As a society we are pretty obsessed with productivity. We want to get the most done in the time we have. Today I’m discussing some ways you can change your habits to help you be more productive without burning out.
When I give speeches on productivity, I always preface them with this:
Productivity is about getting more done in less time so you can have more free time NOT so you can just put more stuff on your plate.
I used to do this. I would find a way to be more productive (which all too often meant I was just sleeping less) and then instead of resting in that extra time, I would just fill it up with more work.
The goal of productivity is not busyness. In fact these concepts are opposites. Being productive is about being focused and using time well. Busyness is about just doing something all the time whether it’s worth it or not, whether you are accomplishing anything or not.
I just said our society is obsessed with productivity — but so often that’s mistaken for busyness. We assume that if you are busy, you are productive, and also that you are important. These things aren’t interlinked like that.
You don’t have to be busy to be productive, in fact the goal is for it to be the other way around. If you’re productive then you should end up with MORE free time to pursue what you love.
If you’re wrapped up in being busy and the status symbol that our society ties to busyness, go read this article first, and then come back here and learn ways to shift you life towards being more productive.
PRODUCTIVITY IS YOUR WHOLE LIFE
We often think of productivity in terms of how much we get done when we are sitting at a desk staring at a computer. We think if we sit there, don’t get up, skip meals, and work work work the whole time, that was a productive day.
But our productivity is affected by our whole life. It isn’t just confined to the 8 or so hours that you’re at work. If you had a crappy nights sleep, that affects your productivity. If you don’t take breaks or don’t eat meals, that affects your productivity too.
The way that you live your life the other 16 hours a day is as integral to how much you are able to accomplish when you work, as the time spent actively working. The sooner that you start seeing your day as a whole system, the sooner you can start to make changes that will improve everything overall.
It’s like your body. If you break your leg, everything else is going to be affected. You can’t move the way you used to. You’re going to be more tired because you are healing. You’ll have to do all sorts of things to compensate for this change in your body.
The same thing goes for your productivity. You can’t stay up late, get up early, and run yourself into the ground and expect results. That’s the equivalent of giving yourself a broken leg.
You need to run the rest of your life well in order to maintain a high level of productivity.
This might seem kind of drastic. Who wants to manage their whole life just for the sake of their productivity? However, so many of the things that will help your productivity also help your overall wellbeing, so it’s a good thing. By taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing you improve your productivity. It’s a win-win situation.
I’ve already talked a lot about how you can manage your energy not your time (both here and here) and what you can do if you’re struggling with being tired all of the time. Check out those articles if you know you need to be treating yourself better. Just implementing those strategies alone will improve your productivity.
Until you take care of how you’re taking care of yourself, no productivity tool in the world will be able to help you.
This is the soap box that I will forever carry around with me. It’s the hill that I will die on.
PRODUCTIVITY IS YOUR HABITS
When I work with clients to help them reshape their lives we often do an exercise called the life wheel. I give you the directions to do it yourself in this post.
We evaluate all the things that are important in your life and how they are going, and then you decide which area to focus on. That choice is made by thinking about which area, if improved, would affect all the others.
For example, if you improved your work life, your family and your finances might improve. Or perhaps if you improved your relationship with your spouse your work life and relationships with your children would improve.
It’s a unique and personal decision. But in this way it’s similar to productivity. We all have certain habits that we do every day that affect how much we do or don’t get done.
You might have a positive habit of working out every morning, but you also may struggle with hitting the snooze button 3-4 times before you get up (I might be talking about a personal struggle here!)
Or you perhaps you do a great job of packing healthy food, but then you sit and eat at your desk and don’t take breaks.
We all are going to have positive habits we need to keep up and negative ones we need to overwrite. And it’s likely that one of these habits, if improved, would have a positive impact on all the others.
In the morning workout example, if you were to skip the snooze you would have more time after your workout and perhaps that would allow you to pack a healthy lunch instead of eating out. It might also mean that you were less stressed in the morning and it gave you 5 minutes to set your priorities and focus on your day instead of rushing out the door, arriving at work harried, and grabbing a greasy lunch out.
One little change is enough to have that huge impact.
Take a moment and examine your day. What ONE thing could you change that would have a huge impact on everything else? Then start with that one habit.
It might seem tempting to decide to change a whole bunch at once, but it’s harder than it seems to change or create a habit. It’s best to focus on one at a time and build out from there. Once one feels mostly mastered you can move on to the next.
If you’re struggling to think about what habits you need to work on, think about how today went. What could you do that would make tomorrow easier?
When I thought about this for myself it really came down to my time and my health. I was hit or miss with my workouts, my food, and always felt rushed. This doesn’t sound like it could be fixed with one change, but for the most part it came down to needing to get up earlier and work out first thing.
My evening hours after the kids went to bed were mostly wasted and I was staying in bed too long due to insomnia. I figured out if I could get up early and get my workout done than everything in the day would go better.
I’ve been at this for about 6 weeks now and it has been a huge improvement. Now I don’t feel right when I don’t work out first thing. I had been skipping the weekends, but now I just sleep in a bit and get up and do it. This was my game changer.
Take some time, perhaps use a notebook to capture your thoughts, and just imagine what might change if you changed.
What if you improved your morning routine?
What if you improved your evening routine?
What if you took more breaks? Or worked out? Or packed your lunch?
Then pick one and go for it.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES
Everybody wants your attention. Even your phone is constantly trying to get you to focus on it above all else.
We are constantly bombarded by the outside world asking for our time, attention, and energy. But not even half of what gets thrown at us on a daily basis is even worth a second glance, let alone our precious resources to work on it.
The people that are the most productive are the ones that guard their time, energy, and attention with ferocity.
This does not mean you need to turn into a self serving, unkind person who never does anything for anyone. Quite the opposite. In fact if you are more productive and focused and therefore are able to accomplish more with less, then you will have more time/energy/attention to devote to others.
Think of it this way. I have two choices. I can make sure that I have quiet, free time to write this blog OR I can sit here and write while my kids are constantly distracting me. In that case I won’t get the blog written, neither will I pay attention to my kids. And I’ll end up so frustrated that instead of doing something to make tomorrow better, I will binge watch Netflix.
This happens so often in our distracted world. Our attention is being pulled in so many directions that we don’t get anything done and we end up so exhausted we don’t have the energy to take care of ourselves.
How the hell are we supposed to get anything done with so many things pulling on us every second of every day?
It’s all about priorities.
Long Term Prioritization
If you do the life wheel exercise, it will reveal a lot about what is important to you. The things that you choose to examine are the things that are likely the most important to you. If it’s not on that list, it probably isn’t a priority. At least right now.
Whether you choose to do the life wheel or not, you need to make a list of your priorities (a real, physical list – or at least a digital one) that you can check the outside world against when distraction arises.
For example, maybe you’re involved in an organization that does a lot of activities. But when you thought about it, this organization isn’t particularly high on the priority list. That helps you realize that just because they have a lot of activities doesn’t mean that you need to be participating in all of them. It becomes time to pick and choose among them so that you can devote energy to more important things.
Or maybe you’re involved in groups that aren’t on your priority list at all. That’s a ball you’ve been juggling that you can set down which helps free up time and mental load.
Any time that someone comes to you with a request, feel free to ask them for a moment to decide. It’s ok to make your default answer, I’ll get back to you instead of feeling compelled to say yes or no in the moment.
This allows you to check this request against your priorities and decide whether it’s worth your time, energy, and attention. If it’s not, go be productive on something else.
Short Term Prioritization
You can’t just reorganize your priorities once in awhile and expect to make the progress on your goals that you want.
Productivity happens daily. It’s the small accomplishments that get your big wins. And you can’t accomplish anything if you don’t set out a list of priorities every day.
I’ve talked about this a lot, but when it comes to getting anything done you have to be clear. What are those things that are most important to you TODAY? Not this week or month, but just today. What 1-3 things that if they were the only things that got done would make you feel like you won the day.
This is your do or die list. Write it down, every morning before anyone gets a chance to put themselves and their needs above your priorities. Once you get your list done you can go and manage other concerns that are being thrown at you.
As much as we’d like to believe that if we just get the right planner or just learn the right system we could DO ALL THE THINGS!
That’s not how any of this works. Productivity is about so much more than what calendar you’re using or what task app is most effective. I could throw thousands of options at your for productivity tools, but if you’re not sleeping or eating or taking breaks, none of that is going to matter.
Productivity is how you run your life. You need to see yourself as a whole and your day as a whole. It’s all interlinked.
By taking care of your wellbeing, your habits, and your energy you will actually be resolving 99.9% of what is causing your productivity to suffer. Then with a couple of those extra minutes you have created for yourself, you can search the web for the perfect calendar app to round it all out.