The Productivity Map

Ever since I wrote the productivity trap article I felt there was something missing. The main point of that article was always valid, of course, but there was still a little bit of fog regarding the whole productivity concept. So, after taking some time to think it over, I came up with a productivity map, which made it clearer for me. Those of you accustomed with the urgent / important diagram will be instantly familiar with it.

Let’s take it one step at a time. Will shortly analyze the 2 axis of this map and then will move to the each of the 4 squares in which you can be at one specific moment.

Productivity Axis

There are 2 main axis of the productive citizen:

  • goals axis
  • discipline axis

Generally speaking, the goals are the motivators, the incentives, while the discipline is the facilitator for reaching those goals.

Goals are what are making us move forward, what makes us thrilled and enthusiastic. Goals is a technical term here, it can be substituted with dreams or passions.

Discipline represents the acknowledgement of the goals and also the actions you take for reaching those goals. The term is not necessarily used in a military sense, but rather as a constant attitude towards a specific target, as opposed to inconsistency.

The Goal Axis

I chose to represent this axis vertically because I find it similar with a growing pattern. Goals are vertical milestones. Whenever you reach a goal it’s like you climb a mountain or reach a new, higher level. Goals are accumulating underneath us and makes us taller.

What makes the difference between high and low goals?

High goals are medium and long term goals, like a career, or a specific lifestyle. They spread over longer period of times, months or years. The lower you go on the scale, the smaller the amount of time spent for a goal. Low goals are day to day things you do almost on auto-pilot, things that require little or no implication from you, like going to a job or doing your errands.

High goals require and provide awareness, power and fulfillment. They require a higher degree of awareness in order to be able to understand what that goal will mean to you. They also require power in order to achieve it and they need fulfillment to feed that goal. Higher goals also provide more awareness, power and fulfillment once reached.

Lower goals are usually accompanied by lack of vision, disempowerment and they create a follower pattern. A life with lower or no goals is a life with no vision, without power and in the footsteps of someone else. The lower the goal axis, the less power and vision you find.

The Discipline Axis

I chose to represent the discipline axis horizontally because discipline is a skill you acquire and use rather than a personal quality. It’s something that goes with you, it’s not you. You can enhance it and use it, but in itself it will not dramatically change who you are. Your goals will.

Disciplined people tend to have a higher time awareness, they seem to be more time bounded than the rest of the people. They’re also highly task oriented, having the ability to break a task in smaller chunks and follow them until the task is done. Discipline is also another way of expressing determination and stability.

Lack of discipline is the source of instability and mutability. Without a proper discipline one will slowly start to get out of the flow. And by that I mean out of an understandable and manageable context: he’s “from another planet”. Undisciplined people are often dream oriented, floating around in parallel universes.

On the right side of the axis, reality will tend to be more manageable, while on the left side, the reality will tend to escape from one’s conscious power, becoming unmanageable.

The 4 Squares Of The Productivity Map

Now it’s time to look at each of the squares and see how the combination of goals and discipline can make a difference and what is the place of the real productivity according to this diagram.

1. High Goals + Sloppy = Procrastinators

You know the type: tomorrow I’ll start losing weight and the day after tomorrow I’ll become a millionaire. And the next day he’ll come with even more powerful intentions. This is the type that constantly establish high and ambitious goals but lacks the discipline to make them happen. This is the home of the procrastinators.

Establishing ambitious goals is not the key to success. It’s certainly giving you more awareness and power, but if you’re not transcending that power into a time aware and task oriented attitude, you’ll never cross the line to the 2nd square. Lack of discipline is what makes many of the people prisoners of the 1st square.

In the 1st square you tend to dream about your goals and not to do them. Dreaming can also have this effect of extracting you from the current reality and put you into an intermediary state of consciousness. And that “no man’s land” consciousness state is really frustrating. Staying too long in the 1st square can lead to serious psychological imbalances.

2. High Goals + Discipline = Producers

You have high goals and you have discipline: you make things happen. This is what I understand by “producers”, a situation in which your attitude (discipline) increase your altitude (high goals). This square is for me the cornerstone of every productivity definition. Nor high goals by themselves nor a constant disciplined attitude can lead to productivity, but a balanced combination of both.

Whenever you have the “flow” feeling while working, you’re most likely in the 2nd square. Your time aware approach along with your high goals are making a powerful force couple and you’re climbing.

The interesting thing in this square is its sustainability. In the 1st square you have a natural tendency to create your dreams, to make them real, hence an attraction to cross the line to the 2nd square. Unfortunately, the gravity force of your undisciplined behavior are dragging you down, in the 4th square. And you have this constant tension between those 2 neighbor squares.

In the 2nd square there is no tension, you’re balanced and you’re creating your world. Of course, you can do wrong: overwork yourself, establish bigger goals than your current capacity and so on. Overdoing is a danger in any circumstance. But overall, being in the 2nd square is the place to be.

3. Low Goals + Discipline = Obsessed

This is the square of the guys that are constantly reading personal development materials, enhancing their skills by using different methods, attending to seminars and reading productivity blogs. But other than that, they’re doing nothing. Zero. They don’t start that business, they don’t reach that huge goal. Because they don’t have high goals.

Having a good sense of discipline but not creating high goals is what makes you stay in the 3rd square. You may have the means, but you’re afraid of a powerful vision. You’re afraid to dream. Discipline is acting like a refuge for your lack of courage.

Staying in the 3rd square long enough will ultimately make you an obsessed productivity freak. Instead of conquering the world you’ll work on your discipline and tweak your lists. Wake up early, exercise and so on, but no powerful goal.

As well as in the 1st square, on the 3rd square there is a tension between having bigger dreams and taking it easier with that discipline. You understand that you must dream big and cross the line to the upper square, but the left square is calling you to decompress after too much discipline.

4. Low Goals + Sloppy = Followers

With low goals and no discipline, it’s much easier to walk on other footsteps and go with or out of the flow. A follower attitude makes you wanna dream all the time and do nothing all day. You wait for outer world impulses to start working, like the lack of money or hunger. Following means you can’t do anything out of your own awareness (low goals) and with tenacity (low discipline).

One word of caution here: this square is also the play square. When you play you don’t have high goals and keep a minimal discipline. From this angle, this square is one of the most interesting areas, and is very easy to be mistaken for something is not.

The followers square is the childish square. I don’t know yet of a kid with goals bigger than the next second, nor to mention I never heard of a disciplined kid. And we’re all perceiving childhood as a happiness realm. Sliding from time to time in this first square has this effect of traveling back to time and enjoying being a kid again.

But kids are by their very nature followers. They’re following their parents and they do that for a reason: they don’t have the experience nor the means to start taking care of their lives. They rely on their parents to feed them, take care of them and learn them all they need to know. Well, you’re past this. You have the experience and the qualities to start doing something with your life. Hiding behind the childish paradigm while staying in the 4th square is just an excuse for your laziness.

Lead Or Follow

Another interesting thing about this map is the kind of typologies it creates on each side of the axes.

On the horizontal axis, the goals axis, we see how one can position himself in regard to leading. Dreams are the heart of the leading process. No leader was born and made without a fantastic dream. The higher your goals and dreams, the highest your position as a leader.

But if your dreams are low you’re surrendering to a manipulation process, regardless of the level of the discipline you have. The lower your goals, the higher the probability to be enrolled and dragged in something bigger than you.

There is also some kind of quality of this leadership, depending on the discipline scale. On left side of the discipline scale, your leadership will be deceiving and shallow. You’re only serving empty dreams, not the capacity to make them happen.

On the right side of the discipline scale, your leadership will be empowering and fulfilling. You’re not only giving big dreams and courageous objectives, but you’re also disciplined enough to make them happen.

Create Or Observe

On the vertical axis we see how one can position himself in regard to doing. If your doing capabilities are low, you’re merely an observer of the reality. You can’t influence much around, even if your dreams are big,

But if your doing capabilities are enhanced by a proper discipline, you become a creator, you make things happening. You’re not only observing, you’re modifying.

As for the leadership, there is a certain quality to the observing and creating attitudes. If you’re an observer on the lower side of the goals axis, you’re pretty much out of the show. Not only you don’t have big dreams, but you’re manipulated and just observe other people dreams. If you’re an observer on the higher side of the goal axis at least you can expose yourself to some interesting dreams.

If you’re a creator on the lower side of the goals axis, you’re constantly creating insignificant stuff. You have the ability, you’re a creator, but the lack of courage makes you waste your energy in smaller activities, most of the time in a job, as you’re not a leader either. On the higher side of the goals axis, your creativity meets your leadership capabilities. Now you’re a star, and of course, you know it.


The 4 squares have also some kind of tensions, with the 2nd square being the exception. Already mentioned the fact that the 2nd square is the most sustainable of all, but let’s see how the tensions works for the rest of it.

In the 2nd square you’re dragged down by your lack of courage and dreams, while you’re eager to cross the line to the 2nd square, to become a producer. This is an imploding tension, at some point you’ll cross to some of the attracting squares.

In the 3rd square your discipline will make you able to accomplish stuff, but your lack of vision will attract to the 4th square. You’ll want to climb, to become more courageous, but the pressure of the doing will attract you to the laziness of the 4th square again. This is also an imploding tension, at some point you’ll either become a producer, either a follower.

And finally, the 4th square is having an exploding tension, meaning it will do the best to take you as far as possible from any other square. It will drag you away. If your dreams are small and you don’t care about your discipline, expect to forget who you really are. Will lose your identity, self-respect and self-trust.

Personal Experience

I confess I was an obsessed productivity freak for many years. I read tons of blogs about productivity, I started challenges, I did a lot of stuff all day long. But I didn’t have the courage to dream bigger. I was keeping myself into a controlled realm (my company) and insanely trying to optimize it. It was only when I decided it’s time to want more than I crossed into the 2nd square.

Don’t get me wrong, my company was a very successful one on this market, but the thing is companies are like clothes: if you grow bigger they tend to remain smaller. It was time for another set of clothes and for another set of dreams.

Another thing I want to confess is that I don’t stay only in the 2nd square. In an ideal world, I think it would be great to stay there, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and I’m not an ideal person. I’m just me. So, I spend some time in the 1st square, especially when I establish new goals. I may spend days there, only dreaming or contemplating my ideas, and not doing much.

I also have short holidays in the 4th square, but those are extremely short. The 4th square is associated with a kind of numbness which might be enjoyable after a whole week spent in the 2nd square, but I don’t like being there too much. It’s boring.

In which square are you spending most of your time? Are your dreams big or small? Are you a creative leader or a manipulated observer? What are your tensions? Would love to hear that in your comments.

Translations of this post: Romanian – Coaching Perspectives

34 thoughts on “The Productivity Map”

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  4. Hi,

    Like your site, but the mindmaps do not show on my computer. Why, I don’t know? I have every update I can think of: xp3, flash 10, firefox 3.5.4., javascript, java, and other image updates.

    Thanks for sharing what you know :O)

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  6. Pingback:
  7. @nutuba glad to see you here again 🙂 Yes, the analogy with sailing is great, it’s not enough to know how to sail, you really need to have a direction, otherwise you’ll get stuck in some annoying pattern.

  8. You’ve certainly got lots to share about being productive! It’s great that you are using your previous experience to share tips on your blog! Good stuff!

    Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Madness Is Just a Disguise

  9. Dragos,
    This is good stuff — this is excellent stuff, really. One interesting thing to consider is that (I think) people fall naturally into any of the four quadrants, and for some it is more work to get to the second quadrant. That is, for a naturally undisciplined person to become disciplined, there is inertia to overcome. It’s definitely doable, it just takes awareness and perhaps external motivation (i.e., a boss that pushes you to excel). A person with only low goals may have been raised in an environment where he was never encouraged but only torn down, and he’s feeling inferior. That too can change.
    As far as children in the second quadrant, I’ve seen some that are there — or at least in relation to their peers, perhaps they are closer to the second quadrant than their peers.
    My 10 year old son has his goals set: football player, then actor, and then president. 🙂 He’s working hard in football (and is doing quite well for his age); he loves the stage and had the lead in our children church musical last month; and he’s avidly reading history and military history books. Of course, he doesn’t have the discipline an adult would, so I don’t know that he’d actually be in the second quadrant. But he’ll get there soon enough.

    I also think that second quadrant players need to spend time in some of the other quadrants, maybe to re-energize or refocus. I like your “play time” analogy of the fourth quadrant. I find myself in the third quadrant sometimes (sometimes too often :-).

    It’s like sailing a ship, right? You need to attend to all the little details, but you need to regularly check the horizon and look up at the stars to make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

    Nice stuff here, Dragos!

    nutuba’s last blog post..We Have Finished the Chicken Coop!

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  11. @James: it’s just the way I see and feel things around, if this is called “inspiration” than this is what it is 🙂 Haven’t read yet “Making It All Work”, the GTD was enough for me. Thanks for stopping by, by the way 🙂

  12. @Elena Diaconu: small victories are the best foundation for big victories. Don’t insist on the irony side, because it will make you weak, just assess those baby steps and build on them 🙂

  13. This is a really detailed guide, a lot of thought must have gone into this. Where did you get the inspiration for it? I like diagrams like this, it provides such a practical layout of productivity. It reminds me of some of the diagrams in Making It All Work. As Matt says, you will shift between different quadrants, but as long as you know where you are, you can plan how to get back to the optimal quadrant.

    James @ Organize IT’s last blog post..Made A Mistake? Deal With It The Productive Way

  14. @Stephen thanks for th nice words 🙂 I know how it is to be obsessed, believe me, I still am every once in a while 🙂

  15. I think that having designed such a map is a great thing; it makes you clearly see where you are and where you came from or if you ever moved at all from one square to the other. It also puts an ironic smile on my face because i see myself most of the time in the first square fighting to transcend from the phase of “start doing” to actually “doing”; i have some brief and sweet victories only to go back to the safe planning, “start doing” spot.

    I see your point about occasionally shifting from one square to another. Staying just in one place is like confusing the map with the real city, it makes you stuck, whereas allowing yourself some elbow space can lead you to surprisingly new places.

  16. Dragos, simply FANTASTIC. This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. I agree with everyone else about the visual stuff. It really makes the point vivid. I used to be obsessed and spent all my time figuring out how to do stuff and never doing it.

    Great job!

    Stephen – Rat Race Trap’s last blog post..Energize Your Success – Use The Right Fuel

  17. @Matt: great point, Matt! I also felt the need to express that: you’re not frozen into one square and one need balance. Being in the 1st or 4th square from time to time couldn’t hurt, on the contrary. 🙂

  18. @Rebecca: thanks for sharing and glad I resonate with you. Small goals put together are making for big goals in the end. 🙂

  19. @Bunnygotblog: I like your take on discipline and the fact that it can actually shift not only your behavior but the behaviors of the ones next to you. As for the clothing, we all need a change in our wardrobe from time to time, right? 🙂

  20. @Jonathan: thanks for the nice words. Writing is one of my favorite tools but doing something visual is sometimes worth thousands of pages of text 😉

  21. @Ben Brooks: thanks for the nice words. Shifting from the 2nd to the third is often a sign of confusion for me, it means I’m questioning my long term goals. Set some free time in the 1st square and dream a little, it won’t hurt 🙂

  22. Super interesting post! I am a procrastinator, of course. I knew this about myself already, but I like the way you described how I can transition into a producer role. I think I am often timid and don’t trust myself because I have a disability. That being said, I think more articles like this, relating small goals to help increase my confidence, would help me tremendously. Thanks for sharing this!

    Rebecca’s last blog post..Book Mooch Lottery- FYI

  23. This is an incredible article.
    Your descriptions and diagrams are right on. I feel it is very important to encourage challenge with in my self as well as delegating it to others it strengthen the abilities and focus. But they too have to have the motivation within.
    If one doesn’t remain focused it reflects on me before the entire staff.Then they see a different side of me.
    Discipline is something learned and a necessity of successful leadership You have to know when it time to refrain from excessive over working and delegate freely to others. That has been my problem in the past. This could be a serious downfall if not corrected.
    I like the outgrown clothing analogy. Very fitting! 🙂
    Cheers – as usual you have written a very informative article.

    Bunnygotblog’s last blog post..It’s A Bug’s Life

  24. Wow Dragos, this is a fantastic article. There is something so clarifying about having a simple chart to illustrate your point and you did an excellent job here. I could quickly identify where I am and which direction I need to move. You always do a nice job, but I think this is exceptional work, thanks.

    Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills’s last blog post..67 Ways to Make Him Feel Super Respected

  25. Amazing post as always, I love the charts here. I find myself shifting from the second to the third square a lot these days.

    Ben Brooks’s last blog post..Want Great Links?


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