Work Smarter, Not Harder – A Productivity Expert Shares His Best Tips
I used to work really hard all seven days of the week. There was no boundary between my work and life. I did all that in the name of “hustle”, not realizing I was only torturing myself.
I thought once I’ll be successful and have more money, I’ll deserve to take off days. Now looking back, I can see how ridiculous it was and how much pain I could have avoided.
So what made me change the way I worked? A lot of the credit goes to my friend Arthur Worsley. He taught me how to be productive, effective, and efficient without working my ass off all the time. I learned to work smarter, not harder. So I called the master himself to share his wisdom.
Introducing Arthur Worsley – The Productivity Powerhouse
Arthur studied Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology at Oxford while doing bar jobs, managing two start-ups, and investing in property. He realized the importance of working smarter early in his life.
After his experience as an entrepreneur, he ended up consulting at McKinsey, but not for long. Three years of 80-hour workweeks sent him on a pursuit of finding what it means to live well.
Today, Arthur runs The Art of Living where he helps people to be productive and live a balanced life. He is one of the best productivity gurus I have found. His end-to-end productivity system and rituals can remove a lot of misery from your life and give you the time to enjoy life.
Now before I share the key takeaways, it’s important to know that Arthur splits productivity into three phases:
- Competence: Getting organized and getting stuff done
- Balance: Extending competence to every part of your life
- Meaning: Clarifying why you’re here, where you’re going and why it matters
He teaches all three, but his passion is around balance and meaning. You can listen to the full interview or read the biggest highlights below.
How To Tackle Procrastination
Arthur labels the “distractions” that happen before you get started as procrastination. He says that the things that pull your attention away once you get started are really distractions, which we’ll discuss later.
The solution to procrastination starts by becoming aware of when you’re procrastinating. Because once you acknowledge it, you can prevent it from happening or apply an over solution to the problem.
For example, if you get tired in the afternoons, you can prevent that by taking naps. Another example is that if you keep yourself hydrated, you’ll avoid getting thirsty.
Have an early warning system, so even before you pick up on the fact you’re procrastinating, you can spot the behaviors. It helps you pause between the stimulus and the response so you can identify the problem early and stop it from happening.
The next step is to break down procrastination into four categories. He says that the four major reasons people procrastinate are:
- Lack of clarity
- Lack of courage
- Lack of motive
- Lack of energy
You can find more about it in the free chapter of the book Stop Working Harder.
Once you’ve caught the problem, you can then break it down into three layers. The first layer is the awareness of what you’re doing. The second layer is the awareness of when you do it. The third layer is the awareness of why you’re doing it, which you can categorize into the four reasons mentioned above.
Once you catch it early, the solution naturally appears.
How To Deal With Distractions
Arthur suggests you can either eliminate or avoid distractions. For example, if you get distracted by emails, you can eliminate them by unsubscribing from newsletters. Your goal is to cut down on the number of emails coming into your inbox. The same goes for any kind of inputs pulling your attention.
The next thing you can do is you can avoid distractions. In the example of emails, ask yourself-“how can I not be around email?”. There are two ways to do that. You can remove yourself from email or you can remove email from you. For example, you can install blocking apps (like FocusMe or Freedom) on your computer so that you can’t access your email except at certain times. Or you can put your phone out of sight by putting it in a different room.
A lot of it again comes down to awareness. When people are distracted, they don’t realize how big the problem is. So Arthur recommends people to track their time, but not in a rigid manner that you track spending 3.2 minutes in the toilet and 2.8 minutes snacking.
The point is not to get an attractive pie chart of how you spend your time. You do it for the level of awareness you get from it. Arthur has a section in his TRACKTION Planner where you can track your time in increments.
When you’re aware that you spent six hours a day on emails, you know it’s a big problem. Once you understand the depth of the problem, you have a motive to solve it.
We’re so good at forgetting even what we did this morning. So if you can put it down on paper, and then at the end of the day, it’s staring at you in the face showing you spend three hours a day on social media, then suddenly there’s a huge incentive.
So step one is to track your time. Work out what’s distracting you and how bad those distractions are. Step two is to create friction. Friction is the enemy of action, and that can go both ways.
If you have a habit that you want to do more of, like going to the gym, the trick is to work out all the friction points on the runway and remove them. So make sure your gym gear is laid out and that your gym is nearby. Make sure that you already have your workout plan and a backup workout plan, in case you can’t do the full workout.
The same goes for distractions, but your goal is to add friction. If your fridge is full of chocolate and it’s next to your desk, you will eat a lot more chocolate than if your fridge is buried in the basement behind a tiger in a lock and the key is in a different city.
So how can you eliminate distractions? And if you can’t do that, how can you avoid them? If you’re working from home and you find that your family keeps on disturbing you, go and work in the garage or find a cafe nearby.
How To Create And Follow A Productivity System
Arthur uses and recommends the Getting Things Done system (GTD). He has seen two kinds of people who don’t create and maintain a productivity system like GTD. Some can’t be bothered about productivity. If you’re one of those people, GTD is probably not for you because you just don’t care about being more productive.
In that case, you’d really have to connect with your motives by asking “what if I’m more productive?”. I can get my work done in half the time, then I can have a side hustle, then I can break out of my job, and then I can go live wherever. Then suddenly you reconnect that effort to something that you care about, and it becomes a thing.
Then there are those who give up on GTD. They do it for two reasons. They either make the system way more complicated than it needs to be or they get the system, but their lives are incredibly complicated.
People get productivity apps and they try to use every single feature that the software offers. They think that getting a good piece of software will solve their problem, but an app does not solve problems. They can only speed up solutions. If you put a crap system into software, you just generate crap more quickly.
The trick is to have a simple system first and then use only the bits and the features of the software that you need to implement your system. Don’t get lured by all the bells and whistles, infinite tagging systems, and the ability to create multiple files, structures, etc. Just keep it simple.
The second hurdle is a complicated life. You can’t spread yourself too thin and commit to so many things. If you do that, it’s a life problem, not the problem of the system. If there are too many outcomes to work on, the system brings that problem into your awareness.
When you meditate for the first time, you realize how bad you are at paying attention. Many people give up on meditation because it’s so depressing to know how much your mind wanders. It’s the same with following a productivity system. What you have to get through is the first stage of awareness that just shows you how bad the problem is. Once you know that, you can work on it.
People who stick with GTD rigorously simplify their lives. People often give up on GTD because it overwhelms them, but it’s their life, not the system that is overwhelming.
How NOT To Use Your Calendar
Arthus noticed one reason people fail with time blocking is that they use their calendar for time-blocking. He strongly advises against using your calendar for time blocking.
The calendar is only for things that must happen in a day. When you look at your calendar, you should see only things that are non-negotiable for the day, such as meetings, events, critical tasks, etc.
If you put all the things you must do and all the things you would like to do in the same app, it doesn’t work. He suggests you use a separate piece of paper for time blocking. He provides this in his TRACKTION Planner for this exact reason. Right next to each other, you’ll see two columns. One is for your ideal day and the second is for time tracking.
At the end of each day, he picks six major actions he wants to work on tomorrow. Then he fits those six things into his ideal day plan. He uses a pencil so that he can easily edit as he’s going through the day.
Arthur’s Top Productivity Routines
Arthur’s first routine is the PM review. It’s an evening review, which means at the end of each day, he looks back at the day and he plans tomorrow.
He asks himself questions like “how did today go?”, “was it a good day?”, “was it a bad day?”, “why was it a good day?”, “what did I learn?”, “what could I do slightly differently?”.
Then, from his to-do list, he picks and writes only one thing to do tomorrow. Then, from everything else left on the list, he again asks the same question five or six times until he has around five super important things he must do tomorrow.
Then he reviews what’s coming up on his calendar tomorrow, and then he plans his day on a separate piece of paper. Arthur’s TRACKTION Planner has the templates for that. The point of creating an ideal day is to visualize a perfect day.
During the day, he puts his actual time down in the time-tracking column, and at the end of the day, he compares his ideal day with what actually happened. He says that if that’s all you did, your life would become more balanced, happier, and efficient.
The second routine is the weekly review, which is the same thing but for the week. There are four steps to it.
- Get clear
- Get current
- Review last week
- Set next week up for success
Getting clear is about closing all the open loops like clearing his inbox, messages, etc. That way, he gets stuff out of his head and gets current, in which he reviews everything that’s on his plate. He reviews all his tasks and systems so he’s not worrying about them in his head.
To review the last week, he asks himself questions like “what went well, “what did I learn?”, and “what are the opportunities for improvement?”. And then he sets the next week up for success, which is a bigger version of planning tomorrow. He plans out the big things he wants to accomplish in the week.
Arthur has found that the most balanced people set one goal in each area of their life. He has eight areas in his TRACKTION Planner. The weekly goals in each life area don’t have to be the same size. Maybe you’re mostly focusing on work, but at least have a bit of momentum going in each area.
The last routine is the end of work shutdown, which he does in the last 15 to 30 minutes of his workday. That frees him to shut off for tomorrow until he gets to his PM review, where he just plans for tomorrow. One can also combine the PM review and the end of work shutdown.
The whole point of productivity is to make you be able to chill out. If you can drop everything because you know everything is under control, there’s a place for everything and everything has a place, then you can be fully present with your family, with your friends, with the opportunities that come up, or with some sudden emergencies.
Arthur’s Products For World-Class Productivity
The first is the productivity primer book called Stop Working Harder. The book talks about competence that you can apply to one area of life, like your job. It will get you organized at work.
It’s like the productivity advice you wished you had received on your first day at work, which includes your calendar, email system, file management system, meetings, etc. Once you’re competent with work, you can move on to balance and meaning much easier, where you take that competence and apply it to other areas of life.
The second is the TRACKTION Planner, which is a practical tool that Arthur uses every single day. It’s for getting stuff done on a daily basis. There’s a section for weekly goals and it helps you work out what area of life is most holding you back so you can address that.
The third is a community and course called the TRACKTION Masterclass. It’s for you if you feel like you’re already kind of productive, and you feel like things are under control, but you’re still frustrated that every single day you can’t stop thinking about work or the rest of your life is inflamed in the background.
If you’ve got no love life to speak of, or you’re unhealthy, or you’re not sleeping properly, or you wished you’d taken a holiday, then the TRACKTION Masterclass is for you. The masterclass lasts six weeks. There’s a community aspect where everyone posts their weekly goals together and there are weekly group coaching calls.
The TRACKTION Masterclass is for you if you’re already competent in one area of life. If you’re not, then get the productivity primer book, where you can also upgrade your order to just get the end-to-end productivity training, which is a good start before you join the TRACKTION Masterclass.
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