The Deception of Working on a System

Jun 13, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~1 min

It’s a trap so easy to fall for: we find ourselves spending multiple hours fine-tuning, tweaking, and developing the simple structure that will automatically create more time and 3X our daily productivity.

If you’re new to productivity or systems, then giving yourself a couple days to put these processes in place may pay off big and be well worth your time. Even if you’re a pro it can be helpful to make adjustments to how you do things with the intent of increasing efficiency, meaning, and output. I make tweaks to my structure frequently. But I need to remind myself of a lie that creeps up when I embark on one of these system alteration endeavors: this is productive.

False. It is not productive. It is meta-productive. It feels productive because we are doing something that has meaning; this will make me a better, more efficient person. We are given a sense that we will be able to do more and live a better life, no matter how small the impact, in the future. But it doesn’t inherently make us more productive. It makes it possible, but it won’t make it happen on its own. It simply sets up the environment to be the best it can or should be for us to act on.

This is where the “meta” part comes in. We are completing tasks that allow us to complete tasks more efficiently or effectively. It’s one step removed from the real work to which we’ve committed.

But the deception here is the sense of accomplishment that comes after we have been meta-productive. We’ve done the work necessary to make us better in the future and that gives us the feeling that something important has been completed - even though we haven’t touched one important task the whole time. We get excited about this new or updated system because we’ve made the decisions that will help us accomplish something new or something big. But we haven’t taken an action on the thing itself.

Don’t fall for this feeling of completion after you’ve worked on a system. Don’t celebrate until you’ve worked on the items within it.