‘Productivity’ is a word that makes me (and other introverts/HSPs) squirm a little. I like to keep it at arm’s length…
Not because I don’t think it’s good to be productive, don’t get me wrong. I mean, I love working hard and getting stuff done.
But because it has become a bit of a cultural obsession; an obsession which often completely misses the point. Many times we focus on productivity itself. The doing more and becoming more efficient and like machines we are striving to be productive for productive’s sake.
The Distraction of Productivity
This can ironically distract us from what I believe productivity is really about: creating space and time around the edges for life to thrive.
You don’t have to look far online to find people offering all the solutions under the sun to keep you productive and focussed. But most of us don’t need advice on how to become more productive or tools to help us become more efficient.
I’ve been thinking about this word, ‘productivity’ a lot. This is partly inspired by a series of interviews Michael Hyatt conducted recently. He spoke to experts to look at aspects of productivity such as focus, sleep and energy, and getting things done.
I have a tendency to go on periodic productivity binges. Seasons when I will read books, watch videos, listen to interviews and obsess on new ways to be more productive in my work, life, and creativity. Unfortunately it’s rare that I read or hear what I really need to be told at moments like this…
“Turn this off and go and do what you know you need to do”.
Because the truth is, most of us instinctively know how to be productive. We don’t need to be told, but there is something quite nice about the procrastinatory reward of learning about productivity theories, tools, and techniques. It feels productive yet requires no hard action.
This question has come up again and again for me: Why productivity? To what ends? For what purpose? Where does it stop?
This has encouraged me to step back because when we pour productivity on short term thinking we fail to see the purpose in it all.
If we don’t have a deeper, positive purpose beyond the demands others place on us then we’re on a slippery slope. Welcome the regret, dissatisfaction and burnout.
Embrace The Chaotic Inefficient Madness
I am aware the productivity lens can stealthily infiltrate other areas of life as well. It can influence everything: how we eat, the quality of time we spend with loved ones, how we engage with hobbies, art, culture and community.
Effective productivity gives us the time and space beyond the boundaries to spend with maximum inefficiency, recklessness and guilt-free enjoyment.
The Creation of Abundant Non-Productive Space
Whether it’s recreation, spending time with family and friends, or just leaving time for spontaneity, productivity within, boundaries allow this space in the margins outside.
Boundaries are the cornerstone of productivity because they keep work, projects, and whatever it is you’re seeking to be productive doing from spreading out all over your life.
I love Brené Brown’s simple definition of boundaries: ‘a list of what’s OK and what’s not OK’.
This can apply to all manner of aspects of life. Productivity starts when we establish expectations about what’s OK and what’s not OK.
The Creation and Management of Energy
Time spent in deep focus can actually create energy. Time spent in shallow distraction on the other hand can be hugely draining. Productivity is about narrowing the time we spend focussed on ‘doing’, so that when we get to work we are in deep focus and maximum effectiveness.
It is also about self-awareness; knowing what suits you and how you best function when it comes to doing deep work and getting stuff done.
The Creation of Sustainable Habits
Our productivity is the result of our habits. Habits are the means by which productivity happens. There are some fantastic tools that can assist in developing and maintaining productivity habits. But it’s important to remember that the tool is secondary to our action.
A bad workman argues with his tools…
Tools serve us and there are no right or wrong tools. This is where we can get unstuck if we believe that the reason we are unproductive is because we don’t have the right tools. There is no such thing. It starts and ends with the habits we create in conjunction with the tools.
I use Nozbe as my task manager. Standing alone it is useless. Only when I add the habits of daily planning and weekly reviews does it begin to serve me in revolutionary ways.
When it comes to organising my priorities, time, and energy in relation to my work I only use a handful of tools. I have good reason for each one and have developed habits over time around the way I use them. It takes a lot to convince me to change or try other tools therefore I’m sticking with these:
Evernote is my digital filing cabinet. I use it for everything; formulating blog post ideas, making shopping lists, keeping record of bills and receipts, developing content for my businesses, keeping track of goals etc. It is amazingly versatile and easy to navigate. Get it for free here.
Nozbe runs my day to day to do lists. I use it to keep me on track with what needs doing, and I spend 5 minutes at the end of each day processing the ‘inbox’ and preparing for the next day.
This reality checks my expectations; helping me realise how much (or how little) I can actually get done in a day. It’s a free tool which you can get here
I use Byword for all of my writing. It’s a completely distraction free, plain text word processor and I write all drafts in it. I’ve been using it for years…in fact I’m using it right now to write this. Get it here.
I do all my blog post filtering through Reeder at the start of the day. Rather than subscribing to everything via email I find an RSS feeder is still the best way to go. I scan headlines quickly and find any posts that I want to read or share. Get the app here.
Buffer has been a lifesaver for me. My energy fluctuates through the day and my motivation to share on social media with it. So rather than posting everything all at once and overwhelming my followers, I use Buffer to pace my social media posts and come into conversations once I’ve already started them.
Books and Resources:
I realise there is something deeply ironic about sharing books about productivity. I would encourage anyone who feels somewhat addicted to reading about the subject but is not implementing anything they learn at the same time…to put the book down and actually do something to change the trajectory of your time.
That said, these books have been massively instrumental in helping me identify the problem areas, decide what truly matters to me and why I am doing what I do, and build new habits into my schedule to increase focus, develop effectiveness, and have more time to do what really truly matters to me.
Become a Productivity Ninja (worth it just for the tips about processing email rather than checking it)
Living Forward (build a life plan so that you find your right path and focus your productivity in the right areas in the whole of life)
Essentialism (forget the undisciplined pursuit of more that we unconsciously subscribe to and embrace the pursuit of less but better…this book revolutionised my life)
The Power of Habit (secrets about forming habits – not directly about productivity but massively helpful in the practical aspects of creating new habits of productivity, one at a time with intention and purpose)
Focus Booster, Formally Hit the Mark (a great book to dip in and out of with tips for focus, energy, and using time with wisdom and purpose
Manage Your Day to Day and Maximise Your Potential (another great one to dip in and out of because it’s a collection of a range of influential leaders and creative peoples’ best thinking on the subject of productivity)
Over to You
Do you feel the constant underlying pressure to do more and more with the time you have or do you have boundaries in place in order to allow the important stuff to happen outside of the ‘productivity’?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, I’m always interested to discover other peoples’ approaches. Please leave your response in the comments below.