What Being Hyper-Productive Taught Me About Productivity

Releasing a flag

If you’ve been around the self-help world for a while, you will have read repeatedly that time is our most valuable resource, and we must do everything we can to protect it. 

This is true—most of the time. 

Money is in abundance. Time is not. Before you know it, you will be old, grey, and regretful. 

How we deal with this is up to us. But along with the rise of self-help, the iPhone, YouTube and various other mediums, a new(ish) buzzword has taken us all by storm.

Productivity.

 

We Are Obsessed With Productivity.

The thought of getting the most things done in as little time as possible whilst remembering everything, using the latest technology tools, understanding all of the concepts, blocking out time to do so, and doing it in a state of flow is highly appealing. 

Look at YouTube, and you will see productivity gurus run some of the most popular channels. The productivity software market has grown in recent years and is forecasted to continue growing. And

some of the best-selling books are those on productivity.

us-productivity-management-software-market
credit Productivity Management Software Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Solution (AI & Predictive Analytics, Content Management & Collaboration), By Deployment, By Enterprise, By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2022 – 2030

 

My Experience Of Being The Most Productive Person I Know…

I’m not afraid to admit that I am a sucker for productivity. I have tried many different strategies and concepts. And don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of shit done. But this is not without the constant internal pressure and the hyper-perfectionism – traits which cause a lot of stress and often have the opposite of the desired effect. 

Being productive has brought me a long way and has taught me how to run two businesses and a podcast not very well – a story for another day.

But since becoming a father in January 2023, I’ve seen a different side to productivity.

Soon after the birth of my daughter, I hit mild burnout. The pressure to keep being hyper-productive while dealing with the most significant life change one can experience became too much. 

This made me reflect on what productivity actually is. 

Why do we feel the constant need to get as much done as possible in as little time? It is like a never-ending road, similar to the pursuit of endless amounts of money, one that when you do discover how to do more with your time, you want to find another way to do more and more and more.

I’ve discovered that creating more time means we have more time to discover more ways to create more time. In other words, when we do create more time, we fill it with other crap that sucks up the newly created time.

Bravo.

So do we actually create more time at all? 

creating time
credit giphy

 

Time Management For Mortals

One of the most influential books I’ve recently read is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. This book explains that we only have four thousand weeks of living on this planet. Yet, our obsession with cramming in as many tasks as possible removes us from the reality that living is finite and our time is limited.

Time management should not default to productivity or keeping our inbox empty or ticking off our todo list at the end of the day. Instead, time management should be about managing our time in such a way that we can live the life we want in our limited time.

 

Common Efficiency Traps

As I mentioned earlier, the productivity market is growing. This form of 21st-century crack-cocaine, exacerbated by hustle culture and aggressive zero-to-one-million overnight sales gurus, speaks directly to the poor human trying to do everything with nothing.

But as the book explains, this market and the technology it creates results in the opposite effect. 

My favourite example (and one I am too guilty of trying to control) are emails. At its inception, this technology promised to speed up and streamline communication.

Win! A time saver.

But the actual result? An infinite loop of reading to and responding to emails – a task that, whilst feels productive, is hugely unproductive and unrewarding.

Another example – the internet. The internet saves us time, no debate. But it also exposes us to more things we could do with our time. I.e. the event we know we shouldn’t go to or the productivity article we know we shouldn’t read :).

 

 

How Do We Manage Our Productivity Time Better?

I am not saying productivity is a bad thing. We should all have our own systems and ways of being efficient. After all, being ‘productive’ is better than getting nothing done or working inefficiently and wasting time.

Before understanding the concepts I’ve outlined in this article, I would jump at the opportunity to test a new productivity tool and try to implement it. But now, I approach any new time hack with extreme scepticism. 

Understanding finitude and what it means for us helped me to discover new ways to manage productivity. 

 

1. Think About What You Want

I’ve spent more hours than I care to remember planning out my ideal life. The result is often idealistic, and it is impossible to plan or predict your life next month, let alone 3-5 years.

But we should give ourselves some form of direction. This doesn’t mean planning it to a T. It also does not mean setting goals in every area of your life.

It means having a basic idea of where you want to go. Everything else that comes with it, the meticulous week-by-week and day-by-day planning, is a never-ending loop of dissatisfaction. Especially when you try and be too productive and set more goals than is humanely possible – this leads to overwhelm and dissatisfaction because you can never achieve the over-ambitious goals you set yourself.

Some of my favourite tools for planning an ideal life include:

The idea here is not to go crazy and be prepared for unexpected twists and turns. For me – having a baby flipped my world upside down, then back up again and back down.

It made me re-check my priorities. And the exciting thing was that despite how I felt, much of the life plan was still relevant and is still where I am steering myself today.

By having a plan, you can prioritise your productivity.

 

2. Focus On As Little As Possible

The peak of my productivity failure was in the early months of 2023. 

In December 2022, I officially registered my new company Bilt Renovation. In January 2023, my daughter was born. In addition to this, I was trying to maintain workflow and output in my consultancy whilst keeping clients happy. To add more fuel to the fire, we hired a new team to manage our podcast and grow.

This meant working on four major projects (if you include my daughter), managing at least ten people, and working across multiple business functions; sales, marketing, operations, technology, product & finance.

At the time, this felt great. Productivity, this shit is easy! I felt like the ultimate entrepreneur with multiple businesses and a ridiculous time-blocked calendar.

But looking back now, this was absolutely bonkers and totally unsustainable.

After around four months of managing this hectic lifestyle, I hit burnout. A totally un-fun experience, which replicated many of the feelings I experienced during my spate of depression in 2019.

Getting out of this state was brutal. But one thing that made a big difference was to limit myself and reduce my responsibilities and expectations – a difficult ask for a hyper-perfectionist.

How did I do this?

It was a significant mindset shift, which I can only summarise as giving less of a f*ck. But here are some things that truly helped:

  • Reduce the number of targets or goals in each project to one key goal. Before, there were many more, which made me stare blankly at my goal sheet, overwhelmed because I knew they were impossible.
  • Be utterly realistic about what I can achieve, reducing the number of critical functions I was responsible for. I still work across multiple functions, but the workload is much more manageable.
  • Work with people I can trust and who are suitable for the role. I admit I am not quite there yet, but I’m getting there. Working with people who do not have the right skills and trying to force them into what you want them to be will never work. Find the right person for the right seat. Also, be prepared to let go. When you first hire people, they will not meet your expected standards. It takes time, patience and acceptance.
  • Meditate. You only realise the benefits of doing something once you STOP doing it. Meditation is a perfect example of this. During my hyper-productive time, I stopped meditating. My mind was all over the place – small things would wind me up, I struggled to control my emotions, and I would get very stuck thinking about things that would never happen. Since reconnecting with my meditation practice, this has all been reversed, and I feel so much more positive.
  • Reconnecting with my creative side and working on something I truly love. ‘Find your passion’ came back to haunt me. I needed to do something I enjoyed. I remember thinking back to when I created dubstep music in 2013, and I would reach a peak flow state. One time, I even missed my haircut because I was that engrossed in what I was doing. It sounds silly, but to someone who never forgets anything or is never late, this is a big deal. This also reminded me of when I was designing websites – I would get so lost in my work that I never wanted to stop. For someone whose day-to-day work is not so creative but necessary to pay my mortgage, I needed to introduce some creative work into my life. Writing is always something that I have looked at as an art and something that can activate my flow state. So here I am, writing.*

*side note: I couldn’t get to grips with the thought of taking on another project, but this was such a burning desire that I made the time to make this work.

 

3. Create a basic ‘Productivity Stack’

Here are all of the stupid productivity things I tried to introduce into my routine:

Unproductive Productivity

I used to get so excited about productivity methods and software. But now, I’m more likely to roll my eyes or block it from my brain. This is because I have finally discovered that less is more in productivity. 

Admittedly, I still do use a lot of these methods. But if I could look back, I would have learnt one principle or software very well before introducing another. 

We are all swept away by the software marketing department’s claims. My favourite is ClickUp’s “Save 1 Day Every Week”… really!? This is the actual crack cocaine to a human who tries to get as much done in one day as possible.

For now, these are the things I use religiously to maintain my life:

 

Time Blocking 

Out of every single ‘hack’, this one is hands down the most effective. It allows me to book specific times for meetings (zzzzzzzzz), focused work, podcast hours, creative hours and unfocused quick task-based work. 

The key to time blocking is to not over-plan. Try and plan 70-80% of your day, with the remaining percentage saved for unexpected or unplanned events. When you over-plan, you get frustrated that someone or something interrupted your time block, which can lead to unnecessary stress.

Some critical rules for time-blocking:

  1. Do not over block
  2. Don’t be too hard on yourself – go for one or two time blocks to start, then ramp it up as you get more confident.
  3. Re-calibrate as often as necessary – you will find that a time block may be good for a month, but then it no longer works, or you find a block works better at another day or time
  4. Use some form of calendar (see next point)

 

Calendar Management 

This one goes hand in hand with time blocking. Using your calendar as the primary tool for time blocking makes the most sense (I use Outlook calendar). This is mainly because it is visual and allows me to picture my day or week ahead:

Owen Drury Calendar

From there, you can allocate certain days for specific activities and produce your time-blocked hours based on other appointments.

Some fundamental rules for calendar management:

  1. Allocate specific days for particular work. For me, Thursdays are site days, Wednesdays are content days, and all other days are whatever is necessary.
  2. Do not plan too far ahead. Things change on a daily basis, so re-calibrating your calendar in the evening for the next day makes most sense.
  3. Use a specific separate time-blocking calendar – check this video.
  4. Use something like Calendly to schedule meeting hours. This also saves a lot of calendar tennis.

 

GTD – Getting Things Done

I first encountered GTD in The Tim Ferris Show – The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD (#384)

The key takeaway for me – our brain isn’t designed to hold onto information or ideas; it’s to create them.

This is important – as soon as something pops into your brain, you should somehow capture it, i.e. write it down, and then forget about it.

In the episode, David Allen explains his ‘GTD’ system. If I could summarise this in a few steps:

  1. Capture: All thoughts/notes/todo’s go into a personal inbox
  2. Clarify: If you can action it, decide the next step. If not actionable, trash it or put it on hold.
  3. Organise: Put it where it belongs
  4. Reflect: Review frequently
  5. Engage: Do

This probably doesn’t mean anything, so I’d recommend either listening to the episode or getting a copy of the book. 

With that, I made my own system – reframed as ‘Getting Shit Done’- allowing me to achieve laser-sharp focus -very much inspired by this post on the Fast Lane Forum:

Things Needed:
  • ClickUp/Trello/Asana or any other task management software (I use ClickUp)
  • Calendar App (I use Outlook)
  • Pen/Paper (for scribbling)
  • Patience (if you think this is easy, good luck)

 

ClickUp Set Up:

For this post, I won’t go into the specifics of ClickUp (maybe another day).

Set up a space called ‘Mission Control’ and be sure to add the nuclear icon to make it even more majestic.

Within this space will be four lists:

  1. Inbox
  2. Someday/Maybe
  3. Waiting On
  4. Weekly Review

Owen Drury Getting Stuff Done

Inbox

This is used to capture everything. Any thoughts, ideas, tasks or todos. Essentially a dumping ground:

BONUS: The ClickUp phone app lets me capture things on the move with 1-2 clicks. This is great for capturing things on the move.

2 ClickUp Inbox

Someday/Maybe

If something is in my inbox and unactioned for a week, it goes in the someday/maybe. It gets deleted if it’s in the someday/maybe for a month or more.

3 ClickUp Someday Maybe

Waiting On

Once I’ve done my part on a task or if the task is blocked or waiting on someone else, it goes in here.

Weekly Review

Every Friday afternoon, I complete a weekly review. This is to clear my head, empty my inbox, set up my timeblocks and close down the week. Admittedly, this is a bit arduous, and because I have been doing this for a while, I don’t physically tick off everything on this list. It’s more of a reminder of what to check through.

4 ClickUp Weekly Review

The GSD Process
  1. Everything goes into the inbox:
    1. If it can be completed within a few minutes, I will get it done either straight away or in my unfocused time
    2. If it is urgent, I will complete it straight away 
  2. At the end of the day:
    1. Review inbox and see if anything can be done or removed from the list or moved to another list, such as Someday/Maybe or Waiting on
    2. If not, add it to the time block in my calendar for the next day or so (but no further than the end of the week)
  3. At the end of each week:
    1. Sweep through all of the lists (Inbox, Someday/Maybe, Waiting On, Weekly Review)
    2. Ensure all items are in the correct place
    3. Timeblock all items in my Inbox in the following week’s calendar
    4. Chase up any ‘Waiting On’ tasks if needed

Other points & notes:

  • I also use my email inbox as part of this process as it doesn’t make sense to forward every email that needs actioning into a separate platform – that would create extra workload
  • If the task in my email inbox is longer than a quick reply, it goes into my Mission Control inbox

 

Inbox Zero

To me, this concept feels like some ‘productivity bro’ method. But I like it, and it always keeps me on top of things.

Here’s how I do it:

  • I have time-blocked email checking times in the morning, at lunch and shutdown. Although, admittedly, I do not stick to this all the time. The dopamine hit of responding to emails is too strong!
  • I respond immediately if I can respond in a few minutes or less.
  • If not, it stays unread in my inbox to be responded to by the end of the day.
  • If not, by the end of the day, it goes into my Mission Control ClickUp inbox
  • Folders for every single project I am working on
  • Delete everything I don’t want to read. Nothing feels better than deleting an email before you even open it.

‘Inbox Zero’ helps me keep up to speed with however many projects I have. It could be well over 15, which would be impossible to manage with a messy and unorganised inbox.

 

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the pursuit of productivity is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it can lead to tremendous achievements, but on the other, it can generate feelings of constant pressure, overwhelm, and dissatisfaction. 

Productivity shouldn’t be about filling every second of our day with tasks and striving for a ceaseless state of busyness. It’s about purposeful, intentional action that aligns with what we truly want out of our limited time in life.

Becoming a father taught me the importance of seeing productivity through the lens of finitude, our inherent mortality, and our time on this Earth is finite. It is not about relentlessly checking boxes off a to-do list but understanding that we must focus our efforts on what matters most. 

The best productivity strategies align with our true ambitions, allowing us to focus on the tasks that move us closer to our desired outcomes. It’s about setting realistic expectations, not spreading ourselves too thin, and understanding that it’s okay not to do everything. After all, we only have four thousand weeks, and how we want to spend them is up to us. 

The next time you hear about a new productivity hack or tool, approach it with scepticism and ask yourself: will this help me lead the life I desire?

Only then will you begin to master your productivity and time, making the most of your finite time.

It’s essential to recognise that the magic of productivity isn’t found in complex systems or the latest software. Instead, it lies in simplicity and discipline. The journey to increased productivity is personal and unique to each individual. 

In my quest for optimal efficiency, I’ve found three significant tools that have redefined my productivity routine: time blocking, calendar management, and a practical task management system.

Time blocking has offered the structure and discipline I needed in my day, ensuring that each hour is used well. Paired with meticulous calendar management, this technique has allowed me to visualise my week, allocate time effectively, and ensure that every task is completed on time. 

Moreover, adopting the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) approach, I’ve created my system, aptly named “Getting Shit Done.” This involves capturing every idea, organising it appropriately, and, most importantly, acting on it. My tool of choice has been ClickUp, paired with good ol’ Outlook for calendar management.

It’s essential to note that while these strategies have worked wonders for me, it doesn’t mean they will for you too. 

Productivity is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What matters most is finding and adapting a system that works for you as necessary. Patience is vital as it may take time to find what works best, and remember to reassess and reconfigure your plan as your life and tasks evolve. 

Finally, remember to delete the unnecessary – be it in your tasks, inbox, or mind – as simplification is the essence of productivity.

I hoped you enjoyed reading this article. Please let me know if you’d like to add anything!

 

time management meme