Only The Hard Stuff Matters

After using many productivity apps, and going through tons of productivity books, blog posts, and podcasts I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to productivity the only thing that matters is doing the stuff that’s hard.

Defining the Hard Stuff

First, a non-exhaustive list with some examples of what I’m talking about when I say hard:

  • Writing a book
  • Taking the initiative at work
  • Learning to program
  • Learning a new language or a skill
  • Starting stuff
  • Finishing stuff

What makes this stuff hard?

  • The hard stuff is what apps, tips and tricks can’t help you with.
  • The hard stuff is when it all depends on you.
  • The hard stuff is what fear holds you back from doing.

Why the Hard Stuff Matters

What I’ve learned is that the only important challenges are the difficult and scary ones. Why does everything else not really matter? Because everything else you can do for years yet never feel satisfied with, not have anything to show for it, and not have made a difference. Doing the easy stuff doesn’t improve your life or the lives of others.

There’s a few reasons why this is the case.

With the easy stuff:

  • Anyone can do it
  • It doesn’t matter if it gets done
  • It maintains the status quo
  • You don’t care about it

The Books that Shaped My View

I started to think this way after I read the books: The Linchpin, The War of Art, The Creative Habit, and Poke The Box.

It’s hard to tie the four books together along one thread but, each of them talked about what it takes to do something that might end in failure. Or to think about it another way, what it takes to get past the fear of failure.

Each book described how people naturally avoid taking risks because we all fear standing out and being rejected. The only solution the books provided was why you need to overcome that fear.

My New View on Productivity

What shaped my new view on productivity is that while they all talked about doing big, scary things, none of them talked about productivity in terms of systems or rules. It’s great to have a productivity system and to be able to manage your responsibilities, but it’s impossible to understand how, why, or what it takes to do really difficult things by talking or thinking at the systems and tools level.

So what I’d like to see is more talk about the hard stuff. More talk from people whether or not they are well known, or if they succeeded. There should be more discussions about doing hard stuff, and more stories told by people who have done it.

Talking about it won’t make it any easier, but it will be helpful, even if it’s only to keep us on track.

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