Every day, I accomplish nearly everything on my to-do list. I have created systems, outsourced work, and dedicated time to making it so my days are as simple and easy to get through as possible. But this kind of productivity doesn't necessarily make us all happy, it just means we get more done. That's not enough. We need to have a reason why.
When Doing Nothing Produces Anxiety
We're taught from an early age that productivity is a number one priority. Article after article suggests that the key to happiness is being productive. The more I do, the better things will get, right? Not necessarily. While accomplishing tasks always provides a warm feeling inside, we need to remember to enjoy the things we do too.
I strive to accomplish as much as I can every day because I'm terrified that people will look at my life and say that I'm not doing anything with it. I overwhelm myself with tasks so that when someone asks me what I'm doing, I can proudly list off several projects. When I talk to other people, I assume they're judging me based on what I've accomplished, not what I'm doing. Telling someone I'm writing a book means nothing. Telling them I've spent the day cleaning the house, running six errands, reviewing 30 emails, studying a foreign language I'll never need, and playing music makes me sound interesting, important, accomplished and fun. It's an obsession with what other people define as productive, not what I actually want to do with my time.
The mantra of "done is better than perfect" has become more than a cute sign to hang above our desks, it's a rule. When we don't finish things, we feel guilty. Productivity is synonymous with completion. For me, I get so caught up in getting a job done that I forget to actually enjoy the process of doing it.
We Do Everything In The Name Of Productivity
We're told time and time again that certain habits benefit productivity. Oh, boredom's great for productivity ? Better schedule some time to get bored. Exercise helps too? Schedule that for the middle of the day. What about sleep? Yes ? Great! Oh, and wake up early every day ? Fine! Can I read faster? No? I'll do it anyway !
For me, the real problem is the obsession that comes from knowing what to do. I've spent sleepless night thinking about how a sleepless night will affect my productivity. I've been stressed because I didn't exercise enough in a week. I get stuck in my own head worrying that I'm not letting my mind wander enough to be creative. I'm guessing I'm not the only one this happens to. It wasn't until I stopped caring so much about the numbers and the effect on productivity that I was able to calm down.
Research tells us to sleep, rest, exercise and eat healthy because they make us more productive. This continuous productivity is our ideal world. We want to master all the things, hopefully in four hours or less. But we rarely stop to think about why.
Ask Yourself "Why?"
Over time, I've come to the realisation that I need to pull back on my emphasis on do. My drive for purpose, to complete things as quickly as possible, hasn't made me any happier. It's made me anxious, stressed, and feeling guilty about everything. I'm not the only one. We like the idea of being busy because we sound important, but that's not really getting us anywhere because we rarely stop to ask why we're rushing through all this work to begin with.
I've already proven to myself that I can do all kinds of things and be productive in a lot of ways. Now it's time to start asking "why?" There's usually no reason to force myself to work faster on something that I'm enjoying just so I can do more. I can slow down and enjoy that task. Obviously, there's a time when we work as fast as possible so we don't lose our jobs or homes, but if it's not important, it probably doesn't need to get done quickly.
If you're not already doing it, take the time to ask yourself why you're trying to get things done, make a task efficient, or learn something new. What's the benefit? What's to gain? For most of us, the reason should be that the easier it is to get through work, the more time we'll have to relax at home, spend time with our families, and so on. Many of of us have equated productivity with doing more, but it shouldn't be. It should be about doing the right amount of work in less time so we have the time for all the nothing we want to do.< Don't turn that nothing into a place to be productive.
Productivity doesn't have to be everything. We don't have to define productivity as projects completed. It doesn't have to be a race to finish. We get to decide why we're doing it and why we're paying attention to it. It sounds like common sense and it's something we've talked about before, but I needed the reminder that it's not always just about how many notches I can get on my belt. Something we just want to finish and that's OK. But it's not usually worth applying that logic to the things we enjoy.