Productivity tools, systems, and methods have become a huge moneymaking industry. Getting as much done as possible and “hacking” the limits of your 24-hour day is now a symbol of a “successful” person.
Over the past almost 25 years, my work with Big Visionaries has involved helping them bring their visions down to earth. Setting goals. Creating plans. Helping with daily habits.
But something has shifted.
Now when I meet with clients, they still say that time is one of their biggest challenges. But instead of being excited to figure out how to make time for their Big Vision, they sound drained and exhausted. There’s a look in their eyes that say, “I’m saying that I want you to help me do more, but really, I want you to tell me I can do less.” The times we are living in have changed them.
In their article, A Brief History of Productivity: How Getting Stuff Done Became an Industry, Amanda Zantal-Weinter notes that productivity as a value started to rise around the Industrial Revolution when, “society was drifting away from the singular goal of survival, to broader aspirations of monetization, convenience, and scale.”
Zantal-Weiner maps out the evolution of the tools we’ve created to be more productive (e.g. to-do lists, daily diaries, fast food, smart phones, AI). We’ve allowed our productivity ethos, at least in the U.S., to run our lives rather than to make them better.
So, how do we change our relationship to productivity?
Define your productivity “sustainably“
In their article, The Case for ‘Sustainable Productivity’ and How to Measure it, Brian Eastwoood writes, “[T]he solution lies in ‘sustainable productivity,’ which means focusing on employee engagement and well-being in addition to more traditional metrics such as sales, inventory, and revenue.” In other words, when you reflect on your week, month, or quarter, use both conventional measures of productivity and measures of wellness.
Make time to rest
Tricia Hersey, found of The Nap Ministry and author of Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto writes, “Rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labor. It is a counter narrative. We know that we are not machines. We are divine.” Hersey’s work is rooted in the history of Black liberation and they write, “should be respected as a balm for all of humanity.”
Do more of what’s working well
Now when clients say that they want to do more (but really they want to do less), I use an appreciative inquiry-informed approach (to learn more about appreciative inquiry, read, New Year Planning with 3 Strengths-Based Questions). I ask them to tell me a story about a time they felt the most productive and engaged. More often than not, their story includes enjoyment, rest, self-kindness and structure and discipline.
We’ve been taught to believe that increasing discipline, harsh self-judgment, and deprivation raises productivity, but it’s not true. A balance between structure and flow, discipline and gentleness, seriousness and play are actually what drives us.
Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, writes:
“There is an ever-increasing body of research that attests to the motivational power of self-compassion. Self-compassionate people set high standards for themselves, but they aren’t as upset when they don’t meet their goals. Instead, research shows that they’re more likely to set new goals for themselves after failure rather than wallowing in feelings of frustration and disappointment.”
The next time you catch yourself saying, “I’m not doing enough,” ask yourself, am I:
Measuring my output and my wellness?
Making time to rest?
Allowing myself to be structured and flowing, disciplined and gentle, serious and playful?
As we head into spring and the second quarter of the year, how will you redefine what productivity means to you?
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