The Number One Productivity Hack: Doing Shit

How much progress has thinking about something gotten you?

You might think that thinking about, gathering knowledge and plotting your route to success is important. But it doesn’t amount to much.

There are plenty of systems you can implement to help you become more productive. You can hack moleskins, read articles on “33 tips to boost your productivity,” and create mind-blowing mind-maps.

But at the day end of the day what adds up is what you do, not what you think about.

Even still, many people spend much of their time trying to create the ultimate game plan. But you can’t perfect a game plan that hasn’t been tested in the field of reality. You can’t correct a path that you have yet to walk.

I’ve spent my fair share of time looking for habit changing hacks. Sometimes they worked, most of the time they didn’t because I wasn’t spending time on what mattered most: actually doing the habit.

The same goes with doing what matters. We spend a lot of time over-engineering and tweaking systems that we don’t really need.

If we spent more time doing shit, we’d get a lot more done

Like I said, what you think about doesn’t matter much. What matters is what you actually do. People don’t tend to care much about good ideas or big plans.

But I know a lot of people that would happily pay money for products that solve their problems, books that change their lives and guidance that saves them time, energy and frustration. Thinking about creating these offerings doesn’t help many people. Publishing them does. Hanging up your shingle does.

It’s not that we should just spend more time mindlessly acting, and being prolific just for the sake of it. Quotas = crap. Consciously doing more of the things that matter, and bringing them to completion is what brings about real change. Spending more time executing gets your gifts out into the hands of those that need what you have to offer.

This isn’t a treatise against creative planning, strategizing, or plotting the unearthing of your empire. Those things are obviously important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

But great ideas don’t amount to much unless their used.

So, what do you think? Should we spend more time living what we think about?

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Vaughn November 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Isn’t what we do determined first by what we think? Are the two mutually exclusive? There’s a balance, and true, the proof is in the pudding. We need both. Think too much and you’ll never get off your duff. But doing without thinking will indeed get you a lot of shit.

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

You’re right Vaughn, we need a balance. And sometimes when we swing too far in either direction we need a sharp smack in the ass to remind us.

Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist November 24, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Totally agree: We need to enter do mode, as I like to call it. Admittedly, I’m still struggling with the “bringing to completion” part, so it’s good you bring that up. Working on it… :)

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Ryan Renfrew November 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Dude,

Absolutely 100% agree. Thinking is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.

Whenever I think too much or for too long, I start writing – just for the sake of writing and emptying my head. Its amazing how this process can clarify your thinking.

Blaze Your Trail – and do get up and do shit!

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Rich Proctor November 24, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head here. I believe that this is where most of us fail ourselves.

I know that in my personal experience – I have thought and planned and studied and strategized endlessly. I have established a solid reservoir of knowledge. The question is, what have I done with that knowledge?

I heard somebody say recently – to not put what we know into action is actually not to know in the first place. I believe this is so true.

Doing is indeed the most vital ingredient. Thanks for the reminder.

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Rich Proctor November 24, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head here. I believe that this is where most of us fail ourselves.

I know that in my personal experience – I have thought and planned and studied and strategized endlessly. I have established a solid reservoir of knowledge. The question is, what have I done with that knowledge?

I heard somebody say recently – to not put what we know into action is actually not to know in the first place. I believe this is so true.

Doing is indeed the most vital ingredient. Thanks for the reminder.

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Raul November 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Just do it – Nike. I agree wholeheartedly. Everything I have ever succeeded in has come from just doing it. Stop procrastinating and start being active. There’s always something to do. Something to improve, something to solve. Like Napoleon hill said in his book: “Successful people do the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

Raul.

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Jason Dudley November 24, 2010 at 4:53 pm

The Number 2 Productivity Hack: Making it easier to do shit than to not do shit.

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

I like the way you with Jason. Agreed.

Contrarian November 24, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Well said, Jonathan!

I just stumbled upon your blog and it looks like we have an awful allot in common. Keep up the great work – good to see another rabble-rouser shaking up the status quo, thinking for himself, and “doing shit” the vast majority don’t have the courage to do.

Best of luck to you!

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Miriam November 24, 2010 at 6:35 pm

love this! my motto has been ‘get shit done’ for a while now. My housemate and I yell it at each other during less=than-fun jobs to make us feel good.

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Andy Glover November 24, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I think that you have a great point: the more we do, the more we get done. It is simple enough to easily be overlooked. But I think quotas can be valuable… setting out to exercise your creative muscles on a regular if not daily basis is a great way to develop your creative process as well as ingrain routines that will benefit your overall output! I’ve been doing the whole youtube song a day thing for the past month or so, and it has helped me greatly in keeping up with my music! :)

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Monica November 24, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Very well said! I think sometimes we gotta dive in and figure out the details as we go. :)

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Alex Blackwell November 25, 2010 at 5:41 am

Simple. Direct. True.

I agree Jonathan. We can either dream or talk about what we what to do, or we can actually do it.

I sleep better at night when I know I’m doing!

Alex

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

I relate to that a lot Alex. When I finish the day and feel “spent” – like I gave everything today, it’s a good feeling.

Steven November 25, 2010 at 8:35 am

Sometimes we forget that doing things is the best form of learning – so true Jonathan, and I like how you so poignantly said it in such a short and simple post.

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

We learn by experience, not by words.

Nabil Gulamani November 25, 2010 at 4:33 pm

You brought up an interesting fact. I am a personal development blogger and I browse a lot of blogs trying to figure out how I can take my blog to a whole new level. Than I look at my clock and 3 hours have passed and I am still browsing. I could have posted 2 great blog posts in that time.

Although I love reading business and self improvement books I do agree that in the end you have to get up and do something so you feel like you are progressing day by day.

Thanks for the post.

Keep in touch.

Happy thanksgiving.

Nabil

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

Yep, you have to create a habit of taking in knowledge, then immediately applying. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to soak in more and more, but unless that’s unleashed on the world it just stays in your head.

Marie Miller November 26, 2010 at 8:24 am

Don’t really like this emphasis.

Sounds to me like Ready, Fire, Aim.

The thinking that then inspires your doing sends you off into a projectory.

Get your thinking right and the doing falls into place.

In the US, I see too much emphasis on doing, without a lot of time spent on the thinking behind the doing.

Get yourself and your mind right first and the world will come around to you.

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

You’re right Marie, whatever you do must come from the right place. And the right mindset is the prerequisite to any intelligent and useful action. Mindless doing doesn’t help anyone.

Walter November 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Everything is created twice, first in the mind, then in reality. It’s unfortunate that many are stuck with the first creation. :-)

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Kevin Jiang November 26, 2010 at 10:37 pm

This is a weakness of my own that I had for a long time, before I realized it myself and correted it. No one else would’ve noticed this but myself because no one else knew what went on in my mind. No one else would’ve realized what I could’ve done, if I didn’t or hadn’t done it. And so now, I begin my journey on doing, instead of thinking and studying what I was suppose to do. I am on my path to greatness, where ever that road lays for me, and I’ll walk down it with my own two feet, treading softly and carefully, but always forward in direction.

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Alyx Falkner November 27, 2010 at 10:20 am

I completely agree. Thinking is only going to get us so far, and that’s only to the next thought. We have to act on the things we want. I remember reading an article by Kevin Rose, where he talked about launching an idea. He said don’t use to much time to sit and plan. But launch because you can always go back and redesign or revamp the idea. I happened to write about this same topic on my blog, The Power of Self Actualization.

Thanks, Alyx

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Doubting Thomas November 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Disagree. I clean up the messes that these disciples of the “shoot first, aim later” (if at all) philosophy leave behind. While there is a sliver of truth to the heart of the article… “don’t confuse planning with action”… to claim that thinking, learning, and planning “doesn’t amount to much” is incorrect.
A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln… “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
It would be a foolish person indeed that would get a notion to build a house, then rush out and just buy a big quantity of lumber, roofing, carpet, etc without first thinking – how many bedrooms/bathrooms? – then drawing out a blueprint, then determining how much of each item to buy, the order and duration of each assembly step, the timeline for scheduling the electrician, plumber, roofers.

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Jonathan November 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Isn’t sharpening an axe intelligent action?

I would also say that drawing the blueprint and laying out the plans for building a house is also action. It’s actual putting things to paper and a schedule.

I don’t think all thinking or planning is wrong by any means. But sometimes it goes too far. I know people that have read books for decades on a topic they want to do for a living. But they’re still trying to find the perfect approach by reading lots of books. That’s the kind of obsessive planning I’m talking about that is detrimental.

Lach November 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Action is a mechanism. But when all said and done, most of the things you spend time doing don’t matter that much. It’s the few, scary, high leverage things that make the biggest difference. Moreover, you need the mindset that’s compatible. So, I’m inclined to reject the rejection of thought as a valuable change agent. Real, original, pattern breaking thinking is maybe the hardest, highest leverage work there is.

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Omar November 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I’m guilty of mentally overpreparing. It’s kept me stagnant. I think it’s fear. When your always thinking of what steps you have to take to accomplish a goal or dream. It’s good to plan. Nothing will go perfectly. You have to test the plan.

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haakondahl November 30, 2010 at 12:12 am

I agree whole-heartedly. In fact, I have published a handy guide to solving just this problem, called _Getting Shit Done_.
It’s about 160 pages, and each page has a pithy saying like your dad might say (or my dad, in case your dad’s a fairy), like What the fuck are you doing with a book in your hand? and Reading don’t unplug the shitters, college-boy!
You know. Words of action for men of action. People who Get Shit Done.

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Jonathan November 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Would love to check this out if you can post a link.

JM Blevins November 30, 2010 at 11:25 am

For every successful example of “Don’t think, just do” you find, there are a hundred more successful examples of “Think first before doing.”

This post sounds cute, and is helpful if you are an over planner, but you just can’t be freaking serious. There are so many people, even as you read this, cleaning up the messes of too many “Do without thinking first” people.

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Alyx Falkner November 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm

JM, I don’t think the purpose of this post is to incite people to just act without thinking, but to encourage the simple act of acting. Like the movement “Law of Attraction” it encourages people to think positive and by some means they’ll end up getting the things they want, well that concept is flawed because in life it takes more than planning and thinking to get anywhere. It takes doing something.
By all means a plan should be devised but sometimes planning is a way out of actually doing anything. People need to just face their fears and produce. If it happens not to work well they can always start over and know what not to do next time. Just imagine if Thomas Edison would have just sat around planning the invention of the light bulb, we’d still be using candles.

Sometimes it’s better to let our actions produce inspiration because inspiration without action is simply a daydream.

http://www.lifesgreatescape.net/2010/11/24/the-power-of-self-actualization/

arina nikitina December 2, 2010 at 7:11 am

There’s a party here? I just had to invite myself. Had fun as well, reading the post, then y’all made me party some more with real comments. Mind and body must work well, in proper timing. Think about what to do and how to do it, then do it. Think some more what to do next, with the lessons we gained from the previous doings. Then do some more. And some more. It’s a cycle that ends only when we’re too old and frail.

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Jeff@Daytimer December 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

I disagree.

Simplifying the planning, yes. Eliminating it, no. The difference is in mistaking the wasteful act of unproductive, overzealous plotting and preparing are actually planning. The reality is, a small bit of smart planning and prioritizing each day (or even each week) goes a long way.

Too many bridges are built that go nowhere.

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Lauren December 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I am guilty of over-thinking which is what this article is about. Balance. I agree with Arina when she says we think about something and then do it, then think some more and do it. Humans have a tendency to over-think and over-do; my sister is an example of an over-doer and she exhausts me. I am an over-thinker and am surprised when I don’t get anything physical done. I am learning to find my own sense of balance and this article is a great reminder of the grassroots of productivity: think and do, think and do. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft is always shit.”

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arina nikitina December 7, 2010 at 6:13 am

Glad to find you in agreement with my thoughts, Lauren. I wish you well in the effort. When we put our hearts into something we really want, and give it our best shot, it’s highly likely we’re gonna get it. We’re not expected to perfect it the first time, right? We do, we learn and do something better. That’s life!

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Salvatore Greco December 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Wow, I am in the middle of reading, “The Power of Now,” and this post parallels it so much.

You are right, do not just go through the actions, be extremely conscious and present while doing so.

You can think about all the things you want to do, and the thought can make you feel like crap. But if you start doing, even a little bit every day, and start completing…

You will be showing yourself how worth it being productive is.

Thanks

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Jeff December 13, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Absolutely agreed!

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years coming up with brilliant idea after brilliant idea, but no action meant no result.

Now I know it’s better to start on an idea that is not developed and to learn as I go that to come up with the perfect idea that isn’t acted upon.

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Setema Gali December 15, 2010 at 4:23 pm

tHIS IS MONEY BRO!

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Setema Gali December 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I accidentally hit the submit button. So this post is on the money. People want to “attract” and “vision board” their way to the top of the mountain. There is only one way to do it…and that’s to really put one foot in front of the other and work, do stuff, activity, motion, work and more work.

Thanks for the post.

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isom.adam July 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm

You’re obviously correct.

But isn’t there an irony here? A paradox, in fact.

The paradox is that by reading this article–and I don’t mean to denigrate your great blog, but I think I have a point here–people are doing precisely the opposite of “doing shit”. Food for thought, anyone?

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RicardoBueno October 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Spend more time executing rather than thinking about executing… That to me is what matters. Of course, sometimes I get stuck for one reason or another. I just have to find a way to move past that creative block to keep executing.

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robhanly November 22, 2011 at 3:02 am

“Movement always produces more results than meditation.” – Gary Halbert.

I love this quote, and it ties in really well with what you’ve written man. At the end of the day, no matter whether what you do is a sucker or a success – you’ve got something realistic to work with.

I noticed that in a couple of comments people below are taking the polar approach of “but you need to think!”. Yeah, you do, but thinking doesn’t drill holes. It just prepares you to drill them in the best way possible. Action makings the drilling possible.

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yasmike November 22, 2011 at 4:16 am

Doing shit. This gets talked a lot about on self help and work for yourself blogs and it is always a popular post. I’m starting to believe that people really like the pep talk that these articles often bring. I find though that many people don’t actually take action get shit done, or they do for a day, but get side tracked and start reading more blogs to find more motivation, which takes time away from actually getting shit done. Like another commenter mentioned, maybe it’s fear. Or maybe with the overload of information online, and it becomes just that, an overload that causes a short circuit as to where to start. If we keep reading, maybe we’ll find that one bit of information that will turn our lives around, or maybe we don’t really want to find it…

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DynamicLife November 22, 2011 at 5:01 am

Great reminder, Jonathan. I have caught myself on plenty of occasions following Twitter links and reading awesome how-to guides, motivational blog posts, kick-ass TED talks, etc. I’ll usually catch myself and ask myself if this is the best use of my time. One thing that helps me is to project myself to the end of my day and ask myself if I will be happy with what I have accomplished that day. That kicks my ass into gear and forces me to close the browser and start working. But I do agree with some of the other comments here – just like everything else in life, we need a good balance, and that is different for each of us.

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hirstmusic January 26, 2012 at 6:35 am

Couldn’t have said it any better. This post is like a shot of adrenaline in the morning.

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lostwanderer5 February 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

I have spent years thinking about things, and making plans, and doing some work, but clearly not enough to get somewhere. So that’s why now I am doing “shit”

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Paul August 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm

People often fear getting lost in action, and that it will be wasted. Not so. Even being bogged down in the middle of a task is miles better than being bogged down just getting ready for one. Why? Because you’ve laid something down, and gone thru some insights that in turn will lead to further insights. That is often enough to untangle the snags and turn “what’s been done” into “what’s done” – finished and worth your while.

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Jonathan December 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

I don’t advocate mindless action. But don’t you find it interesting that within Law of Attraction is the word action?

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