While we have more time-saving devices than any other generation, we've become obsessed with productivity: doing more things, and doing them better, in less time.

We turn to technology. Millions of people are using dozens of apps to organize to-do lists, take notes, and do whatever else they think they need to get stuff done.

Productivity books are published every year. More than 1.6 million copies of David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, have been sold. It has a cult following and has inspired everything from apps to  office supplies to training courses.

Speaking of courses, Google "productivity course" and you'll get 114 million results. Udemy alone has over 100 productivity courses. And while some can be completed in one hour, others can take up to six hours to complete!

And there lies the problem.

The Problem with Striving to Become More Productive

All this struggle to become more productive eats up a lot of our time and energy. And while we're busy hacking our productivity, our competitors are out there doing awesome things.

Consider this:

The 2015 edition of Getting Things Done is 352 pages long. If you're a fast reader, you could finish it in four hours or so. Still, that's at least half a day gone.

Downloading an app is fast, but the next question is how long will it take you to learn how it works and how to use it?

And then it takes time to get yourself organized and set things up so you can actually implement the new system. Depending on which method you're using, this may entail a trip to the office supply store to buy color-coded folders, pens, and other doodads.

This leads me to wonder if getting organized is really the problem.

Maybe the underlying problem is that we're avoiding doing the real work and instead concentrating on optimizing how we do it.

In other words, the reason we're not accomplishing what we set out to do is not always the lack of time, but the lack of motivation.

In Extreme Productivity Blueprint, Dan Kenny breaks down the causes of low productivity like this:

Bad methodology - 10%

Insufficient motivation - 70%

Insufficient pressure - 20%

But most productivity apps, books, and courses address methodology (such as getting organized), while overlooking the more important problem of motivation.

This is why Parkinson's Law is often true: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

And the reverse is true as well. You never have time to clean the house... until your in-laws call to say they're on their way, in which case you get it done in 15 minutes flat!

So when you're motivated or the pressure's on, you do get stuff done!

How About You Do This Instead?

Stop organizing yourself and just do stuff!

Do the things that matter, so you'll be motivated and pressured to do them.

Ask yourself: What do I want to get done over the next 3 months, 6 months, or year, and what does that require that I do now?

Choose to work on projects that help you get to your next step, or that expand your resources so you can do more.

Break down projects into sub-components, and identify dependencies under each sub-component.

Do things that involve other people first, because those tend to cause bottlenecks.

Every day, pick something you want to get done and do it.

Before You Try Yet Another Productivity Hack

Stop and think.

Is your productivity problem due to insufficient motivation, insufficient pressure, or bad methodology?

If it's motivation, then review your goals and make sure the projects and tasks on your to-do list are aligned with them.

If it's insufficient pressure, then give yourself tight deadlines and remind yourself of the consequences for not getting things done.

And if it's bad methodology, then go ahead and buy that book, app, or course that will finally make you more productive.

Just remember, that is rarely the correct solution.

Published on: Oct 4, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.