Productivity has always been a key word in my view of myself. Not in a stakhanovist way where I would try to get an ever increasing amount of work done at any cost: I dropped my I-need-to-impress-my-dad-complex pretty early in life. I mean a more “balanced” productivity, where I would consistently do a certain amount of quality work while keeping enough free time for personal projects.
So about a year ago I set out on a path to achieve both an improved professional performance and a more satisfying personal growth.

Focus on optimising your personal time

I started reading every research and productivity blog that I could find to get up to speed. After some time, I realised that all that literature had one big shortcoming: the bulk of what I found was centered around work environment, its organization, and what individuals can do about it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to your work environment, what you can do on your own has a whole set of limitations. So once you have done everything in your power, you are pretty much left with two paths: looking for solutions at work that would not solely depend on you, or leave it alone and shift on to the second phase of the plan, namely optimising your personal time. I decided to focus on the latter. It was a better call than I could ever have suspected.

Are you enjoying your free time or simply filling it?

Below is a graph of my “entertainment activities” over the last year acquired through Smarter Time.

Looking closer into its content shows it consists mostly of playing video games and watching TV. The trouble is, I knew outright I often play a game or watch a TV show as a “filler activity”. When we reach a point when we feel we can’t work anymore, we are naturally tempted to go and do any familiar stuff that can help us reboot our brain. But we don’t necessarily get any satisfaction from engaging in activities that are too familiar, don’t exactly relax us but don’t stimulate us properly either.

A year of fun

Time to step back and reassess, I thought. What could I do to make my work/life balance feel more productive? How could I get some satisfaction (and I tried)? I already said I wasn’t looking for more work time – after all I can only work so much. What I wanted, I realised, was to extend the feeling of achievement I was getting from work into my personal life.

After digging a little deeper inside my data, I found a little activity I and many people seem to overlook: “Reading”. I do a lot of things on my smartphone, including almost all of my reading. So I can check very easily how much time I spend on my Kindle app.
And the results surprised me. Over the past few months, I have been reading on average 45 min/day. A couple of days last year were at a 10h high (must have been the London rain keeping me home), but this is actually the most regular of all my personal activities. It’s one of the very few things I do every day.

Create something

However I felt that reading more would not cut it either. I did not want to just engage in another passive activity and make reading into a “TV brain reboot” unsatisfactory thing. I realised that if I wanted to be productive in my personal life, I needed to actually “produce” something.

So I decided to turn my reading into its creative counterpart, and I started writing. I won’t list it all here, but I did try my hand at different genres and formats. I may even have a story I really want to finish. Most importantly, I experience a level of fulfilment through that activity that no other stuff I do in my downtime can compete with.

Mind you, writing is still a tiring, involving activity, and I still need my idle times and brain-dead-TV-moments. But reducing the proportion of those to the strict minimum has only perks. I feel more alert, I can feel myself growing intellectually, and the guilt I felt from wasting time has disappeared because I waste so much less of it! I am more relaxed and less tired. As a side effect, I also feel more productive at work, which leaves me a bit more free time and makes me more satisfied, in some sort of virtuous circle. It’s a win/win situation.

Do what means something to you

I am sure for other people the answer would have been different – sports, arts, social time, volunteering, the list of activities that can mean something to someone is never ending and depends entirely on who you are. What matters, though, is that they mean something to you. It makes a world of difference.

I set out on a journey to increase my productivity, but I found something more important than that: a balance that brings me happiness. Which brings productivity. And demonstrates the infinite importance of taking the time to properly know yourself.

Featured photo credit: Flickr, Sc0o via flic.kr

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