Too Much Of A Good Thing

Too Much

A while ago, I went to the dentist for a cleaning. I got the same report as I did the previous time and the time before that. Your teeth look good. You need to floss more. Thanks for coming.

Before I was called back, I waited in the lobby with a book. I picked up this idea from Stephen King who once said “the trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips and long swallows.” The waiting room was perfect for reading, but only to a point. While I waited for the dentist to read my x-rays, I could have read a couple more paragraphs, but I didn’t. I don’t try for perfect productivity.

I find five minutes before school lets out is great time to reply to an email or to scroll through Twitter. A commercial break works really well too. But I don’t need to take a call while in the bathroom.

Good productivity is like a nearly empty toothpaste tube. In the same way there will always be toothpaste left in the tube, there are always ways to squeeze more productivity out of your life. Don’t worry about them. It’s not worth your time to get all the toothpaste.

Economists call this diminishing returns, and it works for productivity too. Your first productivity system is a huge help. If you create another productivity system that can be helpful too, but not as much as the first. Eventually, the time it takes to create another productivity system takes more time than it saves. 

If you find yourself doing productive rather than being productive, you’ve reached the end of the toothpaste tube. Here are few tips to help you stay on track: 

Make productivity a daily habit. We all brush our teeth as part of a habit, and we can have our productivity work the same way. Mike Vardy does it by planning out his night before. I take notes on index cards. Whatever your thing is, make your thing a habit.

Have better productivity with good tools. I have a spin toothbrush that works better – or so my dentist says. I also buy flossing picks because I like them more. Good tools are ones that help you get more done, not ones that necessarily do more. Jim Woods has a computer that isn’t connected to the internet to avoid distraction and to get more words on the page. Your tools should reflect your goals.

Schedule a check-up. Most of the time I don’t think about my teeth. Only if something hurts or my check-up is next week, do I remember I have them. The same can be true for our productivity systems. Create a habit and use good tools, and then schedule a check-up in the future to see how those things have done.

You’ll never squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube. Your productivity system will never be perfect, and that’s fine.

Instead, create something that works good enough so that it lets you do the work you wanted.


What good enough system do you use? When do you leave toothpaste in the tube?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @mikedariano.