Average People Are Productive, Successful People Are Learners

Average People Are Productive, Successful People Are Learners

Too many productivity hacks can be a trap. Here’s why.



Let’s face it, we love productivity! As a culture, we have a seemingly unending appetite for viral articles on productivity hacks.

And it’s no wonder why! Given that we live in a paradigm of time scarcity, who doesn’t want to get more done in less time?

This all has a hidden cost. Too much optimization leads us into a trap.

The productivity trap.

There are a lot of things we do in the name of productivity.

For me, I listen to my audiobooks at 3x speed. I read while I’m in the sauna. I do my phone calls while exercising. I love getting more done.

But there is only so much more “productivity” we can squeeze out of the day before things get counterproductive. For example, sometimes I jump into an audiobook while riding in the car with my family to fill up quiet time. I fear this is causing me to lose opportunities to have spontaneous and important conversations. Other times, focusing so much on efficiency makes me feel like I’m rushing through life and not fully experiencing it.

Paradoxically, becoming more productive doesn’t make our life less busy. It just turns up the treadmill speed and creates even more work and makes us even more frantic. Thank you for that, Parkinson’s Law!

There is a better way, and it involves rethinking how we think about productivity.

Sometimes the best way to do something better is not to achieve our current goals; it’s to transcend them and think from another paradigm.

Learning is the ultimate productivity.

  • The paradigm we should all consider for productivity is learning. As opposed to productivity hacks–as I said, there’s only so much in your day you can optimize–learning is an exponential process with no cap. What do I mean by this? The results of learning are twofold: better decisions and breakthrough ideas. This can give results that are 1,000x better, not just 2x better.

Of course, focusing on learning isn’t necessarily a new idea. Many of the world’s top CEOs are also great learners and devote significant amounts of time to it despite being extremely busy.

  • Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports (early in his investing career he would read 1,000 pages).
  • Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. In a 2016 New York Times interview, he said, “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”
  • Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. His 2015 emphasis was learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.
  • Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother, and taught himself engineering and rocket design.

Unfortunately, the importance of learning is lost on many entrepreneurs who feel they need to be razor-focused on their immediate goals and predominantly leverage the knowledge they already have.

Here’s the “learning is good” perspective in a nutshell:

Let’s say you have two recent college graduates aiming to have the most successful and impactful careers, and they each take a different strategy.

The first, Producer Paul, makes productivity his ultimate focus on a day-to-day basis.

The other, Learner Lisa, focuses on learning as the primary focus.

I’d argue that the productivity approach pays more dividends at first, but that, over time, it has diminishing returns. On the other hand, our knowledge is cumulative and builds upon itself. Therefore, the results of the learning approach are exponential.


After college, I became Producer Paul. I told myself I needed to dramatically cut down the time that I spent learning and focus on getting things done. It wasn’t until seven years later that I rediscovered my Learner Lisa. In retrospect, I wish I had followed the Seven-Hour Rule.

The seven-hour rule.

“This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me.” — Ben Franklin

Want to get started on the learning lifestyle?

Here’s a challenge for you. Spend seven hours per week (one hour per day) focused on learning, just like Ben Franklin did. Make it a core habit, just like exercise.

Over time, this small amount of time will add up. Given that it takes about seven hours to read a book, if you spend an hour a day reading, you’ll read 52 more books per year. Just one book can change your life if it’s the right book at the right time. So, imagine the power of 52?

Want to read the most-recommended books by top leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Elon Musk? Here’s our report on the six highly recommended books you should read along with 460-plus of their other book recommendations.

Thanks to Shizuka Ebata for being an integral part of putting this article together.



June 4, 2016 / by / in , , , , ,

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