The Top 8 Must-Know Principles of Productivity

What I’ve learned about productivity in the ten years I’ve been hosting The Get-it-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips podcast.

Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #478

image of man skyrocketing upwards beside text "principles of productivity"

This is my 10th anniversary article, and we thought it would be fun to recap some of what I’ve learned about productivity in the ten years I’ve been hosting The Get-it-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.

My day job when all this started was executive coaching and public speaking. Productivity was a personal interest, and something clients needed in order to make time to follow up on the coaching work we would do together. The podcast was just a fun, creative outlet. As it grew, I actually had to stop, reflect, and understand productivity in more depth. Here are some of my reflections from ten years of productivity.

Get-It-Done Guy's 8 Principles of Productivity

  1. Technology is a seductive siren, not a solution.
  2. It isn’t always personal.
  3. Downtime is valuable.
  4. Productivity isn’t visible.
  5. Why matters.
  6. Optimizing the wrong thing doesn’t matter.
  7. Tools are toys.
  8. Tech tools make your work more fragile.

1. Technology is a seductive siren, not a solution.

I believe for many of us, the biggest obstacle to personal productivity is now technology. This wasn’t always true. But Silicon Valley has discovered that addicting users is a far better business than serving users. They’re making toys, not tools. 

The new iPhone X can unlock my phone with my face. Great. Typing a six-digit passcode was really the #1 source of productivity loss in my life. Plus, it can take beautiful selfies more easily. But I’m not a narcissist, I don’t care. I just want to delete my completed reminders. Or search for a street name and have it find that street in the city my GPS says I’m in, rather than in Bangladesh. They aren’t even pretending to develop anything useful any more. 

And we pay the cost. Our conversation is dumbed down. Our creativity time is replaced with interruptions and cat pictures...Cat pictures! I just love cat pictures! (Especially tabby cats.) Oh, where was I. Distraction. Right. And the very nature of multitasking tools is that they provide a single context for very different activities, muddying those together in our brains, and making it hard to focus on any one thing for long enough to get into flow.

2. It isn’t always personal.

While we talk about productivity, it isn’t always personal. Personal productivity is all about the things you can do better, stronger, and faster on your own. How you can be your own personal Superman, Superwoman, Supertransman, Supertranswoman, Superintersex, or Superperson when you step out of your Clark-or-Clarissa Kent secret identity. 

But remember, the Clark-or-Clarissa Kents of the world have a day job, working with other people. That’s organizational productivity. You need things, you need to coordinate handing off those things, and you give things to others. Smoothing those handoffs, and redistributing work to flow gracefully, is all about organizational productivity. 

When things aren’t getting done, don’t assume it’s always you. Look at how work is spread around and handed off. Sometimes everyone’s doing the best they can, and it’s the organization causing the problems. You may be an individual pearl, but if you’re on a necklace being worn by a swine, you’ll still get muddy. 

3. Downtime is valuable.

There is a natural ebb and flow to work. If there are no natural pauses in your work, it means you’re probably doing redundant work or you’re doing multiple jobs. It also means you’re getting no time to think, reflect, learn, or get better. When you have downtime, rather than filling it with activity, grab a piece of paper and pencil—stay off your computer or smartphone—and doodle while daydreaming. Yes, daydreaming. That’s when your brain is most creative. Set it free! That will also make it much more tender when it’s requisitioned by the Generals during the zombie apocalypse. 

4. Productivity isn’t visible

When you see someone at their desk, feet up, binge-reading the entire series of Wonder Woman comics (I’m still trying to get on her calendar), you think, “What a lazy bum. We’re clearly not giving them enough work! Triple their workload. They’re underutilized.”

What you don’t think is, “How productive! They’re so productive that they got their work done in two hours. They should get to go home early.”

That’s because productivity and laziness look exactly the same from the outside. In one case, because the work is done. In the other case, because the work hasn’t been started. If you’re going to become productive, do the social engineering necessary so you’re perceived that way. Which, of course, is more work to fill up some of your Wonder Woman reading time. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.