On Productivity

Ari Meisel
5 min readApr 5, 2021

My latest book is now available, here’s the first chapter…

The chase to lead a productive life is extraordinarily misguided and, for many people, downright disheartening.

It might be because the way we define productivity today is a holdover from a time when Japanese management terms like Kaizen, Kanban, and the Five Whys, were all the rage.

Back then, when shoulder pads and Brioni suits roamed the earth, productivity meant producing more. How productive you were was about how much you made, a quantifiable number of goods, services, or profits.

Efficiency, or Jidoka, was defined as producing the most with the least. The most efficient person (or process) was the one who did the most, got the most done, and created the most while using the least amount of resources.

These constructs are totally applicable if you’re talking about Toyota production, but not so much if you’re talking about entrepreneurs. So, I’d say it’s way past time to update the notion of productivity; its meaning, intent, and goals.

We’ve got a lot to cover. Stay hydrated.

First, productivity is the wrong thing to pursue. Productivity, efficiency, effectiveness are all by-products of a change that takes place internally. They are not an end result. But “mindset” is not a static or absolute concept either. It’s not a lockstep prescription for success.” Getting in the right mindset” seems to mean we all have to think a certain way. That’s nonsense. It’s personal.

For example, you could have all the tech in the world, all the tools that I recommend, like Trello, Voxer, Slack, Intercom, and Zapier. But if the tool is not in sync with the way your mind works, you will not become more productive, efficient, or effective. You’ll get frustrated.

Technology only amplifies habits. If you have good habits, technology helps you make them better. If you have bad habits, the tech will make them worse. I have seen some Trello boards that are straight-up masterpieces, and I’ve seen Trello boards that are the technological equivalent of my mother’s kitchen junk drawer.

Technology does not have the power to make you productive. Only you do.

I think the goal, the shift, the mindset, needs to be borne of a greater appreciation of effectiveness. By definition, that you are successful in producing the desired outcome.

If it works for you, you’re being effective.

Look, there are very well established productivity systems out there, like The Eisenhower Matrix and Getting Things Done and Less Doing. Just because they don’t work for you; it doesn’t mean you have a productivity problem.

Conversely, if you have something that’s working well for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. But getting off the winning horse because there’s another horse that has more followers on Instagram, is definitely not a good plan.

So why do we have this thing about being more productive?

It’s pure ego.

I did more.

I work less.

I made more.

I sleep better.

I am more right.

Did you know James Patterson has written, at last count, 147 books in his career? Obviously, he’s extremely productive. Are they all works of art? No way. But it’s still pretty impressive. However, this measurement of success by volume, whether it’s books or brainstorms, comes at a cost.

Producing more costs something, and I’m not just talking about money. I can’t think of any situation where producing more costs less. Now the ratio may change, obviously. For each incremental unit of productivity, you may have a smaller, incremental unit of cost. But as productivity increases, costs do too.

Those costs are most damaging between our ears, where overwhelm and stress breed so easily. Too many entrepreneurs I’ve met freak the f%#k out because they’re not productive enough. Most of the time, they compare themselves against a yardstick that does not exist or have any relevance in the real world.

So if you’re doing that. Stop.

Also, no matter who you are and what position you’re in, overwhelm can undoubtedly come from things over which we have no control. An illness in the family or a child with learning disabilities or the death of a loved one causes very real overwhelm and should never be discounted, ignored, or glossed over.

But, when somebody says they are overwhelmed because they have too many emails in their inbox. They have too many research articles to read. They have too many reports to write; that is a hundred percent about mindset.

You do not need a single tool, a single piece of technology. You might not even need electricity to eradicate that kind of overwhelm. All you need to do is change your relationship with your expectations. Ask yourself, when it comes to the actual pursuit, are you successful in producing the desired result?

Now, of course, it requires that you know the desired results. Many people don’t. They bury themselves in a never-ending state of busy-ness to create a sense of urgency and the resulting overwhelm. They wear it as a badge of honor, all the while wasting time, resources, and the energy of themselves and others.

If I were to give you a choice, Listen, here’s $10. You can invest in this thing, which will provide you with a $20 return for $10. Or you can invest in this other thing that will give you a thousand dollars return for ten years. Which one you’d pick is a no brainer. It seems so obvious because that is the practical decision, right? If the desired outcome is to make as much money as possible with your $10, choose number two.

Then why do so many people take a dollar and say, I’m going to find something that’s going to make me $1.15? Then I’m going to take another dollar and find another thing that makes me $1.15. I will invest in things all day long, and at the end of the day, I’ll probably make $1.15. It may seem hyperbolic, but I think that reasoning is pretty widespread. It’s no one’s fault. We have a culture that has created this relentless pursuit or more, even if the end result is less.

Big law firms are a great example. New lawyers are supposed to bill as many hours as humanly possible. Many hundreds of hours, the more, the better, because they are billing hourly. But that’s not about being effective.

Here’s one more example.

Let’s say the world is working on a vaccine. Would you rather one group of scientists spend years and years and years trying thousands of different combinations to hopefully one day five, six, seven years in the future, get a vaccine that is 80% effective? Or would it be better to ignore the overwhelm, slow down, divide up the work and have each research group identify twenty possible combinations, then spend six months testing those to get a solution that’s 98% effective?

We can do that in everyday life.

It comes down to doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason, nothing

Pick up a copy of the book HERE



Ari Meisel

Founder — Less Doing /The Replaceable Founder/ Overwhelmologist/Serial Entrepreneur / Ironman / Author / Inventor