Productivity and GTD

About clicks, shortcuts, speed and other productivity bullshit

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Speed and productivity

In forums regarding personal productivity, GTD, and mainly, personal management apps, I always find quite a big percentage of people who are really worried about questions regarding speed. Why do I need to double click, when I could just click once? why isn’t there a keyboard shortcut for every operation in the app? why does it take a few minutes to perform a specific process instead of just seconds? etc.

In my personal opinion (this is an article based on my personal opinion and, obviously, you can disagree with it… you may even be right doing so) this concern just makes sense to a certain extent. Improving all speed related aspects of an application will certainly contribute to an improvement in the final productivity of the user that works with it daily. But it seems to me that using this argument obsessively to decide which system you are going to use isn’t very intelligent. Being quicker is far from meaning that you’ll become more productive. In fact, most of the time an excess in speed can lead to a lot of inefficiencies.

The area in where I live usually gets packed of tourists in summer, and a lot of the times you need to drive slowly, because the road usually has a lot of traffic both directions. In that occasions I’m really calmed, enjoying the music, because there’s nothing I can do. But I always spot a driver trying constantly to overtake other cars and performing risky behaviours that make no sense. At the end, when I arrive to my destination I continue seeing that same car a few positions in front of me. He’s gained 30 seconds at the expense of risking having a stupid accident. And I can’t help but think that, the driver must be nervous and that, for sure, he hasn’t enjoyed the ride. Was “being quicker” worth it?

For me it is more and more frequent to hear this nonsense about false productivity. Take a look at the title of this article, 200 keyboard shortcuts to boost your productivity. Seriously? Do you really think it is productive to know by hard all the operations you’re able to do with 200 keyboard combinations? It is impossible that you’ll remember all 200 shortcuts, and while you were asking yourself what was the shortcut that let you do something, you could have easily finished the operation using the mouse and without any mental effort.

You can also find hundreds of articles with tips to be more productive by reading more quickly. Why do we even need to read more quickly?! Isn’t more important to firstly, choose wisely what you are going to read and secondly, read it carefully with enough calm to understand it, be able to think about it and draw conclusions? I’ve never learnt anything without taking enough time to understand everything well… reading more quickly to learn more quickly is the last thing i think about doing.

Speed gives you a false feeling of productivity and I think that’s why some people give more importance to it than they should. You do a micro-task really quickly, you check it as done, you do another one, your check it, the system deletes them immediately, your endorphin levels go up and a feeling of comfort invades you. You might have done something you didn’t have to do, but it doesn’t matter, you’re feeling productive.

A very clear example of this obsession for speed can be seen in most of the GTD newbies. The “clarify” and “reflect” stages take their time — because you need to think — and that is more than many beginners can stand. They complain because they can’t just “drag and drop“ each task in their destiny, and of course, this destroys their productivity. I’m sorry but that is bullshit. Doing things quickly and without thinking about them is the thing that ends up destroying your productivity. They complain because the can’t “waste an hour” a week in reviewing their inventory of commitments, but then they go horribly through the week due to their lack of organization and don’t seem to see any connection.

Personal productivity is often affected by a lot of aspects, not only on how quickly you do things. Some of this aspects, like the simplicity of the process or its cognitive implications, have so much more weight on your final effectiveness than the fact that a process took 500 or 800 milliseconds.

There are still a lot of obsolete ideas hanging around the field of personal productivity. But it is time to grow and focus on what’s really important. You can go slower but gain security, avoid risks and make less mistakes… what, on the long run, will make you quicker. Impatience is the biggest enemy of efficiency.

On the long run, you’ll be highly productive when you become capable of organizing and performing your tasks without doubts or confusions, and with clarity.

To sum up, speed is optional, an optimization on the way you’re doing things. Firstly, do things correctly, secondly do them better and, lastly, you can try to do them quicker.

5 comments

936994f19c677a9f7e23e7c97c4fbbc8
Commented almost 2 years ago Gustav

While I agree with the general sentiment of the article, I disagree with you regarding the importance of speed. For me it isn''t about saving time (having a keyboard shortcut or being able to click easily) but rather saving frustration. If I have to click many times to accomplish something or if I find that I could do something quicker another way that is when I get frustrated. And it is saving this frustration that I'm looking for in a system, not saving time per se.

936994f19c677a9f7e23e7c97c4fbbc8 Gustav

While I agree with the general sentiment of the article, I disagree with you regarding the importance of speed. For me it isn''t about saving time (having a keyboard shortcut or being able to click easily) but rather saving frustration. If I have to click many times to accomplish something or if I find that I could do something quicker another way that is when I get frustrated. And it is saving this frustration that I'm looking for in a system, not saving time per se.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 2 years ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Gustav

I, however, agree with you on that speed is important and that lack of speed can be frustrating.

What I try to highlight is something more subtle. When that speed you're missing hides a wrong behaviour and makes you act on impulse, without thinking, that's not good. It's even counter-productive. In such cases the punctual frustration you can feel doesn't, in my opinion, compensate for the frustration you will ultimately feel if you don't do things the right way.

Thanks for sharing!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Gustav

I, however, agree with you on that speed is important and that lack of speed can be frustrating.

What I try to highlight is something more subtle. When that speed you're missing hides a wrong behaviour and makes you act on impulse, without thinking, that's not good. It's even counter-productive. In such cases the punctual frustration you can feel doesn't, in my opinion, compensate for the frustration you will ultimately feel if you don't do things the right way.

Thanks for sharing!

E477c658f7fd640ef8b92786f7e90790
Commented almost 2 years ago Steve

Great article, Francisco! Speed is often the enemy of reflection and contemplation. Without exception, I find that my work improves when I slow down.

E477c658f7fd640ef8b92786f7e90790 Steve

Great article, Francisco! Speed is often the enemy of reflection and contemplation. Without exception, I find that my work improves when I slow down.

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3
Commented almost 2 years ago Steve

Excellent article, Francisco! Thanks!

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3 Steve

Excellent article, Francisco! Thanks!

2efbb24d599a2c70ecc4f579264fee6d
Commented almost 2 years ago Simon

Thanks for a very thought-provoking article. I am reminded of the current in-vogue idea of Mindfulness. While I can see the absurdity of the constant pursuit of greater speed. I would say, in defence of the fast clickers, that removing friction from every-day tasks boosts the chances that I will do them, not avoid them. For this reason, I am becoming a fan of cordless devices. My vacuum cleaner is cordless. I have an aversion to vacuum cleaning (!) and it helps me that with cordless I can just pick up the machine and get going. It's even fun! Likewise, things that don't work properly now get binned and replaced. I was brought up in an era of scarcity and one had to 'make-do-or-mend', but I now think that (if one can afford it), life is too short to 'make do". A GTD example of this approach might be David Allen recommending that one buys a high-quality filing cabinet to support general reference, as one that scrapes and rattles when I open a drawer will discourage me from using it. Likewise he talks about things attracting and repelling us, and that e.g a filing system should be a pleasure to use and enable something to be filed quickly and easily - otherwise, I will just add it to the heap! I may of course intentionally introduce some friction in a process,, to ensure I am not just drifting along on automatic pilot. One way is to intentionally speed up! Or, slow down.

2efbb24d599a2c70ecc4f579264fee6d Simon

Thanks for a very thought-provoking article. I am reminded of the current in-vogue idea of Mindfulness. While I can see the absurdity of the constant pursuit of greater speed. I would say, in defence of the fast clickers, that removing friction from every-day tasks boosts the chances that I will do them, not avoid them. For this reason, I am becoming a fan of cordless devices. My vacuum cleaner is cordless. I have an aversion to vacuum cleaning (!) and it helps me that with cordless I can just pick up the machine and get going. It's even fun! Likewise, things that don't work properly now get binned and replaced. I was brought up in an era of scarcity and one had to 'make-do-or-mend', but I now think that (if one can afford it), life is too short to 'make do". A GTD example of this approach might be David Allen recommending that one buys a high-quality filing cabinet to support general reference, as one that scrapes and rattles when I open a drawer will discourage me from using it. Likewise he talks about things attracting and repelling us, and that e.g a filing system should be a pleasure to use and enable something to be filed quickly and easily - otherwise, I will just add it to the heap! I may of course intentionally introduce some friction in a process,, to ensure I am not just drifting along on automatic pilot. One way is to intentionally speed up! Or, slow down.

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