What is the Productivity Journey?
15 min read
Welcome to the Productivity Journey! I'm glad you're here. Before we embark on this journey together, I'd like to share my motivation and purpose behind writing this book. There's been a lot written about productivity, so it may seem strange to add yet another book into the vast sea of books that exist. Everyone sees things in a different way, and I'd like to share how I see productivity and organization. I feel I have a less academic view of how to improve productivity, which I hope will be more relatable to people and help them progress faster than they normally would otherwise.
My main purpose behind sharing my views and opinions on this subject is to empower others to create their own productivity system. To understand what I mean by that, it may be helpful to define what I mean by productivity system. For example, a popular productivity system that a lot of people have heard of is David Allen's Getting Things Done, or GTD. It's a specific process to follow that his meant to help you focus on the important things in your life and get things checked off on your to do list. A process for getting important things in your life done is what I mean by productivity system.
So now that we know what I mean by productivity system, I can better explain my purpose. I want to help you, the reader, to learn how to create your very own process for productivity which will be perfectly tailored to how you want to work. There is no size fits all when it comes to productivity methods and processes, so the ability to create / tailor a system to yourself is hugely important.
# Chapter 1: What is the Productivity Journey
It's a pretty common fact that people love stories. There's whole industries devoted to delivering us stories via movies, television shows, books, radio plays, live theater, and so on. Stories are not just entertainment, though. Stories are how we relate to our family, our friends, our coworkers. Stories are the universal language that allows peoples and cultures to communicate with one another.
I'm going to start off by telling a story of my own invention, though you'll probably notice that it's very similar to other stories you've heard before. We'll get into why that is in a minute.
Once upon a time, there lay a small village at the foot of some very tall mountains. Within this village lived a young boy, who dreamed of someday becoming a heroic knight.
One day, the village was beset upon by a vicious, fire breathing dragon. Many buildings were burned and livestock was carried off. The villagers all managed to escape. The boy vowed he would protect the village in the case of another attack. He would just need to learn a little bit of swordplay.
He sought out an old sword master who was rumored to live in a nearby forest. After a day of searching, the boy found the sword master living in a small cabin. He plead his case to the sword master, and the sword master agreed to train him. After learning only a few basic moves, the boy felt ready to take on the dragon. The sword master warned him that he still had much to learn before being able to defeat a dragon, but the boy hurried out the door.
The boy climbed up the mountain towards the dragon's cave. The dragon smelled the boy coming and waited patiently in the shadows for the boy to approach. As soon as the boy was within a few feet of the cave entrance, the dragon let out an enormous fireball. The boy turned quickly and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He turned to see if the dragon was following him, but he saw nothing. He collapsed to the ground out of exhaustion. He managed to escape with little injury, but he felt devastated at not even getting near the dragon. How was he going to protect his village if he couldn't even get near the cave?
Angered that the boy had the gaul to come face him, the dragon takes off and heads back to the village. The boy watches helplessly as the dragon descends on his home once again. He's filled with a new resolve to defeat the dragon and protect his home from the dragon for good.
The boy returns to the sword master in hopes that he'll have some idea on how to fight a fire breathing dragon. He's dismayed when he walks in and finds the sword master on his death bed. The sword master tells the boy that he has everything he needs in order to defeat the dragon. He just needs to combine what he has learned with the courage he has inside of him, and he has a chance at triumphing over the dragon. The sword master then passed away.
The boy hurried back to the village. The dragon was still there trying to get at the villagers, who were hiding in an underground seller. Now that the dragon was out in the open, the boy's fear melted away. He could see the dragon's weak points, and this gave him the confidence to rush forward. While the dragon was still distracted trying to get at the villagers, the boy climbed onto the roof of a nearby house, and thrust his sword at the dragons right wing. The sword tore a hole in the thin skin of the wing, and the dragon let out a mighty roar. It could no longer maintain flight, and slowly fell to the ground. The boy jumped down from the roof, and in the dragon's confusion, he leapt onto the dragon and thrust his sword in with all his might. The dragon breathed out one last fireball, then lay still. The boy had vanquished the dragon!
The villagers came out of hiding, and stood in awe of the defeated dragon. Several villagers rushed forward and lifted the boy onto to their shoulders. Everyone cheered and lauded the boy for his great victory.
Over time the village was rebuilt, and the boy became a leader of a group of warriors whose job it was to protect the village from other beasts and marauders. The boy grew into a great warrior, and was loved by all in the village. They never forgot his brave deed in ridding them of the dragon and bringing peace and protection to their land.
Now for another, not as exciting story, but maybe a bit more relatable.
A college freshman is a week into his classes, and is already overwhelmed. He's already got a bunch of homework, and has his first set of tests coming up in a few weeks. He's already realizing that high school ill prepared him for the amount of self organization college requires. He's going to need to learn to organize himself, and fast.
He begins investigating productivity and organizational methods, and finds all kinds of apps and systems. He gets excited about all the things he's learning, and wants to try it all. He starts downloading a ton of apps and spends a good chunk of time playing with settings and adding to do items. He feels so much better about his organizational skills already, and is super confident he's going to nail his tests.
A few weeks go by, and the college student is a little less enamored with his productivity apps. He's spending more time tweaking his system than he is actually getting things done. He's not getting his homework done, and he isn't studying as a result. The first of his tests is looming, and he feels woefully unprepared.
The college student fails his first test, and has to do a makeup test to save his grade. By now he's fed up with his productivity system, and throws the whole thing out. He's now back to where he started and still struggles to keep up with his work.
You're probably wondering at this point why I told you these stories, and how they might relate to each other. Lucky for you, the explanation behind these stories is what this book is all about! And before we can really understand what these two stories have in common, we need to examine the root of all great stories: the Hero's Journey.
I've seen many breakdowns of the Hero's Journey, but they all seem to have the same general flow. Our hero character starts off with some sort of desire, then goes on an adventure to fulfill that desire. Throughout the journey the hero gains knowledge through experience, and is forever changed through the experience, whether for good or ill.
The Hero's Journey is, of course, told through stories. Stories are broken down into parts, and just like the Hero's Journey, is often broken down a little differently depending on who you're talking to. For the purposes of this book, I've broken down story structure in the following way:
- Act I
- Break into Act II
- Act II
- Fun & Games
- Bad Guys Close In
- All is Lost
- Dark Night of the Soul
- Break into Act II
- Act III
- Final Image
Stories are usually broken into three Acts, and each of those Acts is broken down into smaller steps. The breakdown of the Act I is as follows:
Homeostasis is the place where we are introduced to the hero of the story. This is where we learn what life is like for the hero on a day to day basis. We also typically learn what it is the hero wants, which is what they ultimately go on the adventure for.
The Catalyst is some major event that disrupts the life of the hero. Oftentimes a character close to the hero is captured or passes away, and this is the push the hero needs to start the journey they've been reluctant to take.
The Debate is where we see our hero weighing the decision to embark on the journey. They have to decide if what they want is really worth leaving their place of comfort.
Break into Act II is when the hero has made the decision to go, and he or she takes the first step down the road. This is where we transition into Act II, which is where the bulk of the adventure takes place.
Act II consists of the following stages:
Fun & Games is where the hero is shown learning the skills necessary to overcome the challenge of reaching their goal. The hero is feeling pretty optimistic about things at this point. He or she doesn't see any reason why the thing they've always wanted could be theirs in the very near future. Oftentimes they're being guided through this part of their journey by a mentor of some sort. Having this mentor by his or her side fills the hero with confidence.
The Midoint is, of course, the middle of the story. There's a sort of smaller climax at this stage of the hero's journey. Either they have a small success or failure toward meeting their goal. Either the hero is full of greater confidence due to his or her success, or is starting to doubt his or herself due to a failure.
Bad Guys Close In sees the antagonist of the story obtaining a victory over the hero. It appears at this point that the antagonist is going to accomplish their goals and the hero can't do anything about it.
All is Lost is where the antagonist leaves the hero in a hopeless state, and the antagonist's ultimate victory seems assured. The mentor is also typically removed at this point in the journey as well, often through the death of the mentor at the hands of the antagonist.
Dark Night of the Soul is the low point for the hero. His or her mentor is gone, the antagonist has accomplished his or her goal, and there's nothing the hero can do about it. An internal struggle then begins to take place within the hero. He or she starts to battle him or herself about whether to face the antagonist against all odds, or give up and go home.
Break into Act III is the moment when the hero decides to pick themselves up off the ground and face the antagonist. This is the moment of greatest growth for our hero because he or she must rely on nothing but his or her inner strength and resolve.
Act III is shorter than the other two acts, and is the culmination of all the experiences the hero has had on his or her journey.
The Finale, otherwise known as the Climax, sees the hero face off against the antagonist in an epic struggle and / or battle. The hero uses every bit of strength he or she can muster, and emerges victorious! The antagonist is defeated, and the hero obtains what he or she desires most. His or her goal is reached.
The Final Image shows us where the hero is now compared to where he or she was at the beginning of the story. It shows us how others are affected by the hero's efforts as well. The evil is defeated and the land is once again safe.
As the stories I've just told you are in fact stories, they more or less follow this structure I've laid out. And now that we better understand that structure, and how it relates to the Hero's Journey, we can start to break down these two stories and see how they compare.
We start with Homeostasis. For the Boy and the Dragon, Homeostasis is the peaceful village where the boy lives. The boy's desire is to one day become a mighty warrior who can protect his village from dangers. For the college student, he's just starting school and he's eager and excited. He desires to get organized and pass his classes.
Next comes the Catalyst. The boy's village is attacked by a dragon, and the college student gets overwhelmed by the amount of homework he gets in his first week.
The Debate portion of these stories don't last long. The boy sees the damage done to his village by the dragon, and decides quickly that now is the time for him to become the warrior he's always wanted. The college student sees his first set of tests looming ahead, and begins to understand that he needs to get organized if he wants to survive. There isn't too much of an internal struggle for either of our characters here, but there is still some decision making that needs to take place, and and weighing of options, even if it doesn't take the long to make their decisions.
The Break into Act II is when the boy leaves the village to seek out the sword master, and the college takes to the internet to research different productivity methods and apps.
Fun & Games is where the boy trains with the sword master, and naively thinks he's ready to face the dragon after only a short training session. The college student finds a bunch of different apps to try, and dives right in to all of them. There are ones he likes better than others, but each gives him a thrill as tries them out.
The Midpoint of the boy's story is a small failure rather than a success. The boy approaches the dragon's cave, and is immediately repelled by a great ball of fire. He runs for his life, and only narrowly escapes. The college student starts seeing all the things he wishes the apps would do, but don't. He searches for the perfect app, and is disappointed when he can't find it.
Bad Guys Close In is when the dragon flies off to attack the village once again. The boy feels hopeless as the dragon descends upon his village once again. The college student rapidly tries new apps, but each is so much work to set up that he grows even more frustrated and discouraged.
Dark Night of the Soul sees the boy debating whether he's going to walk away and let his village perish, or if he's going to pick himself up and face the dragon again. The college student fails a test, and gives up his quest to find a productivity system.
The story actually ends here for the college student, and therefore our story comparison comes to an abrupt halt. The boy goes on to save his village and complete his Hero's Journey (at least for now), but the college student just gives up. He doesn't finish his journey, and therefore is in the same place he was when he started. He returns to the Homeostasis stage unchanged (actually, he's a bit worse off because now he's frustrated and discouraged, whereas before he was optimistic and hopeful).
This is a problem many of us encounter when we're looking to become more productive. We find a bunch of methods and apps we think are great, they don't end up being the perfect solution we thought they would be, and then we give up. We don't complete our story, and therefore don't learn anything.
What can we do to overcome the challenge of trying to find the perfect solution? How do we overcome the Dark Night of the Soul and break into Act III?
Though the Hero's Journey is an integral part of stories, and our own journeys through life, it doesn't mean everybody's journey is the same. And just because something works for one person doesn't mean that same thing is going to work for someone else, or you. The biggest, most important thing to remember is there is no perfect solution. There is no one size fits all. So we can save ourselves a lot trouble by not searching for it. It doesn't exist.
So what do we do then? If there isn't a perfect solution, then is that it? Can we never attain true productivity?
True, there is no perfect solution that will work for everyone. However, there may be a perfect (or close to it) solution for you as an individual. And guess what? No one has come up with that solution yet. And do you know why? Because the only person who can discover that solution is you.
You are the hero in your story, so you're the one who is going to make the discoveries and learn the lessons. You're the one who will ultimately defeat the protagonist when your mentors are no longer around and can no longer help you. You have the power inside you to become a productivity master, and you're only going to achieve that by building your very own productivity system. And that's what this book is ultimately all about.
Now, this book is called the Productivity Journey, and you might have guessed at this point that the Productivity Journey has something to do with the Hero's Journey. And you would be right. Our journey towards greater productivity is very similar to the Hero's Journey because both of these journeys are stories. When you start looking at it, you'll realize your life is made up of many smaller stories that make up the whole story of your life. That's why it's so easy to see the mapping of the Productivity Journey to the Hero's Journey.
The steps of the Productivity Journey can actually be called the same thing as the steps in the Hero's Journey. That's all the Productivity Journey really is: an example of the Hero's Journey where the hero has the desire and ultimate goal to become more productive. We see that with the story of the college student, which is an example of someone in the midst of the Productivity Journey. You may start to see how your own experiences in trying to become more productive map to the steps in the journey as well. The question is, where are you currently on that journey? Have you already gone down the road a ways, and started to feel the bad guys closing on? Or are you earlier in the process and not yet sure you want to travel the road. No matter where you are currently this books will help get you further down that road, and hopefully get you past the Dark Night of the Soul and on to the Finale.