Jeremy Abroad

How to work efficiently and stop wasting your time

April 04, 2016

Productivity, or the rate at which you get stuff done, is highly variable. When I’m “in the zone”, I’d estimate conservatively that I’m 4x more productive than when I’m least productive (eg. tired, bored, unfocused).

Unfortunately it’s not possible to constantly work at 100% productivity. We’re not robots, and our brains need rest. It’s inevitable that at some point, your ability to come up with creative ideas and be intensely focused will diminish (note: I’m referring to real, creative work, not rote/repetitive menial labor tasks).

When you get to this point of diminished productivity, you’re better off taking a break because that allows you to replenish your batteries quicker.

For example, you could do one of the following:

  1. Spend 3 hours working at 20% capacity
  2. Take a one hour break, then spend 2 hours working at 60% capacity (or intersperse that one hour break over those 3 hours)

In case 1, your output is 3 * .2 = .6 In case 2, your output is 2 * .6 = 1.2

Not only did you accomplish twice as much in case 2, but you worked 33% less hours.

This is essentially the ridiculousness of 9-5 office jobs and the giant elephant in the room. If your work involves any kind of creativity or nontrivial thinking, you could get the same or even more work done in a fraction of the time if you optimized your work habits. But good luck selling that to your boss.


The problem is, it can be difficult to gauge your rate of productivity at any moment in time. But if you make a conscious effort to do so, you will improve over time.

Break Ideas

I recommend doing something that you want to do, but here are some ideas on both a micro and macro scale:

  • Gym
  • Do productive things outside your task at hand
  • Socialize
  • Meditate
  • Do something random
  • Travel

My Story

I’ve always had the habit of working too much, even when I’m not being efficient. I’d tell myself to suck it up and just keep pushing.

In a sense this is admirable, and to a certain extent it is a good thing in that it builds discipline and expands my boundaries. But there’s a clear point after which it becomes counterproductive, and I crossed that line way too many times. The result is that I’ve accomplished significantly less than my potential, while wasting significantly more hours “working” - time that could’ve been spent exposing myself to random opportunities or simply enjoying life.

As a society we glamorize working way too much. It’s almost a status symbol to brag about how long you’ve worked. It’s utterly ridiculous. Work is simply a means to an end, and has diminishing returns. If you spend 10 hours doing something that could’ve been done in 4, you’re just an idiot who doesn’t value his time (by extension, your life). There’s nothing admirable about that. If you were truly devoted, then you would’ve optimized your time to work more efficiently.

Summary

Pay attention to your rate of productivity. It is extremely variable. Optimize to maximize output and minimize time working.


Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.