Is Productivity Hacking the Ultimate Procrastination Tool?

Is Productivity Hacking the Ultimate Procrastination Tool?

It is not uncommon for me to spend several hours browsing the web, looking for ways to optimize my productivity and reduce "wasted" time. I have tried every single note taking app in existence, as if the right app will somehow make me better at writing notes. Productivity tools can be great, but counterintuitively, more productivity tools will not make you more productive.

This post is not your classic "10 Best Productivity Tools to Save 3 Hours a Day!". On the contrary, I argue that it is this endless search of productivity tools and hacks are actually harming your productivity.

Why Is Looking To Increase My Productivity Considered Procrastination?

Instead of reading this post, is there perhaps something else you should be doing? Dirty dishes in the sink, your side project or unfolded laundry. If there is nothing you can think of, congratulations, you have mastered the art of productivity. I commend you.

For the rest of us, let's be honest for a second. We have all tried to rigorously optimize as much as we can. Don't feel bad about it. This is the way we are wired. Raise your hand if you have ever had something like the following thoughts:

  • If I download this notes app, my notes will be much better structured, and I will be way more productive!
  • If I change my calendar app, I can do a much better job at planning my meetings and I will have so much more time to be productive!
  • If I pay for the premium version of this ToDo app, I will finally get all my todos done in time and my productivity will skyrocket!

Doing any of that didn't increase your productivity; it just made you feel like it did. The problem is not that you are trying to optimize, it is that you are spending a disproportionate amount of time doing so.

What Is Procrastination Anyway?

Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay.
Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl

Instead of being productive, I read a book about procrastination. That was a really good way to feel good about my procrastination.

The way the author puts it, procrastination is failure to regulate our emotions. We don't feel good about the dirty dishes in the sink, but we don't like doing them. The thought of doing them also doesn't make us feel very good. Instead we go ahead and look for the 10 best productivity hacks of 2024, so we feel good about the prospect of being more productive.

This post is not covering how to stop procrastinating. What I want to achieve is for you, dear reader, to realize that looking for productivity hacks is a form of procrastination in itself.

The Place for Productivity Tools

There are many tools available that make people more productive. It's important to understand that what may work for one person, might not work for someone else.

If you are always forgetting to do things, a to-do app is probably a really good idea. When your notes are scattered around 6 different apps and physical pieces of paper, settling on a single note app is also smart.

When you do certain things over and over, finding a way to do them faster or better is a true increase in productivity. This is what you should be looking for.

Looking for productivity hacks is not always a waste of time. Sometimes you might use an app or software and not be aware of a killer feature. Imagine you did not know about the shortcuts Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V. Those simple shortcuts must have saved humanity collectively years of time.

Adding Productivity Tools to Your Life

Instead of using every productivity hack at your disposal, start by assessing what you spend the most time on. As I mentioned before, feeling more productive does not mean you actually are more productive. You need to take the following measures into account:

  • Time spent (or saved)
  • Money spent (or saved)
  • Happiness
  • Convenience

Let's go through the life-cycle of productivity hacking by using something that nearly anyone in the modern world does on occasion: grocery shopping.

#1 No Optimizations At All

We will start out keeping all the groceries we need to buy in our head. We save minutes by not writing anything down. Yet when we are shopping, we can't think of everything we thought of before. We wander around adding things we don't need and forgetting to buy half of what we thought of.

We didn't spend a lot of time or money, but this is very inconvenient and forgetting groceries doesn't make anyone happy, other than our wallet. Clearly there is a better way.

#2 Writing the List Down on Paper

Before you go shopping, you write everything you need down on a piece of paper. This is what my mom used to do (and still does). You head to your local grocer and buy everything on the list. Pretty productive. No need to optimize.

Or is there? You keep forgetting the grocery list on the kitchen counter! Even when you don't forget it, your partner texts you to not forget milk and eggs. Now you have 2 lists to keep track of.

A list of groceries to buy is certainly is a productivity improvement over the memory exercise. While writing things down increased the time spent metric, it clearly improved all the other metrics.

If you fall victim to forgetting your written list, or have multiple family members sending you messages of things not to forget, there might be a more productive solution.

#3 Using a Shared Note in the Cloud

You and your family have a shared note that syncs in the cloud. This is, as we call it in the development word, your single source of truth. Everything that needs to be bought goes into this shared note. You never forget your phone, and your partner doesn't need to text you last minute. They will just add it to the magic list.

This is probably a more productive way to buy groceries for a lot of people. However, not for everyone.

Perhaps you are a slow typer but a fast writer. You don't like carrying your phone around while shopping and no one is texting you anyway. If you are much happier writing down your groceries, it doesn't matter that other people feel more productive having a shared note. What matters is what works for you.

#4 Using a Modern AI Groceries App

Now we are starting to go into dangerous productivity hacking territory. I am explicitly not linking to any apps or tools to be neutral, but one can imagine the existence of such a tool.

Our imaginary app categorizes groceries so you can easily find them in the most effective order. Anyone in your family can add products to it, if they have the right permissions and AI will suggest you things you might be forgetting. What a leap in productivity!

Except maybe you don't want to pay the $4.99 monthly subscription fee. For some people it might be worth paying for all those features, just because you don't, doesn't mean you are not productive.

#5 Having Groceries Delivered Right to Your Doorstep

The pinnacle of shopping productivity is, of course, to not go shopping at all. Have it directly delivered to your doorstep. What a time to be alive, saving hours for... more work? Or perhaps spend time with the kids. It's about what you do with the time saved, and realizing what activity you are saving time on.

If instead of going shopping, you spend quality time with friends and family, that's a good productivity hack. It increases cost but reduces time spent and boosts convenience and happiness

Yet if you spend that "saved time" scrolling through Instagram, it is not a productivity improvement at all. You have productively facilitated the opportunity to be lazy. It's not a bad idea to get out of the house. Browse some fresh produce. Try some new products. Maybe talk to a stranger while you are both in line for the checkout.

Hopefully this illustrates how the 4 metrics: time spent, money spent, convenience and happiness vary from person to person.

Final Thoughts

In an age where everyone is always trying to optimize everything, it is paramount to take a step back and ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Am I optimizing something to feel productive while I should be doing something else?
  2. Does this optimization actually save me time and money, or does it just feel that way?

Be careful to optimize every aspect of your life. Not everything needs to be instant, at any time, anywhere.

Thank you for reading until the end! I should probably be working on my side projects, or finish my reading goals for this year. Instead, I wrote this blog post, hoping that my procrastination will make someone else a little more productive. Paradoxically, by being less focussed on hacks, and more on the task at hand.