Productivity for wisdom workers

To which extent can we optimize our life? What are the limiting factors and reasonable goals? Just how productive should we become? Here I will try to answer these questions.

The goal of productivity

What exactly is productivity? This question changes as our economy evolves and we undergo personal development.  I argue that a modern highly trained expert is a fancy version of the ancient hunter. We are judged by our ability to track and overcome elusive targets.

At the same time, the productivity language we use often derives from different times, industrial times. Making more products faster is not such a great idea is somehow we create more supply than demand.  Sticking to a tough goal might be a bad idea if we forget to change the goals as we get new information. We are not even “knowledge workers” as we train AI to do that. Maybe we have become “wisdom workers”? I do not know…

So I guess, I am looking for a better approach.

Historic productivity

We can view productivity from an historic perspective.

Hunter was productive if his team could kill a wild beast and put protein feast in the tribal house. The job cycle was divided into long marches, very boring ambush, short extreme violence, and celebration with the loved ones.

Agricultural success was defined by the ability of the land to grow grain. There were extremely tough days dedicated to preparing the land, harvesting, and dealing with threats. And then, there were days of boredom when nothing special had to be done, as the grains were growing.

The industrial revolution really changed everything. Suddenly every second needed to be productive doing low-intensity boring and repeatable jobs, doing the same very specific highly specialized tasks all the time.

Fortunately, robots took over the conveyer belt. When we design new products and provide services we are not judged by the number of lines, but by our ability to solve complex problems. This is very similar to the hunter’s condition. There are long sprints of hard work and mindboggling days of brainstorming.

I guess we completed a full circle…

Wisdom working

So let us consider the things that we do all day as wisdom workers if there is such a thing:

  • Learning new things. An hour per day. Whether we like it or not, sometimes simply to fight off a psychological or medical condition.
  • Collaboration. This is a kind of a must, as we handle large projects. Somehow all projects tend to become larger…
  • Planning. This basically means setting up a goal and cutting it into smaller milestones. Then probably distributing the milestones within the team. The process is constant, as the goals tend to shift with new inputs.
  • Creation. Whether we build code, a piece of content, a product, a presentation, a contract, or a report. Each of our outputs tends to be one of a kind.
  • Influencing people.  We may pitch ideas, sell stuff, teach, or provide therapy. We change someone’s life.
  • Investing. If we do our job well enough, we will have some surplus. This surplus can be traded, invested, or spent in various ways.
  • Relaxing. Strangely, having fun is a part of the productive cycle as we constantly need to be perky and motivated.

This is very similar to what hunters used to do, but much more abstract and complex.


How do we optimize a very complex set of activities? Take for example learning. Does reading x10 faster and remembering everything solves the need? Maybe for theoretical knowledge, but not for the hands-on skills.

Even something as reasonable as measuring everything can be a trap. We might improve random parameters. This is like watching in gym guys with huge biceps and tiny legs.

In my courses on Thinkific I suggest something different:

  • Train separately the most critical skills. Focus on the most difficult time-consuming mission-critical tasks. Like reading, memorization, writing…
  • Supercharge creativity. Use systematic creativity frameworks. I kind of suggest different frameworks in different courses. All of them have very specific strengths and weaknesses, some are simply interchangeable.
  • Maximize flow. The state of flow is the state of maximal motivation, efficiency, and satisfaction. It is the state for the “heavy lifting”.
  • Organize the activities into pipelines. Do not generate “waste” of changing the context or forgetting stuff. Each activity needs to feed some other activity or reuse the setup etc.
  • Watch your resources, and use your resources sparingly. Stamina and resilience tend to be more valuable than the ability to sprint over small tasks.
  • Use templates if you can. No need to reinvent the wheel.
  • When relaxing, do something that develops you as a person if you can. For example, tinker, write or play guitar.
  • Minimize the risks. The more chances you have to try things, the faster you check your ideas, the better your chances of reaching the next milestone.

Of cause I have many hundreds of videos and many hundreds of articles. They contain very specific guidelines and address many more aspects of our work.

Why do we get a competitive advantage?

Basically, to be professionally successful nowadays we need to do things that neither robots nor a cheap workforce can do. To be happy we need to have purpose and pleasure. If we also generate real substantial value for someone,  we are truly blessed.

Do not worry, we can still sabotage ourselves even when we have every fair and unfair advantage. It is crucial to be constantly focused, motivated, and positive without drugs. Try a healthy lifestyle and self-help visualization…

A web of superskills

When Anna first came up with the 8-step program for superlearning I was pretty happy. Finally, I could see how everyone could achieve success in learning. Then I started to get very strange requests. One student wanted to learn programming by memorizing every line of code, another student wanted to speedread scientific papers of huge complexity. This is simply not the optimal way.

We do not have just one pipeline of skills that can be acquired in eight moderately simple steps. The skills we need tend to exist in different pipelines of learning, and there are feedbacks between those pipelines. A person who does not get enough sleep, is too traumatized or depressed, does not have a reasonable goal… How can one of these people succeed in learning?

Our body and mind need constant maintenance simply to open up to new possibilities. Wanting something really hard is not enough. It is important to remove the obstacles and allocate the required resources.  One set of skills simply is not sufficient for all the things we need to achieve. We do not need to be excellent in everything we do, but it is best not to be handicapped if we can help it.

What is wisdom, again?

Wisdom in the sense I use is “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” It is not erudition, philosophy, or insight. And it is available in any age. I have no idea if it can be measured. Each of the basic ingredients can probably be measured and trained, but the mix is truly miraculous.

So, what should I do next?

Just like happiness, wisdom is seldom acquired by people who search for it. Instead, focus on doing the things you do anyway, and do them in the best way possible.

Acquire knowledge and experience, remove the limitations, and eventually, you will feel that you made a ton of stupid mistakes just a couple of years ago. This feeling of humility is a good indication of acquiring wisdom. If you happen to feel truly wise, this can only mean that something went wrong and you need to find your way.

Wisdom alone will not make you rich and famous, or insightful and influential. It is just a competitive edge, which can help you perform better and enjoy the process more. You may also expect a better balance between reaching your goals and enjoying the fruits of your effort.


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