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Two Types of Productivity — Output vs. Organisation-Based Productivity

You dont need better tools, you need better organisation (Without procrastination)

Hi friend!

This week I want to talk about the two types of productivity — Organisation-based productivity and Output-based productivity.

Both have a place in increasing your productivity and improving your personal and work life. But one is the unsung hero of productivity.

Can you guess which one?

💡 Today at a glance

  • The key difference between Output and Organisation-based productivity.

  • 4 reasons why we often focus on Output-based Productivity.

  • 3 practices to get you started on Organisation-based Productivity.

It’s Organisation-based Productivity.

In fact, I think many people dismiss getting organised because it can feel like procrastination. Like you tidy the house instead of writing that 50 page project report thesis that’s due in 2 weeks.

“Organising” can be a form of procrastination.

But if you do it right, becoming organised in your personal and work life can actually support you in getting more rest, being creative and pursuing time freedom.

Understanding each type of productivity (Output and Organisation) will help you figure out which type of productivity challenge you’re facing.

Output vs. Organisation-based Productivity

This framing comes from Cal Newport’s podcast episode 269. There is a subtle but important distinction between these two types.

Output-Based Productivity:

This form of productivity focuses on increasing your output per unit of input (The classic definition of productivity).

In the 21st century, it’s often about using technology and new digital tools to become more efficient so you can do more and more.

Examples:

  • Text expander tools to save time when typing or composing an email.

  • Using AI tools to increase your writing output, reduce time spent in Photoshop® etc.

  • Moving from using faxes to using email, to send memos in an office.

These are important advances to help us live and work more productively.

Organisation-based Productivity:

This focuses on organising your work and personal obligations in life — Your tasks, goals, projects etc. So that you create the time and mental head space to increase your productivity on the right things.

People often mistake structure and organisation as being rigid. Stifling your creative freedom.

But it actually gives you more freedom and time for creativity.

Why?

Because when you’re organised and clear on your obligations, you know exactly what is on your plate at any one time, what to say no to and how much “space” you have to take on new things.

You’re not worried about forgetting something important.

Being organised helps you build healthy structures in your life, which in turn helps you become more intentional with how you use your time.

This often means you can focus more time on creating.

“Think like an artist, work like an accountant.”

David Brooks

It’s a bit of a generalisation, but the quote does illustrate a point.

People associate accountants with being organised, detailed orientated and structured.

And typically think of artist with being carefree thinkers, whimsical and creative.

So being organised like an accountant creates the environment for you to then focus on working like an artist (creating, deep thinking and producing work).

Why do people focus so much on Output Productivity?

1. “Shiny Object Syndrome” is the biggest reason.

At least for me it is. Companies are fantastic at selling us the next biggest and best thing or tool, to help us be more productive. The new tool to help us get through our emails faster or create videos faster.

There’s absolutely a place for this when it comes to being more productive.

I rather not spend time doing mundane tasks that can be automated, eliminated or done more quickly.

But making sure we’re not just chasing after the next fancy tool is important

2. Lack a clear vision for your life or clear goals.

When I had too many goals or struggled to form a clear vision of what I wanted my life to look life. The default was just to pursue it all.

Which means focusing on how to do more in less time.

This is a recipe for burnout.

Getting clear on the vision for our life and subsequently setting goals that are fewer but more intentional, allows us to stop chasing output-based productivity tools and systems for the purpose of doing more and achieving more.

3. Organising can be seen as procrastination.

We already feel time-poor. Spending time getting organised can feel like we’re procrastinating or that it takes up too much time. So we don’t do it.

4. We like the instant gratification of output-based productivity

Often the new tools, hacks and processes gives us quick wins.

It stimulates our dopamine system and we want more of it! So it becomes a cycle of chasing the things that gives us more in less time.

Both Output-based and Organisation-based productivity tools and systems are needed to be more effective and productive.

When you’re struggling with “being productive”, stop and reflect on which type of productivity will help you solve your problem.

Do you need to increase your output? Or be more organised?

3 practices to get you started in Organisation-based Productivity

There are many things that go into getting organised. In the previous week I focused on digital organisation.

Today I want to share 3 practices and structures I’ve put in place in my life for the last decade, that has helped me stay organised:

1. Quick capture

In this age of abundant information and ideas, having a safe place to quickly capture and store these helps with being organised and not being worried about “losing something important”

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

David Allen

Translating this into action means creating a place to:

  • Jot down notes and ideas on the fly

  • Capture & store your tasks effortlessly

  • Save interesting articles and resources for reference later

For me, Notion is my main capture tool where I do all the above.

Quick capture inbox page in my Notion workspace

I have a dedicated page in my Notion Workspace, that I have favourited on my sidebar for quick access on the go.

I created Notion buttons that allow me to add new items into the various databases at a click of a button.

There are also tools like Readwise that can make capturing information into tools like Notion even more effortless.

2. Planning on multiple time scales

I first got interested in productivity and organisation in my early 20s as a first-time manager.

I suddenly went from being a new grad to having significantly more responsibilities. I was no longer responsible just for myself, but also for a team of 15+ staff and the outcomes of my team/department.

Planning became the cornerstone of juggling competing priorities that shifted day to day, week to week.

I started off with daily and weekly planning. Then I added yearly planning not long after that.

The time scales that I plan and review in Notion

Now I make intentional plans on all time scales:

  • Daily - I time block plan my day each morning.

  • Weekly - This focuses on 3 key milestones that I want to complete that moves a bigger goal or project forward. I previously shared my weekly planning and review process here.

  • Monthly and Quarterly - At this level, it focuses on the key projects or goals I want to progress or complete. Depending on the “size”, it could take a few months to complete.

  • Yearly - This is where I consider the bigger vision of my life, big key life events and my personal values, when it comes to planning my upcoming year.

If you’re interested in my Planning Framework, I share it in this essay here that breaks it down in more detail.

3. Regular review and reflection practice

Creating a practice of regularly reviewing your plans and reflecting on how your plans actually went (day, week, month, quarter and year) is key to being intentional with how you spend your time, and know what you need to change, stop or keep doing.

I have a template I use to plan and review at each time scale in Notion.

As an example, below is my template for my weekly planning and review.

My “Weekly” Template In Notion

My “Weekly” Template In Notion

Templates give me a structure to conduct my reflection so I’m not having to re-think the process each time I do it.

My two favourite things about doing regular reviews and reflections:

  1. It makes you realise your wins and things you enjoyed (it’s so easy for us to focus on things that didn’t go well, instead of things that did)

  2. Becoming aware of what is causing friction or dissatisfaction, so that I can consider what to change.

Over the years, my tools for doing these 3 things have changed massively.

From using Trello and Microsoft OneNote to now using Notion.

The message here is simple. You can use any tool you like to do this. It may even change over the years as tools evolve.

But the habits and practices you build to help you stay organised will largely remain unchanged, and will serve you for life.

🛠️ Building in Public

So… I went on a podcast for the first time 🫣 and I was extremely nervous!

But Aidan was a fantastic host and it very much felt like I was having a conversation with a friend!

I think being on a podcast is part of “building in public” mindset, because it’s another way of sharing ideas, your point of view and helping others by giving value.

If you don’t know Aidan Helfant, he’s your go-to Obsidian PKM guy and host a great podcast where he interviews guests on all things Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).

That’s it!

Thanks for reading.

Hit reply and let me know which type of productivity do you struggle with —I will reply with a specific suggestion for you!

See you next week,

CK

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