I’ve been working incredibly hard lately. I’m getting up early, I’m working through the day and I’m working in the evenings and at the weekend. I’m even being productive with “fun” things like meeting up with friends and being a tourist – I filmed and blogged about my flying experience with my friend and my visit to Alcatraz. I don’t really have lunch, I just grab something quickly and then get back to work, and I drink coffee at my computer. And it’s not that I’m just in a flurry of activity while not achieving anything – I’m actually producing results, launching two new businesses, working with clients, completing my coaching certification, learning Japanese and ukulele (the latter seemingly random activities but both on my bucket list so… productive!). And the thing is: I’m really enjoying it! But am I being TOO productive?
What is being “productive”?
First maybe we need to define what being “productive” actually means. Is staying late in the office productive, when you’ve spent a large part of the day having coffee breaks or scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed? Or writing a ton of emails, producing long PowerPoint presentations, and going to lots of meetings? On the other hand, is taking your kids to the park, reading a book, or just relaxing for a few minutes really being unproductive?
The concept of productivity comes from the industrial age of factories and the goal of trying to get as much as possible out of the machines. In fact the first definition that appears on Google for “productive” is “producing or able to produce large amounts of goods, crops, or other commodities”. Today, we’re bombarded with tweets and blog posts and training workshops that will make us more productive in each and every area of our lives. But is this still the best measure for the use of our time, producing a lot of stuff?
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And what are we actually producing? For what purpose? This is where I think we need to start: defining what we’re actually working (or living) towards. What exactly are your goals, and are they really yours? What are your values that are underpinning these goals? What will achieving them give you? Once you’ve clarified this piece, then by all means put your heart and soul into achieving your goals, work evenings and weekends, as long as you’re enjoying it and you believe the goal is worth it. In my case, I’ve done a lot of this reflection and clarification, I have incredibly vivid and specific goals in mind, and I’m working hard to achieve them.
Two weekends ago, I set my alarm for 3am Sunday morning to have one of my oral exams for my coaching certification (different time zones, what can you do?!) and then I headed off into town to run a half-marathon. On returning, I had an ice bath and then a sports massage, I worked at my computer the rest of the afternoon, and finally I went for dinner to catch up with a friend. A perfectly normal Sunday, right? I do know at least one person who’s much the same as me and we often find ourselves discussing html code and social media strategies on a Friday night. Hmm. I can’t help but wonder if this whirlwind of productivity is going to bite me in the bum as everything comes crashing down around me and I collapse into a migraine-ridden mess.
So what, then, is being “too” productive? Perhaps it’s always running on that treadmill, never pausing to reflect, never stopping to acknowledge and celebrate the wins along the way? This is a tricky one for me and I don’t think I’m alone. The high achievers among us will finish one thing and then move straight onto the next thing. Even when we’ve accomplished something huge, something that we never even would have thought possible a year ago, we’ve somehow raised the bar since then, adjusted our expectations. Now we no longer see this as an achievement, instead looking to the next big thing. Being future focused is one thing, but when that comes at the expense of really living what you’re experiencing right now, I think it’s gone a bit too far.
Personally, I’m getting much better at being fully present in the moment and focused on the activity I’m currently doing. Coaching has been a huge learning experience for me, as it requires setting aside any distractions or personal agenda that I might have to focus 100% on the client in this very moment. Running helps too – although my mind does tend to wander, it usually settles down as I focus on being strong and present. In fact, any kind of difficult physical exertion will do the trick – the other day, we got up at 5am to climb “the staircase of doom” and that, I tell you, was a great enabler in staying fully focused on the act of climbing ever upwards, only momentarily distracted by the gorgeous views around me and the promise of watching the sunrise once we reached the top. Singing and playing music turns out to be great for this, too – after two ukulele lessons I’m really enjoying learning and practising songs and it’s impossible to think of anything else at the same time. Oh, and sex. That works.
What else can we do? Well, I think the acknowledgement and celebration piece is pretty important. What about scheduling time once a week to review all the things we’ve done in the past week, to acknowledge the progress we’ve made, and to celebrate those wins? This will also allow us to look ahead to the next week and ensure that we’re actually spending our time on the important stuff that’s really moving us forward and not just frittering it away on things that make us feel productive. A celebration can be something big, especially when the achievement is big – getting qualified as a yoga instructor, launching a business, getting promoted, surviving your first year as parents – but it can also be something small. Maybe it’s just going to the cinema one evening, having a piece of your favourite chocolate, or booking a massage.
And maybe to be more productive we actually need to do less? Turn off our computers at the end of the day and take the evening off? Do something completely frivolous, without any purpose, with no end in mind at all?
No, don’t be ridiculous, that’s crazy talk!