Hustling toward effectiveness

July 25, 2017

Posted: August 8, 2016, 5:07pm

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog on Viterbi Pulse this far, you probably noticed a few themes. Productivity, science, traveling. I really want to convey the experience of a typical PhD student here at USC (an all around awesome experience, I might add!) but also be useful to the readers of these words as well. One way I can do that is by explaining how my routine contributes to success. I’ll call my approach “hustling toward effectiveness” (as opposed to efficiency – I’ll explain).

Effectiveness vs Efficiency

Like many of you, I try to work hard. My typical week includes (at least) 40 – 50 hours in the lab working on research, teaching a weekly small group Bible study lesson, writing two articles for Viterbi Pulse, writing one article for my side project, Into the Image, and sometimes I sneak in a few conferences or courses during the semester.

How do I design my life so that I can accomplish all this?

You might think that productivity is all about cramming more and more into the limited time and space you have this week.

You’d be wrong.

Change your focus to working toward effectiveness: fill your life with good quality work, not just great quantities of work.

Life is all about choices. My schedule might seem like a lot of work, but I had to make choices about what to do. I’m a PhD student, competing with the myriad of my hard-working peers across the world for a chance at the very few jobs academics has to offer after graduation. Why do I “waste” time writing about topics that don’t relate to my research, when I could “get ahead” in the field if I only worked a little harder?

We’ll be happier if we remember productivity will only lead to a happy life if we are accomplishing the right things.

Lasting impact

Anybody off the street can accomplish a lot. But few accomplish even a little of what really matters. Let me give you an example.

I like to be organized. Sometimes I’ll spend a few hours organizing my files on my computer and on my desk so that it’s all neat and proper. Ifeel very productive after doing that. I can even put that ever-so-coveted check-mark of success on my To Do list.

But did I accomplish anything of consequence?

Sure, my files are organized well, and that’ll help me be more effective in the fu- ture when I finally get around to the real work of the day. But if I had designed my life right the first time and utilized a good productivity system, I wouldn’t need those few hours organizing and I could move on to real work that can leave a lasting impact.

What history tells us

Learning about the history of productivity was a turning point for me. Let explain how we’ve come to the current place in our thinking about productivity.

  1. Humans first invented the To Do list. This is the most commonly known productivity tool. The purpose is to get tasks out of your head and onto paper. Don’t trust your brain to remember! Never forget ever again!
  2. The second stage was the addition of the calendar. Why not spend a few minutes organizing those tasks with specific due dates (and start dates) that way you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter.
  3. The third stage is important one. Set goals. After all, you can write down any number of tasks, but you should make sure to only accomplish the ones that connect to your goals. If a task isn’t part of a goal, why are you doing it?
  4. Values matter. We can feel a cognitive dissonance if we don’t set goals that match our values. If you value mindfulness in taking care of the environment, would you be happy with working for a destructive oil company? You’ll work harder when you’re confident your goals connect to your deeply-held personal values.
  5. It might sound a little strange at first, but there are some universally true values. Even Hitler had values, but most of his were just plainwrong, right? Many of the popular business books written recently focus on some of the universally true values that transcend time and geography: sustainability, transparency, honesty, integrity, kindness. Companies that practice these values are usually – and maybe not surprisingly – more successful. It may seem to cost more in the short term to invest in sustainable projects, but consumers are won by values and customer loyalty has a lasting long-term impact.

The fifth historical stage of productivity is important to learn in our own lives. We can get caught up in a hailstorm of efficiency. Just grabbing those To Do list check-marks and we never take time to consider how we are personally capable of being a force for good in this world – and making a lasting change.

This is different for everyone. Maybe all those sacrifices you’re making at work are getting in the way of your family values. We’ll be the happiest when our daily actions match our hearts. Does your To Do list reflect your values?

What will be your lasting impact?

What will be your lasting impact in this life? Do you have a passion that you can’t get out of your brain. Design your life so that you spend time, actual hours grinding and hustling toward this goal everyday – not just dreaming about it. Make your time work for you, make it effective, not just efficiently going through the 9-to-5-to-Netflix of life.

Will you dare to start today? Take time to consider how the daily tasks of your life add up to the bigger picture. This isn’t about doing more – it’s about matching your life to your values, and making time for the most important things in life.



Published on July 25th, 2017

Last updated on August 10th, 2017