increasing productivityIf you’re interested in productivity, you know the feeling of adopting a new practice or system with high hopes for how it’s going to improve your life. The problem is, the results are often underwhelming. “Huh,” we think. “This new system is kind of helpful, I guess, but I was hoping for a more dramatic effect.”

Here are three reasons we experience disappointment after increasing productivity (and how to deal with it).

We Overestimate the Short-Term Impact of Positive Change

We like immediate results.

We’ve come to expect it. Instant gratification is a big part of our daily lives, and this wasn’t true 100 years ago. Our great-great-grandparents had to wait for stuff way more than we do.

But it’s not just that we’re unaccustomed to waiting. We’re also swimming in a sea of choice.

For every problem we face (wanting to lose a few pounds, save time on email, or spend more quality time with family) we have dozens of possible solutions. When we finally choose one, we’re anxious to make sure it’s the best option. If not, we’re ready to jump ship and try something else.

Productivity-increasing behaviors like adopting GTD, designing a more efficient morning routine, and insisting on doing focused work buy us more time each day. They really do!

But not, like, hours and hours each day. Not usually, anyway.

For example, careful time management has probably saved me 90 minutes today. It would have taken Past Jonathan (who wasn’t interested in productivity) an extra 90 minutes to accomplish what Present Jonathan has accomplished today.

90 minutes doesn’t really seem like that much, but over a month, that’s an entire workweek saved.

Over a year, that’s over 500 hours.

That’s a lot of time.

Be patient and take the long view. Productivity is about long-term results.

Even Rolls-Royces Need Tune-ups

Everything by longevity tends to get off course. Everything needs to be corrected. –Jim Rohn

Another cause of disappointment after increasing productivity is a decline in a system’s effectiveness.

Whether a car needs a tuneup is a function of how many miles it’s driven, not how well-made it is. After 100,000 miles, even a Rolls-Royce needs a tune-up.

Productivity systems are no different.

If not reviewed, Next Action lists eventually get stagnant, full of months-old tasks we’re not really committed to but don’t have the guts to let go of.

Or consider a carefully-constructed morning routine. As our morning tasks morph over time, our morning routines get stretched out of shape like old sweaters. Maybe a 2-mile run becomes a 3 mile run, and now the whole system is out of whack.

Productivity isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” affair. Like cars, even the best systems need periodic attention. Expect it. Plan for it.

Becoming More Productive Saves You Time, but It Can’t Magically Fix Your Life

If you’re living your life out of alignment with your values, you’re going to be unhappy. Let’s look at a ridiculous example, shall we?

Let’s say your job is to move a pile of rocks from one end of a football field to the other and then move it back the next day. You happen to believe that human beings are built for mentally engaging work. Not surprisingly, you hate your job.

One day, you realize that by using a wheelbarrow, you can move the rock pile in half the time. Sweet productivity gain, dude!

The thing is, this is still a very bad job. You should probably quit this rock-moving job right away.

Or, to extend the car analogy: if you’re driving the wrong direction, turning off the AC to improve fuel efficiency isn’t going to solve your biggest problem.

Systems and tricks like GTD, the Bullet Journal, Evernote, Raising the Stakes, working in focused blocks of time, eliminating non-essential commitments: these are all just tools. They’re powerful tools, but they’re tools nonetheless.

Using them to build a well-designed, meaningful life is another challenge.