How to Be Productive (Be Quiet)


I have 387,234,132,138 or thereabouts goals, but I’ve decided not to talk about them before they’re complete. I’m more productive when I discuss things retrospectively.

Think of those who take an IQ test and score in the 99.999995th percentile. They’ve done a fine job on the test, but if that score is the only thing that vouches for their intelligence, maybe they shouldn’t feel so smart. A high IQ test score is sweet because it suggests a high level of intelligence and it’s something people can use to place themselves among the greats, but …

Imaginary Conversation:
Bob: My IQ is 180. Marie Curie’s IQ is 180! I’m like Marie Curie!
Bobette: Curie developed a technique to isolate radioactive isotopes. She won a Nobel Prize in Physics and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. What did you do?
Bob: I recognized patterns on a test. :) The test says I’m just as smart as she is, so I can get those things too if I want. I’m smart. 😛

IQ tests are a little (tiny) bit dangerous. They allow test takers to feel accomplished without actually having them do much of anything. People often use them as indicators of potential (i.e. You did well on this test, so you probably learn quickly. You also probably possess the ability to think critically. You may accomplish great things. If you join my organization, you may do your great things there, so I want you). That’s fine, but getting an absurdly high score on an IQ test is not the same as having done something absurdly intelligent or even being absurdly intelligent. The tests are flawed.

In that way, an IQ test score resembles blabbering about goals/to do lists. The thought is there; the potential’s there, but has anything truly significant been accomplished? No. Yet, people love sharing their goals. The hope is that sharing increases productivity. People can get support; others will hold them accountable, etc.

Sharing doesn’t often work that way for me. Instead, I feel accomplished without actually doing anything, lose focus, and become less likely to do what I set out to do. Oops.

Years ago, I bought a ridiculously difficult Korean history tome, a virtual brick written for scholars. I told friends I was going to read it. They praised me for having the idea. I ended up reading one page of hundreds. Did anyone say, “Wtf? That’s lame. I thought you were going to read the whole thing.” No. Did anyone say anything at all to hold me accountable? No. Instead, I had already been rewarded for coming up with a stupid goal. People had said I was intelligent because I’d told them I intended to read a difficult book. In the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t actually read it. When it comes to shared goals, intentions and accomplishments often get the same reaction. I haven’t found praise for doing nothing (or having stupid goals) particularly helpful.

Besides, when I ban myself from mentioning things, I want to accomplish them more as I love discussing what I adore. I didn’t post about reading Korean literature in Korean until I actually read something. I can’t say for sure whether that did anything, but it definitely feels as though it did. If I were to have posted about it before I’d finished a book, I would have felt a sense of accomplishment and while I don’t think that would have stopped me from reading—it probably would have slowed me down—taken the edge off my hunger to engage in Korean literature because talking about it somehow feels like engaging with it. Reading literature was something I really wanted to do and discuss, so the goal I actually made was focused and extraordinarily realistic. I didn’t go for the thickest, heaviest, most intimidating, and most impressive looking tome around. I went for what I thought I’d actually read.

Bottom Line: I don’t want credit for potential. I want credit for accomplishing things. Sharing goals I haven’t begun working on doesn’t increase my productivity; I’m going to abstain from sharing them. This isn’t to say that I will always abstain. I just want to be careful about it.

Is telling people about this going to help me accomplish it? If my answer isn’t a resounding, “Yes!” I should and will continue to keep my mouth shut and my fingers away from keyboards.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject. I’m interested in hearing them. Everyone isn’t motivated in the same way and it’s cool to see how different people think.

*Photo: My productivity tools in a cafe. iPhone 5; Wood Camera app.

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  • Reply Stephanie May 5, 2013 at 1:31 am

    Perhaps it depends on the person. I think that some people, like me, do better when they tell other people about their goals because then other people often ask them about their progress. For example, I told my friends that I was going to take driving lessons a while back. Once in a while, they’d ask me how driving lessons were going, and if I said that I hadn’t had one in a while, they’d push me to have one. Of course, this depends on the type of people your friends are and the type of person you are. You should just do whatever helps you accomplish more.

    Finally, I’ve never taken a real IQ test, but know that my IQ is probably up there, and don’t care to know my IQ unless required for some reason. I do know that when my parents were growing up, they were sorted into classes based on their IQ! (Which is really stupid.) So for people like them, doing well on an IQ test is an accomplishment. Hopefully, no organization in Korea is dumb enough to sort people by IQ.

    • Reply chantelle May 5, 2013 at 1:44 am

      Mensa? Your comment about your parents made me realize that, like them, I was put into a special class because of my score on an IQ test. The class was awesome and the only time I learned anything at school, but … it was still just a test score and I did other things that made them think I should take the test in the first place. I’m not meaning to put people down who do well on IQ tests. I just think everyone should be careful about how much importance they place on those things.

      It’s great that you have such friends, though. My friends always say, “Stop. It’s fine. You don’t need to do anymore.”

  • Reply cantaloupe May 6, 2013 at 3:50 am

    Oh I definitely felt accomplished simply by having whatever IQ and making my to-do lists. And I completely agree that it interfered with my chances of actually accomplishing anything. Why bother to put forth the effort when I knew I could do it if I wanted to? That always seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I knew it was possible, who cared if I actually did it?

    I wish I could figure out what does actually make me accomplish things. Probably security would… Feeling like everything is in order and my life is all happiness. Like right now I have a mental to-do list that depends on too many other factors for me to accomplish the things that really need to be done. And until the more pressing things are finished, I can’t accomplish anything else and spend all my time on less work-heavy pursuits, like watching tv shows and posting long rambling comments…

    • Reply chantelle May 7, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      In trying to figure out what makes me do things, I’ve slowly started discovering things that keep me from accomplishing what I want. They’re often little stupid things like making sure I have space and my desk isn’t overrun with books. I imagine that security helps too. Good luck.

  • Reply Meg May 6, 2013 at 5:38 am

    Yes! I love this. You’ve managed to articulate something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with for a little while. I love sharing and talking about things and am not the greatest at being secretive, so I often tell friends about my goals…and then never end up accomplishing them. I also hadn’t realized how hard it was to come across friends who will truly push you to achieve your potential and support you along the way, because like you said, most people tell you you’re awesome the way you are or for even thinking about pursuing something. There’s also that pleasure in having your own little secret project and being able to derive fulfillment from it on your own, without anybody else’s praise.

    • Reply chantelle May 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks! Your comment was lost in my spam folder for about a day–sorry–but I found it.
      Secret projects are great. There’s no interference and no pressure, but they’re a little lonely too.

  • Reply Sarah May 7, 2013 at 5:44 am

    I think I’m similar in that I don’t always like to share my goals. I’ll often quietly work away at them until I’ve got what I feel is at least some progress before I share it with people. It really depends on the goal though. If it’s something like trying to stop using the word “like” as a verbal crutch, it obviously helps to have people know so they can point out when I do it.

    • Reply chantelle May 7, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      It really does depend on the goal, a person’s friends, and a bunch of other things. Many speech oriented goals should be shared. :) Unfortunately, most of my goals aren’t like that.

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