What comes to mind when you hear the word, “Productivity”?
For most people, it’s some kind of app, or system, to help them get as much done as possible. But here’s the thing: look at the people who achieved most in life – and it doesn’t matter what “achievement” means to you.
Your role model can be the richest man on earth, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, or even someone close to you.
Do all of them use the same app? Do all of the most productive people in history use the same “productivity system”? No. They do not. Because when it comes to productivity, it’s not what app you use that matters.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
This article is part 1 of a series on productivity. As such, we’ll concentrate on the principles of productivity before we delve into the “methods”.
1. What’s Your Goal?
Look at your to-do list. What does it contain?
Chances are it’s a list of mundane activities that won’t matter in a week. Activities such as cleaning out your inbox, doing laundry, or organising your closet.
That list is a product of a society obsessed with blindly “getting things done”. A society that thinks if you daydream, then you must be lazy, and if you play, you must be wasting time.
As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
In fact, I still remember talking to an executive who said that kids these days waste time playing games, and that they would surely regret it on their deathbeds. Really? Would they?
To answer that question, we need not look no further from a survey an Australian palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware, conducted with patients on actual deathbeds. Here are their top 5 regrets:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
No where did the survey found people wanted to work more on their deathbeds.
The reason I want you to think about this is because before you go about optimizing your productivity, I want you to step back and ask yourself why are you doing what you’re doing. What’s the point?
In business, the difference between doing things right and doing the rights things is called “efficiency” and “effectiveness”. And the first point I want to urge you to do is to make sure you’re being effective before you delve into efficiency. Because at the end of the day, if you’re slow with doing the right things, you’ll still have achieved much in your life. The same can’t be said if you’re fast with doing the wrong things.
Instead of a to-do list, what you need is a to-be list. A to-be list is the list of qualities you’d like to be: happy, loving, adventurous, “with family”, relaxed, responsible, courageous. And once you’ve got a to-be list, compare it to your to-do list.
Do they match? If your answer is “no” for longer than you like, perhaps it’s time to sit down and reflect.
According to a Kenexa Research Institute research survey, just 56% of employees globally feel passionate about their jobs. Why does passion matter?
Well, the universal truth is simple: if it’s work, you’ll try to figure out how to do as little as possible, and if it’s your passion, you’ll figure out how to do more. Which is why passionate employees tend to be more productive.
For one, they are not easily distracted. You might think dropping in on Facebook once in a while doesn’t hurt, but the latest research would disagree with you. There’s a reason why an increasing number of employers want to block Facebook at work.
If it’s work, you’ll try to figure out how to do as little as possible, and if it’s your passion, you’ll figure out how to do more.
But it’s not just the “10 minutes” you spent on there that matters. These distractions also cost you something far more precious:
Various pieces of research have found that humans are most productive when they break down their work into short bursts of intense concentration. These blocks of focus creates a state psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls “flow”. Flow is that time when a day feels like a minute.
It is, one can say, the ultimate productive time. If you want increase your output in record time, it’s critical you are passionate enough for your job to ignore distractions.
So that’s one way passion can help you be more productive: it helps you achieve flow. But flow is a short-term advantage – few people can sustain it for a prolonged period of time. That’s where the second benefit comes in.
The second way passion helps you is by increasing what psychologists Angela Duckworth and Christopher Peterson calls “grit” – a quality defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
In 2007, they published a study that found grittier individuals attained higher levels of education than less gritty individuals of the same age. They also made fewer career changes, and those in university scored higher GPAs than their peers.
Grit, in other words, is your ability to run the marathon that is life.
But all this, comes down to passion. So how can you find your passion? That’s the topic of our next article. Stay tuned.
Image by Jurvetson