We need to get things done. And there was a point in my life 2 years ago when the book, Getting Things Done literally saved my life.

I want to break down the 5 pillars of productivity in preparation for a seminar I’m given on this on Sunday at The River Church. (If you’re in the neighbourhood, you are welcome to come – 2:30pm this Sunday.)

Before we begin: productivity vs creativity and the creative’s problem

Ahead of discussing the 5 pillars, I want to make an observation on the problem that we are trying to solve. Most of us have too much on our plate. We are inundated with ‘stuff’ and struggle on a daily, weekly and yearly basis with getting the things done that we need to and/or want to.

Of course, in the end, most stuff comes about right. But I wonder whether we reach anywhere near the potential that we could if we were more organised.

Further more, whilst everything might be alright in the end, the stress levels that we are living at with the weight of responsibility that most of us have crushes and paralyzes us. So whilst we might get to the end of the year with the stuff done that we needed to, it is with the price of exhaustion and the neutering of our creativity.

Yesterday Esko Kilpi challenged me that we should not use the word productivity for humans, but rather the word creativity. My good friend Robin Dickinson also talks about developing a strong NO and not filling out time with so much that we aren’t focussed on the present. Both of them would say that productivity – trying to squeeze more and more out of your day – is a foolish and inhuman pursuit and we should rather seek to have creative whitespace in our days.

Whilst I certainly don’t fall into the other side of the ditch – working 18 hours a day is not working smart – I am working in an environment where I have a lot to do and oversee and my days are on the fuller side as opposed to the free side.

Furthermore, anyone who is ‘creative’ knows that creativity requires discipline. And productivity requires creativity. The two are intrinsically linked and I wonder if it isn’t just a semantic game playing them off against each other.

The 3 values of this balanced life

Thus my premise for productivity, revolves around some core values that are a healthy balance of creativity but also reality:

  1. Integrity. That you become a reliable person, to others and to yourself, and that you do what you say you will do.
  2. Efficiently effective. That you become efficient, giving the time to tasks that they require in order to give you time for creativity, and that your creativity and thinking time is effective. This also denotes control and mastery of what of you do.
  3. Healthy. That you have balance between work and play (not just work, not just play), between enjoying rights and managing responsibilities, and that you enjoy a clear mind. This is freedom.

I think that whether we call it productivity or creativity, these three are good qualities that span all spectrums.

Archived Comments

  • http://www.tee-dp.com/ teedp

    I think developing a strong NO is great
    I spoke on that a bit today at creative brkfst.

    A NO defines a brand better than saying yes.
    A good place to start is by defining who is not your customer!
    Then define who is your customer.

    NO you are not my type of customer.

    Boundaries I suppose !!

  • / Scott Gould

    A strong NO is a favourite subject of mine!

    How did it go today?

  • http://www.tee-dp.com/ teedp

    great thanks..sunny day..lots of creatives..designers we had some
    positive discussion as well
    I will slide share it later on – thanks for asking

  • Catherine White

    A healthy balance is right Scott, creatives need two feet on the ground, if they are going to get anything finished. Which is what I have a problem with.

    My output is very high, but getting it out there, that’s a whole other story.

    Great post Scott.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Catherine

    Glad you agree. I know that I’m straddling two points of view but I cant get away from the need for creative discipline and discipline of mind.

    What do you mean by “getting it out there”?


  • / Scott Gould

    Do tell me – very keen to know

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    An interesting if somewhat sideways observation from Ceasar Milan… ‘The Dog Whisperer’

    “Mother Nature always wants to be balanced. So there’s no age where they don’t want to return back to normal. I have worked with dogs that are 11 years old, 13 years old, which you witness in the show. I worked with a dog that was 13 years old that was extremely territorial to her food. And I was able to accomplish a calm, submissive state, which is allowing for you to create rules, boundaries and limitations. The mind backs away from the food. So in their world, they are always ready to balance. It’s the human who fights it.”

    It is in our nature to find balance, but our social conditioning has made us seek social reward, which is given for adhering to the norm. The ‘Overworked’ – work hard – play hard attitude prevails. Although there are nuances.

    The nature of corporate driven consumer based capitalism, sucks value into monopolies and rewards hoarding. Capitalism needs balance. Democracy and the judicial system alone are not enough, since political parties and judicial review is blinded by the status quo.

    The very measure of success being more money = more rewarding is causing the problem.

    The act of making money alone isn’t the problem. The systemic ability to hoard, capture, and suck that money up the wealth chain is. There has to be a reward for building, maintaining & improving. However, the system that needs to sell a consumable product, in order to improve next quarters revenue figures also has to socially condition you with advertising to want to buy that product.

    I don’t believe for a second there was ever a master plan to get to this point, it just happened. As a system gets larger it gets more complex.

    The problem is, growth alone has been attributed to improved living standards. Growth = better life has been the economist’s, politician’s and business man’s Modus Operandi for decades, without clear evidence of that being the case. Growth = Better life FOR SOME.

    Growth needs balance. Human’s are a creative species and will invent. This invention needs reward. A well timed reward reinforces good behavior. Yet our rewards system is geared towards hoarding finance. You can earn twice as much by knowing how others will do, than by doing.


    Our Academic education system, has produced adults who have not been rewarded for doing regularly enough. Our social reward system (pay) is geared towards hoarding that pay towards those who can predict and engineer business reality.

    The recent ‘Start Up Britain’ initiative is nice, but what we really need to do is re-dress this imbalance in society. I’d argue Game Theory and rewards in education have a role to play here, as well as rewards outside of money.