In recent years there has been an explosion of websites dedicated to tips, tricks and methods for being more productive. Every day my Twitter stream fills up with articles titled “5 Ways To…” and “7 Simple Steps For…” and “The [Insert Famous Person] Guide To…” [I resisted the urge to title this post “The 1 Easy Way To Be More Productive”.]

The problem is that, while many of these articles contain elements of solid advice, they all feed the insatiable hunger we have for the killer app. The golden key. The one-size-fits-all system that will forever change how we do our work and enable us to unleash hell on our next project. We simply need to know the five steps and then the world will be ours. (By the way, I’m writing this with one finger pointed squarely in my own chest.)

The problem is that many of us are in love with the idea of being productive more than we really want to produce.

The real killer app? It’s understanding that the root word of the adjective productive is a verb: produce. What we’re really after is to produce something, not to feel productive. The something we produce might be bad. Really bad, actually. Or it might be great. But at the end of the day no one really cares how you produced it, they only care that there is something there to see, hear or poke.

A carpenter can know all of the best practices and tips and tricks for making things out of wood, but real learning only comes through splinters and mistakes. Knowledge means nothing without practice of craft. A manager can read every best-selling book about how to lead people, but that’s useless until there are emotions and real risk involved. It’s clinical. Sterile, even. (And yes, I’d rather you make something valuable today than read a single word of my book. I wrote it to inspire action.)

The problem is that many of us are in love with the idea of being productive more than we really want to produce.

The only job of the artist is to produce something. To make the ineffable tangible. How the artist does this is between the artist and the wind. No one needs to know.

So if you (me, or anyone) want to be more productive today, the best way to do so is to begin each day with a single question:

What will I produce today?

At the end of the day, what will exist that didn’t before? What will I bring into the world? What questions will I answer, problems will I solve, rock will I move? The delta is what matters. What changed about the world today because I existed?

Yes, read tips and advice articles and take value from them. That’s fine. (I do too.) But remember that at the end of your life, no one will care how many productivity hacks and tips you know. All that will stand – as a monument to your life’s work – is what you actually produce.

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