The best productivity tools are the ones that work best for you. Neil Gaiman writes with fountain pens in a cabin in the woods. Christopher Nolan doesn’t have email or a cell phone. Warren Buffett spends 80% of this time reading. Those people succeed – in part – because they’ve found a productivity system that works best for them.
In his book, Foolproof, Greg Ip suggests two ways to deal with uncertainty. The first is like an engineer. Engineers use the best resources available to create solutions. It’s the Army Corps of Engineers, who construct levees. It’s behavioral psychologist who suggests eating off of smaller plates as a way to eat less.
An ecologist, on the other hand, is someone who believes that systems tend to have a natural state, and solving one problem will only lead to another. Ecologist believe that floodplains, not levees are the best solution. They would turn to the behavioral psychologist and note that people may eat less from smaller plates, but won’t become healthy until they adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Much like what Ip suggests with uncertainty, I believe the same concept applies to productivity.
So… are you a productivity engineer or productivity ecologist?
Productivity engineers choose what to work on each day. They have IF.com recipes that automatically filter messages, blog posts, and social media. Their Buffer queue full, topped off each Tuesday at 6:00.
Productivity ecologists choose modes instead of moments. They do the work that matches their energy level. They tweet when they get a chance. They change their work like the weather. They exhibit a flexibility like recent Productivityist Podcast guest Annie Mueller.
If you think the whole is the sum of the parts, you’re more of a productivity engineer. If you think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, you’re more of a productivity ecologist.
Of course, it’s not necessarily either or. It’s a spectrum just like digital and paper. Like following Inbox Zero and whatever I use. Like online and IRL. You can be an engineer, ecologist, or somewhere in the middle, but you have to know where you are. The most productive people leverage processes that work best for them. Knowing if you’re an engineer or ecologist is another way to figure out who you are.
To know thyself if a valuable tool. Mike Vardy often talks about being a night owl. It’s not that being a night owl is good – or bad – only that it works for him. Are you a night owl like Mike? Not sure how to be as productive as your early rising counterparts? Check out The Night Owl Action Plan.