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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 December 9, 2019

    5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

    5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

    Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

    Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

    Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

    1. Get Rationally Optimistic

    Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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    This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

    In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

    The result: no more mental stress.

    2. Unplug

    Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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    How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

    It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

    Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

    3. Easy on the Caffeine

    Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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    Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

    4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

    That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

    How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

    • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
    • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
    • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

    While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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    5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

    This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

    The result: mental stress will be gone!

    So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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    Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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