“Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn,
the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity – it is very much like compound interest.”
— Richard Hamming, You and Your Research
To have impact you need to choose the right career. But that’s not all. If you can build your knowledge and productivity faster than everyone else in your field then you’ll rise to the top and have much more impact. So how can you do this?
Obviously you need to build skills, but which skills should you build first? Conventional careers advice suggests that you should work out which skills you need for your chosen career and then learn them. But it’s far better to start by building skills that make you more able to build other skills. So productivity and learning techniques are where you should start. That way you get compounding benefits for everything else you do (including more skill building), even if you end up changing your career plans.
So which productivity techniques are the best? It’s easy to spend ages reading productivity advice on the internet – I did that for years with little improvement. But most of the stuff you find isn’t evidence based and rarely gives you clear steps to follow. For me a handful of actionable, evidence-based techniques helped turn things around. Using two techniques I talk about in this blog series (commitment devices and task management) I went from procrastinating and being disorganised to being dependably productive and much less stressed. The other techniques I describe are also beginning to make me more productive and many people on the 80,000 Hours team have found them helpful too. And because these techniques are supported by evidence rather than intuition and individual experience, they should help you too.
In the rest of the series I’ll explore four key productivity techniques, and briefly summarise several other useful techniques and habits. I’d love to hear from you if you try out any of the techniques – just leave a comment on one of the posts saying how it went and whether or not you found the technique helpful.
Read the next post on how use commitment devices increase your motivation.
The full series: