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Why Productivity Won’t Make You Happy: Life Lessons From a Dying Man

Why Productivity Won’t Make You Happy: Life Lessons From a Dying Man

    I’m a sucker for productivity tips, they give me hope. I think it’s a hangover from school days when each September you would see me equipped with a new set of notebooks and pencils, just dazzled by the promise of a fresh new start on success. Reading productivity blog posts is the virtual version of indulging my office products habit and closely related to my secret guilty pleasure — “Organizing Porn” — but that’s the subject of another post.

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    More things, more quickly

    I am not a pilot, brain-surgeon or rocket scientist. Nor am I planning the invasion of a small country, yet you could be forgiven for thinking so judging by my ruthless obsession with increasing efficiency and my compulsive habit of systematically breaking down everything I do into incremental, sequential (or parallel) steps. I have de-cluttered and re-prioritized, systematized and categorized.

    I am doing more things, more quickly than I even thought possible. I have a full-time job, a part-time job, a small business and a private practice. I am communicating with more people, faster and better than before. I am LinkingIn, Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging. I am OmniFocused and Evernoted, I have mind maps and action plans, to do lists and tickler files, 43 folders and a 5 year plan.

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    Even as I am dizzied by my own super-human levels of productivity, I’ve started to feel that I am surviving more than thriving. At the gym yesterday, as I dutifully clocked up my treadmill miles, I couldn’t help noticing that a large part of my life now closely resembles that of a plucky little hamster, sprinting gamely on its wheel. Last week, I spent my Thursday afternoon at the bedside of a patient who was dying. I met this man in the last months of his life, when he was suffering from end stage Alzheimer’s disease. He wasn’t the man he once was. Although he could no longer express himself, he communicated so much to me about who he was that truly inspired me.

    “Have you eaten?”

    When I would visit him in the nursing home at meal-times he didn’t recognize or remember me, yet without fail, as I sat down beside him he would pat my hand and say, “Have you eaten?” and offer me the food from his own plate. When I would get up to leave, he would look with concern out the window, checking on the weather and to see if it was dark, telling me to be careful as I bid him goodbye.

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    On the last day we were alone together for several hours. The stillness in the room descended like a heavy blanket of snow, pierced only by the sound of the oxygen machine and his breathing. Time slowed down at last and I felt a shift in my perspective and perceptions about what had been so important and urgent before I sat down beside him. I was holding his hand as he took his last breath and his heart beat its last. Accompanying someone to the end of their life is an experience that never fails to humble you but something about this experience has really changed me.

    A glorious legacy

    On Sunday, I was invited to a gathering of his family and friends. The house was full of people, eating and laughing, celebrating a life well-lived. Looking around, his daughter told me he would have loved this day. I sat down to look at a photo-album, eager to see glimpses of the man he had been. In this portrait of a life, I saw what was dear to him. As I turned the pages, looking at the photos of him playing with a grand-child or laughing at the helm of his boat in the Summer ocean, I saw confirmation of what I had felt intuitively; that this was a man who loved to spend time with his friends and family. A man brimming with generosity, fun, kindness and love. A man who brightened the lives of all those around him. A man who cared for, comforted and cherished those he loved. I remembered that I knew what he had done for a living and yet what struck me most was this. His glorious legacy was who he had been and not what he had done.

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    Conclusion

    What I offer you from this experience is a reminder to stop and smell the roses and in order to do that, you may well need to employ some productivity techniques to clear yourself some space. Order is the antidote to overwhelm and I am certainly not going to be abandoning all the tips and tricks for productivity I know but I may just be adapting them. The real key is, I think, is to remember that productivity is a tool and that the ultimate goal is quality of life.

    When you look back at your life, will you agree with current definitions of what is urgent and important?

    (Photo credit: life after death via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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