Founder Diary

November 2, 2021

Get off the hamster wheel

Get off the hamster wheel

Productivity doesn't equal efficiency.

A sad hamster sitting at a desk in front of his laptop. A hamster wheel is seen in the background.
A sad hamster sitting at a desk in front of his laptop. A hamster wheel is seen in the background.
A sad hamster sitting at a desk in front of his laptop. A hamster wheel is seen in the background.
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

X (formerly Twitter) logo

What does “productivity” mean for you? So many people talk about it in ways that make us feel compelled to be busy, or worse, act busy. The social pressure to “be productive” is immense.

Then there’s another pressure hampering your work: the temptation to avoid challenging or tedious tasks. Alternatives to meaningful work are abundant, accessible, affordable and – worst of all –  more addictive than ever. Whether you’re starting a business, writing a thesis, or working on any other significant project, it’s easier to read emails or play video games (which aren’t evil on their own) than it is to file for a license or create a topic outline. And you’re not alone if you feel this way.

Productivity is usually depicted as efficiency, getting more done faster so you can take on even more stuff. The myth of multitasking persists, despite considerable research refuting it, so our attention is splintering instead of splitting. Social media, addictive entertainment, and "productivity" apps that break concentration instead of fostering it result in distractedness, stress, and, ultimately, less fruitful work.

So how can we genuinely start making progress?


The more tasks you have on your plate, the less attention you’ll have for each one. When you slow down to look at them, many deserve little, if any, attention. Meaningful work starts with an inspiring goal and ruthless elimination.

Look at your to-dos, and for each item, ask, “How much does this help me get what I really want?” If the answer is “Maybe a little?” or “I don’t know!” then you can probably kill it.


Goals are only dreams until you create concrete plans to accomplish them. A big goal can feel overwhelming or confusing, but breaking it down into small, simple steps opens the door for progress to come in.


Reaching Inbox Zero may make you feel good, but does it move you toward what you really want? When you efficiently perform trivial tasks that have little effect on your major goals, you burn time, energy, focus, and motivation.

Instead of measuring productivity in quantities (hours worked, calls made, checkboxes ticked), why not measure it by progress toward a goal you deeply care about? If you only get to one item today, it must be a significant one.


Concentrated effort brings the best results for major goals, but distractions limit our ability to focus. Choose one thing at a time to work on and then put all your attention on it for as long as possible. You can always schedule your other tasks so that your key work remains unaffected. Targeting your priorities during your peak times lets you make the most of your best energy instead of spending it on trivial tasks.

Let’s recap:

  1. Settle on your goal(s)

  2. Deconstruct it into a step-by-step plan

  3. Prioritize so that you know where your time and energy are best spent

  4. Make time to focus on your key work and protect that time from meaningless tasks

When you focus on one goal and one step until it’s done, progress comes faster than when you try to juggle several things at once. As you step toward your goal, you set yourself up to keep going, because you’re making progress and you like that, right?

Day by day, you’ll climb a productivity spiral:

  • You make some progress, even if it’s small, towards an important goal

  • You feel satisfied that you’ve done the Important Thing and can tackle other tasks with no anxiety or guilt

  • You see that your goal is one step closer and feel motivated to take another step tomorrow

The closer you get to your goal, the more likely you are to reach it, and every step takes you closer.

Next time, let's talk about the best way to make this approach work reliably: habits.

Thanks for reading!

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