(Editor’s Note: We’re starting a new series this week featuring new Lifehack contributor Kirsten Simmons called “Rethinking Productivity”. The hope is our readers will ask Kirsten questions about productivity, organization, and time management so that she can provide answers that will make people take a step back and “rethink” productivity. Enjoy.)

Dear Kirsten,

I’m about ready to scream.  Everywhere I look there’s “Five Steps to Inbox Nirvana” or “The ONE Secret to Productivity Flow.”  I swear I’ve tried it all and none of it works.  Sometimes I look at the systems and think, there’s no way in hell.  Other times I can see potential and I jump into it with both feet and a rush of enthusiasm, only to crash and burn within a week.  I have so much that I *want* to do, and yet I find myself jumping from this deadline to that emergency, and my projects rarely take form in the way I want.  I’m skeptical that you’ll have any ideas I haven’t tried, but I figured it was worth a shot… do I have a change to someday finishing everything, or should I just let it go as a dream and focus on the day-to-day?

Signed,
Gaaaa!

Dear Gaaaa!,

Oh, honey, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Letters like yours make me want to give you a giant hug and then step out to do battle with the ego-centered productivity industry where everyone believes that their system is the key to endless productivity and happiness. I may well be tilting at windmills, but a gal’s got to try, right?

First off, there are a few ideas that I’d like you to internalize, 100%.

  1. You are totally capable of finishing everything. BUT, everything is a slippery target because it’s constantly growing. If you had an extra 24 hours in the day, you’d be able to fill it in a heartbeat. Every time you finish something, another project comes up that is just as enticing as the previous. You won’t stop expanding until the day you die.
  2. Your projects may not take form in the way you want, but they are taking form! No one is able to realize fully the visions we have in our heads. I went to a reading with Neil Gaiman last year, and he commented that he had hated the initial edits for American Gods, so he jumped at the chance to do an “author’s definitive edition” a few years later. But then as he continued to tour and do readings, he found even more places he wanted to change, and he had the opportunity to do so when the 10th anniversary edition came out.  But even then, in the months between the time the book went to press and the day I saw him, he had found more that he would have liked to have tweaked.  But, as he put it, you can’t put out the “author’s definitive definitive edition.”  There is a time when you must let your projects go.  To quote The Cult of Done Manifesto, “Laugh at perfection.  It’s boring and keeps you from being done… Done is the engine of more.”
  3. Productivity in isolation is useless. All of those steps and tips and secrets do absolutely nothing for you if you can’t place them in context. And what is the context, you might ask? Simple. Your productivity fits within the ecosystem of you – your goals, your commitments, your habits and your personality. Trying to apply tips and tricks is like treating symptoms without trying to understand the cause of the illness. Every system you consider must work with your needs and serve to move you toward your goals. Your personality may not be conducive to maintaining a system like Getting Things Done. In fact, most people’s personalities aren’t! If you don’t know your personality type and you’re not putting productivity systems in the context of your goals, commitments and habits, no wonder you’re crashing! All the pieces have to work together. When they don’t, you struggle with overwhelm, burnout and frustration.

You are not at all flawed or wrong because you don’t fit into society’s narrow definition of a “productive” person. You are capable of achieving every goal you’ve ever dreamed about, and a good deal more that you can’t even conceive of yet. We just have to bring your ecosystem back into balance by putting your productivity in context. So here’s what I want you to do. Write me back with an example of the last trick, tip or system you jumped into with enthusiasm, and recount for me all the painful details of your crash and burn. It’s not going to be fun, but I can start to pull your personality type from the story, and from there we can move forward to put your productivity in perspective.

With love,
Kirsten

Now it’s your turn! Please leave a comment and tell me about your most recent crash and burn with a new productivity system.

Featured photo credit: Thinker via Shutterstock and inline photo by Andrew Mason via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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