Never mistake motion for action — Ernest Hemingway

There has been a lot of hype surrounding checklists and task lists in the past couple of decades.

They are supposed to make us both productive and happy.

But, how many times have you ask yourself these questions:

  • How valuable are the items on my list?
  • What will I accomplish and who will I become in the long run, if I keep designing and executing such a checklist?

There’s a critical distinction to make here. If we are to conquer the mountaintop of success in a knowledge economy, we must differentiate task-productivity (the ability to organize and execute non-skilled obligations) and value productivity (the ability to consistently produce highly-skilled, highly-valued output).

As the productivity guru, Cal Newport — the best selling author of deep work — suggests, if we are to go high on the ladder of achievement we have to consistently produce high-value results.

Producing-high value results require that in our lists, we give the priorities to the items that end up producing a valuable and precious outcome.

If you are an academic person, it would mean that you spend most of the time deeply devouring academic papers and reflecting on them.

If you are a writer, it means that you must designate the majority of your time writing (instead of getting wrapped up with the trivialities such as growing your twitter account).

Woody Allen is a shining embodiment of high-value productivity. He has written and directed 44 movies in 44 years and has earned 23 Academy Award nominations along the way. So let’s explore what we can learn from him.

I was fortunate to stumble on a documentary on the life and habits Woody Allen which I watched with a prying eye for hints and strategies on productivity.

Lesson #1: Keep The Chain Connected

Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals. — Jim Rohn

One of my all-time favorite and bombastically effective productivity hacks is what Jertt Seinfeld calls “don’t break the chain” strategy.

A key habit of Woody Allen as it turns out is practicing this strategy to its perfection: Writing every single day for a fixed amount of time.

He explains:

If you work only three to five hours a day you become very productive. It’s the steadiness of the practice that counts. Getting to the typewriter every day is what makes productivity”

I believe, such a habit is the cornerstone of high-value productivity which is crucial when your project or goal is a non-urgent but high-value project.

In absence of such a discipline to practice what is of high-value, we will find ourselves taking the path of least resistant and falling back into the banalities of regular to-do lists and we will end up filling our day with urgent and low-value tasks.

Lesson #2 Be Lofty in Vision, Pragmatic in Execution

Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success. — David Joseph Schwartz

Allen is lofty in conceiving a project. Once he initiates the execution though, he shifts the gears of his focus to doing whatever it takes to ship a finished product within the designated budget and time. In the words of Steve Jobs: Real artists ship.

He banters:

You always set out trying to make Citizen Kane. By the time you get to the editing room, you try just no to be humiliated.

It is crucial to maintaining the balance between the lofty vision and pragmatism.

If you just want to ship for the sake of shipping, you will probably end up adding more to the truckload of mediocrity out there.

Meanwhile, if you become too wrapped up in the barbs of your own hype, you will probably fall prey into perfectionism.

Lesson #3 Focus on High ROI Activities, not Twitter

The amateur tweets. The pro works. — Steven Pressfield

The critical habit that Allen forged in the early days of his career was constantly pondering what activities generated the highest returns on investment (ROI) of his time.

Then he ruthlessly converged his focus on doing that high-ROI activities and excluding other distractions.

This strategy is the embodiment of Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule.

To achieve massive success, Waren Buffet suggests that you list your top 25 endeared goals for the foreseeable future.

Then you must prioritize them in the order of importance. And here’s what gets interesting:

The top 5 items will be at the center of your focus and the remaining items join the avoid-at-all-cost list.

By simplifying his work hours to the core elements with the highest ROI, and removing from his life the burdensome question of “what should I do next?”, Allen ensures massive high-value productivity.

But what about chilling out on social media? After all the mind could benefit some entertainment. Well, Allen never owned a computer, to begin with…

In Summary

  • Make the distinction between task productivity and high-value productivity.
  • High-value productivity means designating the majority of your time to the tasks that leads to a valuable and precious outcome.
  • Find out in your personal and professional lives, what is the most valuable outcome you want to reach and what high-value task, if done consistently, will lead to that outcome.
  • Whatever you resolve to do, do it consistently, on a daily basis. This is the distinction between the mediocre and extraordinary achiever.
  • Keep the balance between lofty visions and pragmatism.
  • Focus intensely on high-value tasks and dismantle all the low-value distractions like social media (unless you earn money on social media).
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