The root of living a fuller, more productive life.
As a society we are obsessed with productivity.
With all the glamorous viral content bombarding us with the overall message that we’re not only all lazy and mediocre, but that we could be a trillion times more effective and productive and that we should be ashamed if we aren’t, it’s only natural that we feel a fire under our metaphorical buttocks to be super-ultra productive.
So then there’s the rabbit hole: productivity, and time management.
The fact is, we often take it too far — and the temptation, even the demand of society, is to do just that. The problem is, that can be bad for us, and may even make us less productive in the long run.
Of course it matters to ensure you’re productive enough to achieve your unique version of success. But at the same time, it’s extremely easy to drive yourself half insane with trying to be 110% productive, penny-pinching time and banishing yourself to an anxiety-fumed hell when you fail to live up to a productive standard that so-and-so said you ought to be able to manage.
I know I have. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the de-facto nervous breakdown.
Is there another way? Is there a better way? What can we all do at this very moment that will not only help us be more productive, but happier and healthier too?
Where do we start?
With timers? Productivity apps? Accountability partners? Extensive by-the-minute schedules? Thirty best-selling books on how to get things done?
There’s one step to “productivity” and “time management” that we should focus on before trying to enforce a strategy. It’s the first step, and by far one of the most important, because if you don’t do it, all the rest won’t work very well . . .
Take Out The Trash
If we want to get more done, we first need to do less.
I’ve tried so many of the productivity hacks, and I did it all wrong. I terrorized myself with being productive and not wasting time — and yet when I looked at how I spent my day, I saw things there that I know shouldn’t be there, and didn’t want there, and have control over, and yet were still there!
How much time would be saved if those things were gone?
Why not, instead of trying to cram more in, take out the trash first?
Instead of adding, why not subtract?
To begin a journey to becoming more productive, where better than to start with yourself, and your deepest, darkest gremlins? Not the emails. Not the commute. Not the thirty seconds it takes you to make your bed. Not the chores. NONE OF THAT!
You and your habits of action and thinking that suck, that you know suck, and that you don’t want and yet have kept on doing.
I have a few of those, and I realize I’ve been barking up the wrong tree! Do more? I need to do less — so I can do more of what matters.
So before we try to pile on productivity hacks and all that Gucci stuff, we must instead cauterize the wasted time on things we know are useless, are bad for us, or make us feel terrible . . .
- Stop watching those mind-numbing YouTube videos that not only waste hours of your time but make you feel horrible about yourself after watching them.
- Take account of your bad habits, be it binge drinking, or smoking, or overeating, or complaining, or reading a newspaper just to fill up on all the deaths and opinions and ads and politics — you might just free up a little time and mental energy.
- Do you spend thirty minutes a day leafing through those scrap pieces of paper you write all your passwords on? Copy them into a bound book that won’t fall apart in five months — and save yourself that time to actually DO what you needed that password for.
- Win the battle of the bed and get only as much sleep as you actually need, rather than waking up at noon with no recollection of when your alarm went off and going through the day groggy from oversleeping.
- Put down your phone and delete those dopamine-triggering apps designed to keep you swiping! The average person spends over fours hours a day on their phone — accomplishing absolutely nothing.
- Stop choosing to associate with toxic people who demand your time and give you nothing for it but pain!
- Go to work on how you see yourself, how you talk to yourself, breaking old habits of negativity and self-doubt. It frees you of an incredible weight.
- Do something about your fatigue, exercise more, eat healthy — be good to yourself, treat yourself like someone you actually care about!
That’s the first step we often ignore: cleaning up our everyday lives, instead of injecting it with steroids. Simplifying and minimizing instead of blowing everything to the max.
In blunt layman’s terms: getting your sh*t together.
Do less of the things you know you should be doing less of and you can choose to do less of immediately — start with that discipline, and you’ll find you magically have more time to do things you like! It’s not easy, but it’s a far more positive and empowering initial strategy than bludgeoning yourself with a Pomodoro Method timer.
Here’s the more important part about taking out all that personal trash: you’ll feel better about yourself.
Shawn Achor once said that happiness inspires productivity. So true. And there is no better happiness than when you are happy with yourself and who and what you are, and one of the best elixirs of happiness is when we take responsibility for our lives, work on ourselves, and come to discover that we can leave our bad habits and wasteful proclivities behind.
Breaking Your Old Limits
Be reflective and mindful enough to see the things that limit you, not only with your time, but with your capacity and gifts as a human being.
The stronger we are, the more whole we are as opposed to divide by our own vices, the better enabled to actually get down to business and get our greatest work done and put out into the world.
As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said hundreds of years ago:
“Of this one thing make sure against your dying day — that your faults die before you do.”
Even if you make just that your guiding principle, imagine how much better life would be? If you took sword to your real enemies: the ones in your head, the ones in your mind, the ones in your habitual routines, the ones that 90% of people ignore or don’t even see.
When our days have less and less of the things that make us weak, or sad, or negative, or afraid, they will naturally have more space for what is good, including whatever super-productive work you feel you must do.
- You don’t have to run a clock for every second of the day.
- You don’t have to staple your day-timer to your forehead.
- You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on productivity hacks and books.
- You don’t have to outsource everything in your life to other people.
Just start with pulling yourself up out of the darkness of the things that hold you back.
Do that, start there, and you’ll find you have more time than ever — and less things dragging you down. More esteem, more energy, more joy, more focus. Where does this lead? A simple, wonderful thing:
A better you.
Then you can focus on making those hours count.