The Most Important Rule for Unsurpassed Productivity

The busier my life gets, the more that productivity stands out as one of the most valuable skills someone can possess. Our time is one of two incredibly valuable resources that most people don’t appreciate as much as they should (the other is our health). Once time is wasted, it can never be recovered, which makes it immensely valuable. But enough of me running off on a tangent; today’s topic is about the MOST important rule for top notch productivity. If one does not follow this rule 100% of the time, there will always be flaws in one’s productivity system. On top of that, those who do not follow this rule can never make the switch from basic productivity to holistic productivity.

Without further delay, the rule I am talking about is: Every idea, thought, task, appointment, whim, and bit of inspiration MUST be easily captured and integrated into your productivity system without excessive effort.

Most people set up their system to only capture and integrate tasks and appointments. This is what I like to call basic productivity. In its own right, there is nothing wrong with this system. These people will get things done and will be on time for appointments because it’s all down on to-do lists and a calendar. However, if someone who practices basic productivity suddenly has a great idea for a trip he’d like to take in the future on his way to work, but neglects to write it down and allocate it to the right place for future reference, his mind is now burdened with remembering it until that time. One of the basic principles of productivity is that you work best when your mind is free from the clutter and worry that results from having to remember ideas and times. Back to our example, if that idea becomes forgotten as he gets caught up with work and appointments, it’s likely that his idea for a trip may never materialize.

A holistic approach to productivity goes very far beyond the simple accomplishing of tasks on a to-do list. True productivity should allow you the time to explore and try new ideas, pursue your dreams, and find time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do in life. This is how productivity shifts from simply getting things done to noticeably improving your life in the process of getting things done. And this all starts with capturing your ideas, dreams, and moments of inspiration before they become lost. To do this is quite easy. Simply create a to-do list called “Someday / Maybe” and create a folder on your computer (or label a manila folder in your filing cabinet) for dreams, ideas, and inspiration. Whenever you have an idea on the road or away from your computer, simply find a way to get the idea into the system, and then allocate it to the right spot when you have a chance. I have two methods of capture. I’ll either write it down on a piece of paper and then hold onto the paper in my pocket (we all clear out our pockets at the end of the day, right?) or I’ll e-mail the idea to myself if I have my iPod Touch with me. Once I get home, I’ll file away the idea to the appropriate place–actionable items go on the “Someday / Maybe” list and plans or general ideas go into the folder.

From there, use your ever-improving productivity skills to create time blocks where you can pursue these ideas. If it weren’t for my ability to do this, this blog would not exist. This blog was an idea that popped into my head roughly 2 years ago during a conversation with one of my closest friends. A year later I finally made it happen. Thankfully, the idea sat in my “Someday / Maybe” list, which I reviewed once every 1-2 weeks, so I never forgot about it. Good thing I didn’t let the idea slip past me, eh?

You may have your own system in place and your method may be different. But no matter your system, always make sure to be prepared to capture any idea at any point in time and allocate it to the appropriate place.

Best of the Web — Happiness and Mastery

My recent focus has shifted towards the relationship between career, lifestyle, happiness, and mastery. They are all strongly interconnected in ways that I was previously unaware of. The articles below will give you a sense of what I mean.

Why You Need to Fail to Succeed

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

-M. Scott Peck

“Success is 99% failure.”

-Soichiro Honda

These two quotes embody my personal beliefs on failure, and I often refer to them when I find myself discouraged after experiencing failure. It’s a shame that most people are taught to adopt a negative attitude towards such failure- when viewed from a difference perspective, it is one of the best things that can happen to a person. In other words, failure is a blessing in disguise. In this post, I will argue that failure is strongly correlated with success in the following three ways:

1) Failure implies having actually made an attempt
2) Failure forces you to acknowledge shortcomings and/or room for improvement
3) Failure makes you stronger and more resilient

Failure Implies Having Actually Made An Attempt

If you have recently failed at something, it implies that you have done something that most people haven’t: you actually made an attempt at success. Those who are afraid of failure often end up doing nothing at all. Whether it’s the guy who is too nervous to talk to the cute girl at the bar or the college student who has never learned to drive a car because of the risk of crashing, inaction is a symptom of fear of failure. People tend to do this because staying within one’s comfort zone and doing nothing often hurts less (emotionally) than putting one’s self out there only to be shot down in defeat. It’s difficult for people to put their egos aside and realize that in the long run, it’s always better to have tried and failed than to have done nothing at all.

Practice makes perfect. If you are intelligently approaching a challenge and are failing despite your best attempts, that simply indicates that you are on the path towards success through practice. Making an attempt and then failing puts you one step closer towards achieving success, whereas inaction leaves you exactly where you are. I encourage you to take a tally of all of the endeavors, goals, plans, and desires you wish to realize in your future and ask yourself: “Why haven’t I achieved these goals yet? Is it because I am trying and still haven’t been successful? Or is it because I haven’t even tried yet?” If you haven’t made an attempt to achieve some or all of those unrealized goals, it’s likely that a fear of failure is keeping you back.

Note: Another common reason for unrealized goals is not enough time. Please review my articles on productivity, which will teach you how to find the time you need to achieve your goals. No excuses! :)

Failure Forces You to Acknowledge Shortcomings

Not too long ago, I convinced myself to start doing practice interviews multiple times a week. I had always been hesitant to do it for seemingly no good reason. Once I began though, I understood why I had been so hesitant all along. I was awful at interviewing, despite my sociable nature. I stumbled over my words and was unable to string a smooth sentence together. Ouch. From that day forward though, I realized how important it was for my professional growth for me to continue doing frequent practice interviews.

In AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), it is understood that the first step towards recovery is admitting that there is a problem. The same goes for personal growth. When someone fails, he is forced to acknowledge his shortcomings. This isn’t a bad thing, considering that no one is perfect. You must acknowledge that there is room for growth (a.k.a. – imperfection) if you want to begin the process of improvement. Those who frequently face failure also have the greatest clarity as to how they can improve and grow.

Failure Makes You Stronger and More Resilient

Spoiled adolescents are examples of individuals who have not been allowed the benefit of failing. In their view of the world, if they complain or act up enough, they will almost always get what they want. If they are never released from this mindset, the real world will be a horribly rude awakening for them.

Failure is something that one cannot avoid in life. In fact, we are hard-wired to learn by trial and error, which makes failure built into how we learn and grow. People who learn to cope with this are more likely to try new things and aim for more difficult goals without worrying about the ego-damaging nature of failure. Salesman cannot achieve stellar sales records without first learning to handle failure. A job hunter who gets discouraged after one bad interview will find it immensely difficult to land a job, especially in the 2010 job market.


Learn to love failure. Learn to learn from failure. And most of all, never let the fear of failure alter the goals you set out to achieve.

Re-read the quotes at the beginning of this post and see if they resonate stronger after having read this article. I have these quotes on my wall near my desk, where I can view them frequently. If you feel you need a reminder as to how important it is to experience failure, I recommend doing the same.