Recently, questions centered around productivity have begun to plague me. Is productivity checking stuff off our to-do lists? Is it more education, more work hours, or goal setting? Is it tweaking or fine-tuning a project to desired perfection?
How do productivity and motivation fit together? When we are productive, are we also motivated? Do I have to be motivated to be productive? I can tell you right now I’ve been plenty motivated at times without being productive.
Productivity can be deceptive. We can often find ourselves engaged in a task, making progress, feeling successful, only to get to the end of the project and find out it didn’t breed our desired outcome. It’s like doing your book report on Moby-Dick, and being so proud of your work, only to get to school and have the teacher tell you that you were supposed to do the book report on Tom Sawyer. It doesn’t matter how awesome your book report is—it’s not going to get you the grade.
So, what is true productivity? Personally, I think it might be easier to explain what it is not. It’s not perfect efficiency. It’s not sitting down at your desk and getting a ton of stuff done. It’s not working more or sweating harder. It’s not longer hours or bigger sacrifices. It’s not busyness. It’s not gadgets and apps. It’s not working for the sake of working or tweaking instead of finishing the project. It’s not a quick fix, or saying yes to everything that comes your way. It’s not about how much money you make or whether you feel like you’re winning. It’s not about more volume or more quantity, or constantly coming up with new ideas without execution.
So what in the world is productivity? Productivity is often managed by economists as output: the relationship between the time and energy it takes to do something and the results achieved by doing it. But this definition leaves out an important element: the value of the results achieved. In other words, did our time and energy move us closer toward the things that really matter?
It doesn’t matter how productive we feel if our time and efforts haven’t moved us closer to the things that matter most in our lives. It sounds simple, but stop and think about the things that are distracting you from what matters most right now: an angry boss or coworker, a packed schedule, a cluttered house, a bad habit, a screaming baby. Our attentions are constantly diverted from our desired outcomes, in rational and justifiably ways.
So, how can we move the needle closer to those desires from our productivity? True productivity is built on three foundational principles. If you start setting goals without these three foundations in place, you might feel productive, but you won’t be moving toward the things that will really lead to abundance, peace and personal growth.
Foundational principle of productivity #1: Know who you are.
Sounds cliché, right? To know who you are, you’ll need self-awareness. And in order to generate self-awareness, it is necessary to be open to constructive criticism. I’m not saying you need to go around asking strangers or casual acquaintances what your weak spots are, but it’s healthy to maintain a circle of close friends who can tell you the truth, in love, and help you laugh at your quirks.
Knowing yourself is key to knowing how you best perform. It’s important to understanding the value of your time, the meaning you will assign to both the task and the outcome. When you understand how you’re wired, you can take into account your individual needs and weaknesses, so you can work on rewiring. You can focus on growing your willpower, courage, knowledge and character. When you know yourself, it’s easier to find the courage to say no to the good so you can say yes to the best. When you know yourself, you’ll better understand your needs and how to manage your energy.
Foundational principle of productivity #2: Know where you are.
For some people, it’s easy to live in denial about where they are in life. They don’t like their past or their present and are living under the shame and burden of mistakes and failures, so they stick their head in the sand which of course leads to no progress.
Self-awareness is being aware of our habits as weak spots and natural tendencies, understanding where we are is about being aware of the circumstances in our life. And this will help set realistic, achievable goals. If we’re gentle and compassionate with ourselves, we can start to view those mistakes and failures as valuable lessons that will serve us well in achieving our goals.
Foundational principle of productivity #3: Know what you want.
After you’ve developed an understanding of who you are and where you are, it’s time to determine where you want to go. This probably seems like the easiest step in this process, but it’s actually the hardest, because the world is really good at telling you where you need to go. Humans are not only the worst at playing the comparison game; we are the only ones playing the comparison game! We think we have to be everything, do everything, and win in the process.
If we’re going to set ourselves up for success, we’re going to have to be different about how we define success. We’re going to have to fail at some things if we want to succeed at others.
What is your definition of success? What is the outcome you most desire? It is only after we have recognized and defined these foundational principles of productivity in our lives that we will be able to effectively prioritize tasks. It is only then that we will be able to see clearly what needs to be done to get us closer to what we deeply desire, without sacrificing what matters most along the way.
So now it’s up to you. What do you need to work on? Self-awareness? Understanding the circumstances of your life? Do you need to start pulling your head out of the sand? Do you need a clearer vision for where you want to go in life? Do you need to set aside the opinions of others and focus on blazing your own trail? What lessons can you glean from your mistakes and failures, increasing your ability to contribute to others?
Life is a journey. We can only be truly productive when we focus on how the journey will change us and grow us. As Thoreau taught us, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become in the process.”