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The Real Trouble with Productivity

The Real Trouble with Productivity

I have a confession: I cringe at the word productivity. Getting things done. Saying that feels like being against democracy or love or Buddha or something, but I feel that much of what passes for productivity is simply ubercybersonic doingness dressed up in happy faces. Organization, accomplishment, measuring effectiveness–all those tools and systems are cool, but what if our doingness masks a hollow core, or gives us fuel for avoiding the life we say we’d like to be living?

  • Doing more won’t make us happy any more than doing happy will make us more [fill in the blank].
  • Doing more better also won’t make us happy.
  • Until we look at what generates true happiness, we won’t be fulfilled and content no matter how many boxes get checked in a day.

Productivity is bootless without sole.

Aligning with what makes us happy, fulfilled and alive connects us with our being. And what we’re really talking about here is honoring our values, those must-have, absolute qualities of being we crave expressing to be who we truly are. So if your top values are say, creativity, adventure, compassion, fun and service, they must be present somewhere in the holy grail of GTD, your daily life, and connected to your vision. If not, simply put, you’re eventually going to be miserable. And since miserable is a word often paired with work, all this values talk begs the question:

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“But what if I’m in a job where I have to buck up to the company’s demands and get all these things done, or else?”

If we want to be pragmatic about walking the talk of values-to-vision living, or personal mastery, and connect it to getting things done, I can’t help but think of Peter Senge:

Personal mastery is the bedrock for developing [shared visions.] This means not only personal vision, but commitment to the truth and creative tension — the hallmarks of personal mastery…Those who will contribute the most toward realizing a lofty vision will be those who can “hold” this creative tension: remain clear on the vision and continue to inquire into current reality. They will be the ones who believe deeply in their ability to create their future, because that is what they experience personally.

So whether we work for ourselves, or in an organization, getting things done has to be grounded by a continuum of learning infused by vision. According to Senge, “Organizations intent on building shared visions continually encourage members to develop their personal visions. If people don’t have their own vision, all they can do is ‘sign up’ for someone else’s. The result is compliance, never commitment.”

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At The Bamboo Project, Michele Martin challenges us to wake up to learning in her post Do You Set Your Priorities to Add Value or Avoid Pain:

Essentially what I see all too often is that things like paperwork and lengthy meetings of questionable relevance take precedence in most organizations over spending time on learning. It’s like what happens in a lot of marriages, where everything but the couple’s relationship is a priority and then the next thing you know, you’re in divorce court. If you think about it, “avoiding pain” is a pretty negative and short-sighted criterion to use in deciding how we spend our days. It tends to put us into a cycle that creates even more pain because we aren’t focusing on the kinds of activities that build us up (individually or organizationally), but on the things that constrain us. If you believe that you get what you focus on (which I do), then focusing on pain is just a way to keep inviting it back into your life.

So, how do we go about changing the dynamic?

Chris Bailey at Bailey WorkPlay consistently generates the answers to questions like this, and in a comment left at Steve Roesler’s site–All Things Workplace–he asks us to consider who’s really in charge:

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I’m feeling run down by work that increasingly feels like a J-O-B. I’m losing my passion for it. I can actually feel it receding away like the ocean tide. I know what my strengths are and what I love to do…and I feel that I don’t have a chance to utilize these in my work with my organization. Now, does my manager read All Things Workplace?

Probably not, but yeah, he should. In this case, it’s me who needs to take the first step to guide the passion along. More generally, sometimes it’s the employee (or the even manager) who needs to bring her or his own manager to the table for this dialogue. It would be great if all managers got the memo suggesting that they can perpetuate passion. That may not be entirely fair to lay this all at their feet, though. The employee has to be there, too. The employee needs to know what they love, what they want to do, what will connect into their purpose…and they must be willing to share this. And who knows…maybe the employee might lead the manager to a new understanding of how to connect their passion and purpose to the work they do.
And this moves us, as everything inevitably does, to transparency and personal responsibility. Again, Steve Roesler in his post, A Good Place to Use Some Passion:

Managers don’t have easy jobs. They’re trying to pay attention to you and everyone else in their group. Why not get passionate about taking some of the burden from your manager’s shoulders and simply start a conversation about what’s on your mind? If you want a good shot at using your talents where you are now, then take the responsibility for making it happen. Nothing warms a manager’s heart more than seeing someone who is passionate about responsibility.

Yes, I know I veered a bit. How this all ties in for me is that in countless conversations with clients, time and productivity are always issues, but the real breakdown, we discover, is that there has been a lack of resonant underpinning– a values to vision consciousness in the individual and the workplace.

What do you have up your sleeves, Lifehack readers? Dive in. Inquire. Discuss.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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