Improving productivity has been a pursuit of the modern human being from the start of civilization.
Somehow, we believe that productivity is something that became important after the industrial revolution. We assume that, because we live busy lives, we need to optimize our time—especially in the 21st century.
That’s not true. Productivity has been a topic of discussion ever since ancient eastern and western philosophy started. It’s a universal theme. I believe it’s in our nature to make better use of our time.
Because that’s what productivity means. On a deeper level, we all realize we have limited time. You and I both know that we’re not getting younger.
Time is ticking. It stops for no one. We need to use it. Etcetera, etcetera—we get the idea. And yet, without a clear productivity strategy, we squander our time like we have a limitless supply.
Here are some productivity lessons from the most well-known philosophers in history. Old wisdom perhaps, but still totally relevant to today.
1. Don’t Try To Do More
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates
Who else could give this monumental piece of advice other than Socrates? The founder of Western philosophy realized that it’s easy to fill your life with meaningless tasks.
But what happens when you do that? The business leads to unproductiveness. You end up doing lots of things, but in a mediocre way. Instead, focus your time and energy on a few important things.
Don’t take on more tasks and responsibilities. We often want to get more out of life. But that doesn’t mean you have to do more things. It’s not about doing more, it’s about doing the same in less time.
2. Complete 3-4 Important Tasks Each Day
“Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.” – Plato
Time is a paradoxical concept. Life is long. But our days are short. We can achieve a lot in a lifetime. We can achieve little in a day.
Once you realize that, you won’t try to do the impossible on an average day. Take it easy. Make small progress every day. Do that by only setting three to four important tasks that will directly contribute to what you want to achieve in life.
If you don’t have clear goals in your life, it’s not the end of the world. Aim for universal concepts like self-improvement, joyfulness, and having good relationships. Become the best version of yourself. But realize that your days are short and only set those three to four tasks you want to complete.
3. Enjoy Doing The Work
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle
Set goals. But don’t stare yourself blind on them. Instead, give your attention to the job itself.
It’s easy to daydream about all the things we want to do in the future. But that puts us in the wrong state of mind. We risk sacrificing the present for the future. No matter how hard you work today, never see it as a sacrifice.
You will end up resenting yourself. Instead, enjoy your work. Take pride in it. That will not only lead to better results, it will also give you fulfillment.
4. Eliminate Distractions
“If you seek tranquility, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential. Do less, better. Because most of what we do or say is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more tranquility.” – Marcus Aurelius
Elimination is a key strategy for every productive person. You shouldn’t only eliminate non-essential tasks, but everything that distracts you.
The more you eliminate, the more focus and tranquility you have. Look at yourself as a sculptor. You’ve been given a massive stone. Your task is to eliminate so much until you end up with a perfect piece of art.
Is social media polluting your soul? Eliminate it. Are some people causing drama? Eliminate them from your life. Continue eliminating everything else that has a negative impact on your sanity and productivity.
5. Keep Your Ego In Check
“Neither blame or praise yourself.” – Plutarch
As the famous Roman biographer Plutarch realized, the ego loves praise, but also blame. In fact, your ego loves any type of attention.
At all times, refuse to please your ego. All you have to do is to be aware that you have an ego. Most people live their lives without ever realizing their ego is hurting their work.
When you excessively blame yourself for things that go wrong, you end up hating yourself—and ultimately, everyone else. And when you do the opposite, you end up loving yourself in an unhealthy way. That’s also called narcissism. A little never hurts.
But when you overdo it, you sacrifice the quality of your work. Hence, don’t blame or praise yourself. Instead, celebrate the process, not the outcomes.