked for me.  Why?  Because I know many others who have been successful using those methods.

We may not be the same, but we share many similar features and goals and thought processes.  It would be insane if nobody listened to others for advice.  It would be equally insane if you took everything they said as the truth. The only person who can find your truth is you.  And it’s not an easy road.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  Have a nice trip.  And don’t make *too* many stops on the way for advice.  You can’t refuel if you’ve not started using your own resource tank yet.

Want to hear more? Just before I went to publish this, Darren Rowse put up his own video on whether productivity systems really work.  I’ll leave you with that:

2 comments

  1. I like the sentiments in this post very much! Barbara Kamler and Pat Thompson in their book ‘helping doctoral students to write’ have a nice section on the problem with self help books. Their take is this: by handing out advice in the ‘do this ‘ don’t do that’ way the advice becomes disempowering exactly because it implies that things can ONLY be done in a certain way. If you feel like if you don’t want to – or can’t – perform in the way directed, you can start to feel inadequate or like there is something wrong with you.
    That being said – I am addicted to life hack material anyway – it’s irresistible to think that life can be easily managed 🙂

    1. A great point on the disempowering aspect of rigid advice. It’s so important to take responsibility for decisions and examine what works best in your individual circumstances.

      I think the desire to find that ultimate life hack is one that gets many searching. I hope you find what works ultimately for you.

      But when you do find it, what’ll you do about that addiction when there’s no need to search any more? 😉

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