Becoming More Efficient: A Thought Experiment #42

Categories Professional Growth
becoming more efficient

Reframing Productivity

(Don’t do more. Do less, better stuff. That’s the gist of this post.)

Successful people at large and self-help gurus, in particular, are obsessed with becoming more efficient. Why wouldn’t they be when time is all we really have to play with? Articles along the lines of “10 ways to optimise your daily routine” can be found widely across the personal development genre.

Confession: I’m a sucker for this kind of content too.

If you wade through the mysticism you can certainly find actionable gems. Increasing your mouse speed to maximum is a personal favourite of mine (although it takes a little getting used to).

Underlining this quest for productivity, however, is an often neglected question. What do we actually mean when we claim to be “productive”?

A true definition relates to maximising output in relation to time. But usually, we just think about quantity – getting loads of things done in the quickest time possible. We lose sight of the quality of our output.

Becoming More Efficient

To reframe the concept then, we should all want to be more effective rather than productive. The holy grail is efficiency: maximum output for minimum input.

The modern-day philosopher king of this school of thought is Tim Ferriss, best known for writing the self-help bible The 4-Hour Work Week

I’m re-reading this book at the moment and when you strip back its idealised narrative (which regrettably might turn away readers who aren’t concerned with retiring at 30 or working from a beach in Bali), there remains a powerful theme: scarcity.

Alternatively, you might like to formally call it the Pareto Principle, a concept popularised in recent decades by business writers.

The idea that 20% of input often accounts for 80% of output.

Throughout the book, Ferriss throws down a number of challenges or thought experiments that readers are encouraged to consider as a way of reframing a goal, problem or mindset.

A lot of them feel too idealistic for me to entertain seriously but one, in particular, has made me stop to think. The question goes like this:

What would you do today if you could only work for 2 hours?

I want to consider this in the context of my own 9-5 job but you can apply it however you see fit. If you didn’t have 7 hours to fill (deducting 1 for lunch) tomorrow, what would you prioritise doing?

More poignantly, what gets written off the to-do list?

to do list productivity


I am willing to bet that you would make certain daily tasks redundant straight away. For example, sitting in an hour-long meeting to contribute a few sentences.

How I Would Streamline My Marketing

Before you go about deciding how you would fill your hypothetical 2-hour working day, you need to establish your primary goal or you won’t have a frame of reference.

For me working in marketing, I would call that generating new business leads (for others it will vary). I am therefore looking for tasks directly related to inbound sales.

The first thing I would forget is social media (which I already neglect).

This is not to say that businesses haven’t been built through social or that it’s a complete waste of time. But to do it properly, to grow an audience organically, especially on multiple platforms, is really time-consuming, hard work.

Populating our various feeds with appropriate content is a daily struggle that never ends. For me, especially at a startup business, this takes a low priority.

Beyond that, even search engine optimisation (or SEO), which I have somewhat specialised in, would be called into question. Creating optimised content for our website and others to build links is again an enormous drain on time, with very limited control over the results.

In an ideal world, we would all be growing our social media followings and slowly climbing through the Google rankings, playing the long game. But if I had just 2 hours per day and I needed results to show my boss? I would be picking up the phone to prospects or working on paid advertising channels.

As predominantly a marketer and not a salesperson, I’d settle on the latter.

My 2-hour days would be spent:

  • Creating and improving landing pages on our website
  • Setting up new campaigns on Google, Bing and Facebook ads
  • Calculating ROI so I can spend and reinvest our budget effectively
  • And constantly refining all of the above.

In my industry, paid advertising gets results quick.

You invest capital to leverage time. An incredibly converting landing page needs to be only created once (perhaps with later revisions). The ad campaign you set up in an afternoon can run all year round.

Relatively short investments of time compound in exchange for money. Almost all exercises in productivity can be reduced to this basic equation.

Other marketers will disagree with my above strategy and have different priorities. I was only thinking about our business. The question is what works for you?

What 20% of your daily tasks are generating 80% of your results?

If I sent you home tomorrow at 11am instead of 5pm, what would you squeeze into your 2 hour window, before going home and binge-watching Netflix?

Scarcity requires being resourceful and creative.

Maybe we should all pretend we have a lot less time on our hands…

If you liked this post, you might like Becoming The Verb: Intention vs Action. You might not.

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