I still believe that the most productive people are the ones who only do a few things, but do those things very, very well. However, that isn’t a luxury most of us have–especially early on in our careers. In this series of posts, we are going to look at ways to better manage our time and get the best return on investment.
Time is an Investment
Speaking of your return on investment–just thinking of time as an investment can help you become more productive. Changing your mindset about time and seeing it as a currency that you can spend as you choose helps put you in a frame of reference to value time appropriately. When you spend your time, you can spend it in areas where there is a high rate of return or in areas where there is a low or negative rate of return.
Time I spend building my client list or learning a new marketable skill has a positive return. If my new skill allows me to do something in 1 hour that previously took 4 hours, that is a pretty good investment. If finding new clients eventually allows me to raise my billing rate, that is a good investment. Some things have a negative return. Filling your car with water instead of oil will cost you time in the future.
Okay, so it is unlikely that anyone is going to do that. But what about signing up for a magazine that you don’t really need or paying for a bunch of premium cable channels that are just going to distract you from things that you feel is really important in life? I’m not saying that you should never have cable, but it is something that is likely to cost you more in time down the road.
By thinking of time as an investment, you should be able to start focusing on doing things that are profitable and minimizing things that have no return. This is really a mindset thing more than anything else, but the right mindset can make a big difference in what you are willing to spend your time on.
Long Term Benefits
One major difference between people who are productive and those who aren’t is how they view long term investments of their time. Often, activities that will have the biggest positive benefit are the ones that have very little or minimal short term gains. For example, when I started writing Productivity501 and had virtually no subscribers it seemed like there was very little benefit to sitting down and writing a new post for the site. Honestly, it took several years to start seeing a significant benefit from my investment. However, after making the investment in content for five years, we have over 18,000 subscribers and over 1 million unique visitors. Productivity501 is successful enough that it bought me a nice house overlooking a river valley on one of the few hills in our part of Kansas. But, it took years to get to this point.
It is hard to work on things that don’t give you an immediate return. Time discounting causes us to under estimate the value of future gains. This makes it harder to mentally justify investing our time now for future benefit.
When you invest in things that will give you a long term benefit, you use current efforts to secure a more desirable future. People who don’t have the ability to make future investments are usually left wondering why everyone else is so lucky.
Craig Thomas says
Time definitely is an investment and if its towards a passion I feel its time well spent.
“People who don’t have the ability to make future investments are usually left wondering why everyone else is so lucky”
Excellent line which sums it all up! Nice post.
Dave C. says
I appreciate a lot of your posts, but have you ever considered that your approach to “Productivity” could be obsessive and rather unhealthy? Just from the sum of your posts, it almost seems like there is a obsession to be “productive”, maybe even a compulsion. The type of obsessive compulsion to be “productive” that is often driven by an overbearing parent and upbringing or compensation for the lack of something (which could be a myriad of things) that often lead to complexes.
I don’t mean to sound like a therapist or something; I am trying to point to the fact that productivity is not everything. A balance, that everyone has to determine for themselves, is far more critical and healthy than constant “productivity”. Don’t get me wrong, I love your posts and am probably also somewhat obsessive
It is a fallacy to believe that pure productivity will lead to wealth, power, or anything else; and it can come at the cost of health and family life. Productivity in material or professional things can also come at the expense of productivity in your children’s upbringing and proper rearing as a well-balanced, mentally and physically healthy person.
I realize that your blog focuses on productivity, as the title indicates, but it might be a good idea to focus on productivity being a means/tool, not an end.
Most rich or even super rich people in the world did not gain their wealth and power through personal productivity; they gained it through manipulation of power, plain old luck, opportunism, birth/inheritance, economy of scale, etc. You can be reach productivity nirvana, it will never allow anyone to remove corruption from government, transform into a Kennedy/Rockefeller/etc., unseat Google’s web supremacy, etc.
Mark Shead says
Well I don’t spend too much time here writing about all the unproductive things personally do. :) Also keep in mind that part of the point of this post is to be able to spend less time doing stuff not more. That leaves time for family, exercise, etc. I want to be productive so I can have more time to spend playing with my kids. I want to be productive so I don’t have to spend 60 hours each week working a job that makes me have to travel away from my family.
I probably am a bit obsessive about productivity because I know that someone who is organized, skilled and productive can easily accomplish twice as much in half the time as someone who isn’t. I’d rather be the person working a quarter as many hours.
Thanks for your perspective. You’ve given me some ideas for future posts.
Michelle I Taming Time says
I like the general theme of the article. I find this “People who don’t have the ability to make future investments are usually left wondering why everyone else is so lucky.” statement to be true. Many times people lament why they “have nothing”, “get nowhere” or other such sentiment. Maybe they genuinely don’t realize the investment of time it takes most people to “get somewhere”?
The point of increasing your productivity is so that you have more time to do the fun things. Or anything that gives you personal satisfaction – like spending more time with your family. Enjoyed the read, thanks.
Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says
I definitely agree, time is an investment. You have to use it against you with things like business and investment so if you haven’t started, stop wasting time! Great post by the way.
Fabulous post, Mark! Sometimes it is very hard to remember this. I appreciate the reminder; and all that you share here!