When you think that, you’re probably imagining doing more. Working more hours, getting through more work during those hours, clearing your inbox, cleaning out the garage … just thinking about it is enough to make you feel exhausted already.
The truth about productivity, though, is that we don’t necessarily become more productive – producing more worthwhile results in our lives – by constantly doing more and more. Real productivity might actually come from doing less.
Less Really Is More
I expect you’re familiar with the Pareto principle – that 80% of results are derived from 20% of effort. (For instance 80% of your profit is from 20% of your clients.)
While this doesn’t hold true for every single situation, it’s a good principle to keep in mind. There are probably some areas in your life where you’re expending a lot of effort for negligible results.
By doing less – cutting back in the areas which don’t really matter – you’ll have more energy, focus and enthusiasm for those things which do make a difference.
Try this: Look at your daily to-do list, or write down your commitments – all the things you feel obliged to do. Is there anything which you can cut out?
Efficient or Effective?
Productivity advice often revolves around making us more efficient. Keep a to-do list. Use a timer to keep you on track. Blitz through your emails. Learn a bunch of keyboard shortcuts.
It’s often good advice – but it’s easy to start missing the point. Being efficient isn’t enough – sure, you might be racing through your to-do list faster and faster, but are the items on that list really worth doing in the first place?
Being effective, on the other hand, means looking at the impact of our actions. Although effectiveness and efficiency can support one another, there’s sometimes a tension between the two. To be effective, you might have to take a step back from being busy, and look at the real priorities in your life.
Try this: Today, rather than thinking about getting through lots of tasks, focus on just one or two really significant ones.
Create Your Own Meaning
What counts as “productive” work for you?
Everyone’s definition is a bit different and it depends on your context. Perhaps your day job feels productive, along with your home improvement projects, but reading novels is just a way to relax. An English Literature student would feel differently!
One particular area where people struggle is bringing up small children – it might feel like your “real” work isn’t getting done. I love Charlie Gilkey’s take on this:
If you’re ever trying to balance being productive with hanging out with your kids, it’s time to reevaluate how you’ve framed ‘productivity’. Being a good parent is one of the most meaningfully productive things you can do.
(Charlie Gilkey, Being A Good Parent *Is* Being Productive, Productive Flourishing).
Utlimately, no-one but you can say what’s productive. And often, a truly relaxing break, or some quiet space to think and plan, is much more productive than simply knocking another chore off your to-do list.
Try this: Look at one area of your life which feels like a waste of time. Is it really? Or is it just something which society doesn’t value enough? You can decide that it’s meaningful.
How could you do less and start being more productive today?
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