Do you have a list?
I bet you do, even if it’s not written down.
You probably have your list of immediate work things that must be done and your list of big picture work things you want to do — when you have time.
Then there’s your list of regular tasks at home, your list of appointments to schedule, your list of regularly occurring maintenance tasks for yourself, your home, your car, etc. There’s the list of things you’ve promised your kids, your spouse, your neighbor, your church, and your parents.
Some of you probably have a list of long-term goals, bucket lists, financial goals, and career plans.
Crossing things off these lists feels good. It forces us to acknowledge our actions and successes. It makes us feel productive and worthy.
There’s nothing wrong with goals or lists or plans — unless they begin to define you. If productivity becomes the measure of your happiness and success, you have missed the forest for the trees.
You have failed at savoring the one true reality in the universe: the present moment.
Americans in particular have this thing for productivity. We like to squish and mush as much activity and accomplishment in a day as we possibly can. In fact, many of us (maybe you) feel guilty if you’ve had a day that doesn’t feel productive, that doesn’t meet your standards of fruitfulness.
Americans work longer hours than just about any other country in the world. We like to take our work with us on vacations and holidays. We like to fill our time with productive stuff.
In fact, in spite of some improvements, there are still plenty of organizations that make pregnant women suffer for taking time off to have a baby, and expect ridiculously long hours even though “productivity” hits a wall. There are bosses who give us the hairy eyeball if we must leave early to tend to an emergency or personal situation.
Productivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s far too easy for productivity to morph into an adrenaline-fueled lifestyle that propels us like a pinball from one task to the next, with little time to appreciate or enjoy what we are doing — much less time to do what we truly enjoy.
A little mind shift is in order here — a little shift away from productivity and toward creativity. Here’s what I mean:
- Rather than asking, “What do I need to accomplish today?” ask “What am I going to create today?”
- Rather than saying, “Look at everything on my list,” ask yourself, “What can I remove from my list to give me more time to create?”
- Rather than groaning, “I dread this crappy task before me,” ask “How can I create this task in a way that feels joyful, creative, and giving?”
- Rather than looking for ways to manage time so you can fill it with more, look for ways to engage in what you are doing right now so that time becomes elastic and you can do less.
When you shift from a life of production to a life of creation, every moment becomes a your own work of art. You are no longer responding, racing, cramming. You are designing, solving, serving. You are fully in the moment, because the act of creating requires your full attention, right here, right now.
Being productive isn’t all bad. It certainly has its place. You do have to operate in the world of linear time and according to the schedules of other people. You have to tend to the practical tasks of living if you don’t want to be fired, arrested, or divorced. But a productivity mindset does not have to be your way of life.
Here are some solid reasons why you should not be productive in the traditional sense of the word:
1. Productivity forces your attention on outcomes rather than process. When we have a list of things that must be accomplished in a given time, we tend to focus on reaching the desired goal rather than enjoying the steps to get there. Deadlines and time-frames are sometimes necessary, but rather than procrastinating or over-scheduling yourself, give yourself enough time and space to enjoy the details of what you are doing each step of the way.
2. Productivity feeds adrenaline. When our lives are highly-scheduled and outcome focused, we are fueled by adrenaline which becomes addictive. There is a certain “high” that comes from a high-intensity, production-oriented way of life. We feel powerful and in control. But eventually, this takes an emotional and mental toll on us which can manifest in illness, anxiety, and overwhelm.
3. Productivity reduces productivity. Huh? This sounds strange, but in reality we are the most productive when we are the most creative. You can spin your wheels with tasks and to-do lists and have very little to show for it. With a focus on creation in the moment, you are fed by the natural energy that is afforded you when you are happy in what you are doing. This makes accomplishment flow easily, without resistance or difficulty. You can do more in less time.
4. Productivity can kill focus. When you are trying to be productive and accomplish more tasks in less time, often you are in a constant state of distraction. Your focus is frequently in the future on the next task that must be completed rather than the task at hand.Yes, there are some people who get highly-focused when under a deadline or extremely scheduled, but that’s the exception.
5. Productivity confuses our priorities. As we work to be productive, our eyes are on the prize of accomplishment. But sometimes the prize isn’t what we want after all. Productivity leaves us little time to step back and consider what is most important and valuable to us. There will always be a never-ending list of tasks and projects. But are you creating the projects that are most fulfilling and rewarding for you?Are you giving equal weight and time to non-important actions?
6. Productivity overwhelms creativity. Creativity needs wide, open spaces, a relaxed state of mind, few distractions without feelings of “should” or “must.” Creativity requires a mind that is receptive, open, and free to focus. In a productive state, we must keep one foot moving in front of the other at all times. We can’t stop to smell the roses or dream bold dreams.
7. Productivity creates a false sense of control. When we have dotted every i, crossed every t, and check off everything on our lists, we have a feeling of control and order over our world. But in truth, that control is an illusion. Chaos and disorder are always around the corner and can throw us off our well-planned track without warning. When our happiness is tied to keeping ourselves on the productive track, unexpected chaos can truly rock our worlds.
8. Productivity undermines relationships. When we are busy being productive, it is hard to have time for our relationships. Most people will say that their relationships are the most important thing in the world, yet they spend very little time tending to them. We become so caught up in the productivity cycle that we ignore or take for granted our loved ones who so need our personal interaction.
9. Productivity saps spontaneity. When you are immersed in a productivity mindset, it is nearly impossible to be spontaneous and unplanned. You are on a mission to complete your scheduled actions, and something unexpected, no matter how engaging or creative, will appear as an unwelcome disruption.
10. Productivity is the “hobgoblin of little minds.” Like any foolish consistency, it can keep us stuck on one plane of understanding, enlightenment, knowledge, and insight. Stepping away from productivity and toward creativity shifts our minds to the next level, helping us grow as individuals, professionals, and members of the human race.
Productivity and creativity can work together harmoniously. The trick is not getting caught in the cyclone of unnecessary activity created by a productive-oriented mindset — then leaving space for focus without distraction or urgency. Creative thought will blossom in this space, and creative thought almost always leads to productive creation.
What are your thoughts about productivity and how it applies to your life?
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