Productivity At Scale May 2015

It’s what you do, not how you do it. Despite the contrary being a common piece of wisdom, I find it to be exactly wrong. I’m not so extreme as to say that how you do what you do doesn’t matter, but I will say that what you do trumps everything else. If you look at the most successful, most creative, most productive people in the world, you will find that they aren’t necessarily doing things differently than anyone else. They still encounter obstacles and difficulties like writers’ block and anxiety and they are not necessarily any better at sitting down to focus and get work done than anyone else. The big difference is that they make critical decisions at the moments that matter and send themselves down trajectories that put them in positions to be orders of magnitude more productive.

There’s a limit to what a single person can do in a day. Multiply that by 365 and again by the number of productive years in someone’s life and you will find that even the most productive people are only maybe 10 or 20 times more productive than a person of average productivity. Yet we have prolific people with achievements hundreds, thousdands, or millions of times beyond everyone else - just look at a anyone in a position of power. The only difference, aside from being otherwise slightly more talented than average, is that they put themselves in positions of scale and power where they could leverage systems of power to scale their productivity beyond what would be possible with their own willpower alone.

In my own life I find this phenomenon to be most visible when I look at how critical moments and decisions steer the direction of my life. On a typical day, nothing interesting happens. Most days are unremarkable. I wake up, go to work, meet a few people, come home, go to sleep, and repeat. But for some parts of my life, a typical day has been an order of magnitude more productive than a typical day in other parts of my life. Sometimes a typical day consists of working on something so important and so impressive that simply the act of going to work is inspiring and remarkable. Other times I wake up and realize I’m living in an amazing place - a place that I can rest easy just knowing that I’ve made it to. The critical moments when I decided to move to a new city, make a move in starting a new relationship, or begin a new job, although very brief moments, are some of the most important moments. It is figuring out how to place myself in these positions of scale and leverage that is most critical.

Being a talented, productive person is not enough. You must put yourself in a position to be productive at scale.