Productivity. No matter how grand that word sounds and no matter how many self-help books have been written about it, that goal appears far away for most people. Yet it is a lot simpler than you might think. In this article I discuss the effect of smoking, drinking, drugs and entertainment on your productivity.

In the ancient Roman Empire they already knew: all you needed was bread and cricuses to get the favor of the people. That is still true today. Whoever has a full stomach and is distracted all day will not worry about anything. Nowadays, politicians mainly use this to keep the people calm, but people who only eat and watch netflix all day long may be quiet but not exactly productive. Take a moment to think: how much time do you spend per week on the following things: alcohol, drugs, smoking and entertainment. Entertainment does not only include the zoo, museums, and the cinema, but also online entertainment such as games, netflix, youtube, social media, and gambling!

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Of course, it is striking comparison to say that bread and circuses would nowadays be (fast)food and entertainment. So why did I include alcohol, drugs and smoking in this list? Because they are productivity destroyers too. There is a reason why alcohol addiction and drug addiction increase among the unemployed. There is also a reason why companies denounce the smoking break. In the first case, both alcohol and most drugs have a narcotic effect. It makes you happy, or doesn’t make you feel anything at all anymore. It allows you to forget your problems for a moment. As a result, stimuli such as boredom or emotions such as fear, sadness and anger no longer affect you while those incentives often encourage us to do something productive. Someone who has nothing to do will get bored at some point. That is important: it encourages you to do something. That motivation can then result in productive or destructive behavior. Destructive often happens under the influence of addictive substances such as alcohol and drugs. Besides, you are also not exactly productive with a hangover and someone who is drugged often goes into a kind of intoxication, which means that he or she often doesn’t do much at all for a while. You are not only wasting time when using addictive substances but you are often also stealing time from the next day.

So why smoking? Smoking mostly takes a lot of time. The cigarettes must be bought and that is often no longer possible just everywhere. Depending on the smoker, smoking a cigarette also easily takes 15 minutes, certainly while chatting with other smokers. But most importantly is the damage to your health. Most smokers will have little energy and will find exercising is often more difficult, you literally don’t have the breath. In addition, just like alcohol and drugs, it again has a narcotic effect whereby you try to control your emotions that actually encourage productivity. Finally, smoking is simply very expensive, depending on the country or state a package nowadays costs almost as much as an hour of work. If you smoke several packs a week, then you cut yourself in your fingers a lot because you will have to work even more to compensate for it. The last point is often mentioned so I will not go into details but: it kills you. Yes people turned very old while smoking but that is more gambling luck than anything else. On average you die younger and often from terrible diseases like cancer or copd. I mean whats the point of being productive and becoming rich if you are going to die before reaching the pension age? Before seeing your children growing up?

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If you are finally clear and fit because you have stopped smoking, drinking and taking drugs, then of course it will not help if you spend the new free hours on unproductive things. Going to the cinema is great fun and a museum can even be educational, but in general entertainment is a form of passing time that does not contribute to a productive life. Of course it depends on what you mean by a productive life. In my case, a productive life means being able to become financially independent as quickly as possible. Everything that stands in the way is unproductive. You can also use other definitions of productive use. If you really want to set up your own business, then you hurt the chances of reaching this objective if you spend all the money you earn on expensive stuff (which are often liabilities) or spend all your time on games, Netflix and scrolling through social media. No company has ever never taken off and be successful like that. Your goal may also be to become fitter by exercising more and eating healthier and if that is your idea of being productive. Popcorn in the cinema or socializing with a few drinks certainly do not help with the healthier eating. In addition, exercising requires discipline every day. Your discipline will suffer if you are busy with binge watching Netflix series, stopping halfway is not really something most people achieve easily… Another major time wasting culprit is gambling. Gambling is extremely addictive and although you can win money with it, the odds are arranged so that you generally always lose. That means that you not only waste your time, but that you also waste money that you have earned with being productive. So you are being twice as unproductive.

Entertainment is meant to entertain you, to keep you busy. That is why bread and circuses were so important to the Romans. If the people are distracted, they are less concerned about taxes, unemployment, war, famine, etc. However, for you as a person, it means that you spend a large part of your life doing nothing and that way you will never be successful in anything. If you want to be successful and therefore live more productively, you will also have to minimize entertainment. I will explicitly discuss the dangers to your productivity of social media.

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Unless your work is social media (influencer or marketing function), avoid social media. You can spend hours scrolling through the endless amount of information that social media has to offer, from companies to influencers, you can follow everything and everyone. That does have the disadvantage that it is a bottomless pit that you can pay unlimited attention to. Just to give you an idea: on YouTube alone, 80,000 hours of video is uploaded PER DAY. That would cost you when having 8 hours of sleep a day, 5 full-time days to watch everything (and then of course you are already 5 times 80,000 hours behind …) and that is only Youtube. You also have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, WordPress etc., all of which also distribute content. The majority of that content is about looking into the lives of others. Companies share information about what they do and goals they have. Influencers provide insight into their lives or promote or sell something. In short, the bulk of the content on social media is useless. Especially twitter is a source of loose thought fragments that are shared. Unfortunately, there are a few gems among all that junk. For example, there are influencers that help you eat healthier or exercise more. There are also many blogs and youtube channels that help you avoid mis-purchases, teach you a knew skill, that explain frequently-mentioned problems, or that help you tackle your life in a smart way (such as Meerkats Guide to Life ;-)). These sources might help you get to your goal faster and easier. The general rule for social media is: stop looking at other people’s success and start focussing on your own. Find mentors on social media and stop being a fanboy/girl. Start producing and stop consuming entertainment. So start posting video’s, blogs and other ideas and stop consuming them. So is there a way to not get absorbed by useless information and end up with gems?

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Well your best chance is reading paper books. If ideas are popular and actually work, people will often be asked (or offered) to perpetuate the idea in the form of a book. Although there are of course a whole lot of useless books, a book takes so much time and money to make that non-useful books are virtually unsaleable and therefore do not end up on the market. A blog post or instagram post costs almost nothing to make and is therefore much less subject to these high-sales-quality requirements. It is quite smart to search the internet for the “Top” lists of certain books, such as my list of Top 10 books about money that you must read. This way you can find even more qualitatively good books. Paper books have also often been reviewed and improved by a publisher, making the ideas often clearer and more coherent than an average blog. As a result, you will absorb information much better and you will remember it longer.

In short, being productive means as little entertainment as possible and no alcohol, drugs or smoking. In your free time you can read a paper book or improve your skills and knowledge in another way. So read a good informative book, learn a foreign language, or teach yourself other useful things such as accountancy, programming or sales. Develop yourself in the time that you free up by saying goodbye to unproductive habits. That way everyone can become successful.