About productivity…

It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?
― Henry David Thoreau

Productivity is not the same creativity, though being creative will get you lots of things to do for which you will need to be productive to get them done. In short, you need both 😉

I have known individuals who define their work productivity by being present at work 7 days a week, non-stop for 12 hours per day. I must say these encounters were mainly while working as a postdoctoral fellow in the USA. While it might appears more acute in that country, it is encountered in others as well.

On the other hand, I have also known other individuals, highly talented, who worked very differently and in the end were as productive as the people in the other category: The embrace both creativity and productivity as two sides of the same coin, with balance.

A few things, I learn from them (in a nutshell):
– It is not because you are sitting at your desk at work, that you are productive.
– Longer hours do not mean better productivity. You might have more total output but past a certain point, the gain is not linear (output per hour worked is actually decreasing!).
– For certain tasks, you will find that you are more productive while not being at the office/work desk!
– Doing stuff is not necessarily being productive unless this “stuff” is actually the important stuff.
– Unless you pick your stuff to do only based on major urgency (i.e. you are always behind), you cannot pick the most important task at a given time, unless you know all of your commitments and next actions: write them down in a task management system (paper or digital).
– Completing projects on a regular basis (in science, this means publications) is more important than starting many but finishing little.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
― David Allen

From the above, I also strongly recommend to any starting graduate student to adopt a good task management systems, such as Things, OmniFocus, free-GTD, Wunderlist, … and do it as soon as possible. You might not have so many activities as to justify the high end software right now but you’ll discover that things will change very quickly as you progress. Also, remember that if you are new at this, it WILL take you 3-4 months to be really proficient (but you will never look back), so start ASAP…


  1. I started using Things after I read a post by you last week. Thank you.

    I then read a summary of David Allen’s book. Commonsense but still very useful. The one thing I still wish I had was a better guidebook of Things: how best to use it? The different approaches that have worked for people. Why reinvent the wheel? As good as the program is, it is missing this vital piece of knowledge.

    I have also been using Devonthink Pro for 3 years; I have read the associated books but I still wish I could learn how to use it more effectively.

    Any leads would be deeply appreciated.


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