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Can You Be Too Productive? Yes—In 2 Ways

Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as being “too productive.” I like to think about this in two ways. First, you are being “too productive” the moment that your input becomes disproportionate to your output.

Nicolas Cole

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Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as being “too productive.”

I like to think about this in two ways:

First, you are being “too productive” the moment that your input becomes disproportionate to your output.

Let’s use writing as an example.

I know a good many writers who feel all sorts of productive simply because of how many books they’re able to read in a day, week, month, or year.

Now, let’s say you are an incredibly productive reader. You are able to read pages and pages without effort. You are able to retain a significant amount of the material you consume. When it comes to reading, you are an absolute professional.

The problem is, your “Chief Aim,” your GOAL, isn’t to become a master reader (maybe that’s a tangential goal, but it’s not your main goal). Your goal is to become a writer. And while reading is certainly an important part of writing, and become a professional writer, the moment your input becomes disproportionate to your output, you are no longer being productive. Because while you may be turning into an incredibly effective reader, there is a tipping point where “more reading” isn’t going to move you any further along as a writer.

So, the “act” can be productive, but unless the “act” is aligned with the GOAL, then it wouldn’t be accurate to say your ACTIONS (as a whole) are productive.

That’s the first example.

The second example of being “too productive” is when your productivity has a disproportionate impact on your quality of life.

In order to achieve anything great in life, you will have to make sacrifices.

It would be naive to think that you could achieve the highest levels of success (or “productivity”) without some compromise: letting go of certain relationships, eating less healthfully, sleeping less, enduring high amounts of stress, etc. Whatever that compromise becomes is up to you, but somewhere, somehow, your drive toward your “Chief Aim” will cause you to have to ignore other aspects of your life.

However, there’s a tipping point here as well.

The moment your drive puts you in the hospital, you know you have a problem. The moment your significant other sits you down and says, “I can’t keep seeing you like this,” you know you’ve gone too far. The variables of life can bend, but at a certain point, they can and they will snap. And it’s up to you to figure out how far you can bend before you break.

The art of “being productive,” then, is all about balancing the following variables:

  • Input as it relates to output (you should be “doing” more than you’re “consuming”)
  • Productivity weighed against the sustainable aspects of your life (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health)
  • Driving the highest impact for the lowest amount of effort (prioritizing what’s truly going to “move the needle” over what doesn’t move the needle but feels urgent)

Finding this sweet spot is the reason why some people do incredible things with our universal 24-hour clock, and others do almost nothing.


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Nicolas Cole is the founder of Digital Press, a content marketing agency that turns founders, executives, and entrepreneurs into world-renowned thought leaders. As an author, Cole is a 4x Top Writer on Quora and Top 30 Columnist for Inc Magazine with over 50 million views on his work. His writing has appeared in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and more.

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