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How to Identify a Pseudo-Productive Person

4 things truly productive people never do.

I used to lie a lot. I did it unconsciously. Not in a malicious way. Often it would be a white lie, provided to conceal my real reason for doing (or not doing) something. For instance, a friend may ask for help moving. My response would be along the lines of, “Oh, sorry. I’m busy that weekend.” My weekend would be wide open though. Judge me if you’d like. It’s the truth, ironically.

Today, I strive to be as honest as possible. I still catch myself lying by default on occasion. When I do, I verbally call myself out. “Can you help me move this weekend?” “Oh sorry,” I reply, “I’m bu — wait. That’s not right. The truth is blah, blah, blah.”

If there’s one thing people love lying about more than their weekend plans, it’s about their time. About how much they get done, how many hours they work, how productive they are. That said, there are four clear traits of a person who talks the talk more than walks the walk. Here’s how to spot them in yourself and others.


George is having a rough day

I grew up watching Seinfeld. To this day, I can quote large portions of the show. And if I may be so bold, there’s one scene in particular that serves as a perfect first point. The character, George Costanza, sits in a diner with his friends, Jerry and Elaine. Asked what George does all day, he replies not much. When probed further about how he’s able to get away with doing so little work, George says he has a trick. He just pretends to look annoyed.

Whenever his boss comes in, George rubs his forehead and shakes his head. He scowls. When asked if he’s alright, he curtly replies that he’s very busy. His boss leaves and George is left to resume his crossword. The first sign of a pseudo-productive person is that they look annoyed, stressed, or busy. When pressed for what it is that actually worries them, they dance around the question.


Like mother, unlike son

China was late to the party. For years their door to the world remained closed. While the other countries traded with one another, China refused. The Emperor at the time felt that control over his people would be easier to maintain without the introduction of foreign goods. And it worked for a while. Until it didn’t. Eventually, when Empress Dowager Cixi took over the throne, she saw the advantages that outside influence could provide.

She made it her mission to modernize the country. Under her rule, she opened China’s door to trade, doubled the national income, set up railroads and telegraphs, relaxed restrictions on free speech, and more. She introduced China to the global stage. And China thrived.

That is, until her son took over. Her son didn’t have the same vision as Cixi. In fact, his preference was more on having fun than leading. Under his rule, China stalled. It wasn’t until his untimely death and Cixi’s return to power that China began to progress once more. The second sign of a pseudo-productive person is that they aren’t clear on what they want. When they are, progress is visible for all to see.


I hate to do this, but…

As the call came in, I sighed. I knew this would happen. I answered the phone. “Hello,” I said. “Hey, Corey. I hate to do this, but… I have to cancel our lunch today. I’m sorry about that.” “No worries. I get it,” I said. We hung up. That was the last time I tried to get together with him.

How long is the standard lunch meeting? An hour? Two tops? It’s not a major commitment. And even if it were, if you agree to it, you acknowledge the time required. You enter into an oral contract. A contract where both parties are to hold up their end of the deal. Now, obviously, in the case of lunch, things do happen. Last-minute problems arise, meetings get thrown on calendars, etc. But on the day of this lunch, the call was all too predictable. Because it wasn’t his first time doing the last-minute cancel. It was around his fifth.

His time was haphazardly accounted for. His cancellations were due to poor planning and lack of prioritization. Therefore, the third sign of a pseudo-productive person is that they regularly cancel at the last minute.


The most of Morrie

Morrie Schwartz was diagnosed with ALS. He wasn’t given much time to live. Instead of curling into a ball for the remainder of his days though, he chose a different route. He filled his time visiting with people he loved and found fascinating. He knew his hours were limited and wanted to make the most of them. Because of that, each day had a purpose. Each day held a reason for him to persevere.

Eventually, one of his former students, Mitch Albom, began to visit. As they had done in college – Morrie the professor, Mitch the student – the two got together every Tuesday. The conversations they had during that time came to form the powerful book, Tuesdays with Morrie.

Consider for a moment the antithesis of Morrie Schwartz. Someone who wakes up each day without a purpose, without a why. Someone who moves through life not with intention but with resignation. What reason does that person have to be productive? So they can do more work for the job they hate? So they can spend more time with their estranged kids? The fourth sign of a pseudo-productive person is that they lack a reason to be productive. After all, productivity only matters in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. The more efficient you are, the more amazing things you can do in a day.


Spotting the pseudo-productive person moving forward

We all lie. It’s part of the fun that is life. Where some people lie about their weekend plans, others lie about what they do on a daily basis. Those who practice the art of pseudo-productivity display the following four signs. They:

  1. Act stressed about their job but don’t have any work to justify it.
  2. Lack a clear understanding of what they want.
  3. Regularly cancel on people at the last minute.
  4. Don’t have a reason to be productive.

Fortunately, these signs are easy to overcome when you identify them in yourself. First, seek out work you can sink your teeth into. Second, consider the long-term and determine which way you want to go. Third, make planning out your days a habit. Refuse to overload your schedule. Only agree to appointments you will keep. And fourth, get clear on what a fulfilling life looks like to you. Put steps into place to make that a reality. Do all that and you will go from pseudo-productivity to genuine-productivity.

Oh, and you won’t have to lie as much either.

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