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Productivity is one of the biggest buzzwords in recent memory: everyone wants to know how to do more in less time.
But where has it gotten us?
Are we, as a society, significantly more productive? And if we are, are we happier? Productivity is important, but it needs to be put in its place. Here are 5 ways to keep productivity from taking over your life.
Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind
Productivity isn’t everything. That’s a hard thing to remember when you’re surrounded by apps, newsletters, blogs, and websites dedicated to getting more done. Yes, it’s important, especially when it comes to being efficient in the time that you have to work. But your life doesn’t need to be focused on being productive.
Instead, make an effort to remember that living a full, satisfying, and meaningful life is your ultimate goal (if indeed it is; whatever your ultimate goal is, it’s probably not to be efficient). There are a lot of things you can do to remind yourself of your priorities: keep a vision board with your big goals in your office. Put up posters of places that you’d like to travel to someday, or create a rotating desktop background with travel destinations. Make an “anti-burnout” to-do list of fun things. Spend time with your family.
All of these things will help keep you focused on what you really want to do.
Make an Effort to be Grateful
Being grateful is hugely under-appreciated. Gratitude helps make you happier, makes it easier to get through boring or difficult things, and keeps you from getting caught up in all the little difficulties that life throws at you every day. Most of us have a huge number of things to be actively grateful for, but it’s easy to start taking them for granted, and this can lead to burnout.
Even scientists are starting to recognize the power of gratitude in living a healthier, fuller life. Sociologist Christine Carter talks about the sweet spot where you’re operating with the greatest ease and the role of gratitude.
“Have a gratitude practice in which you take time each day to consider what you are grateful for. “
To keep gratitude at the forefront of your mind, start a gratitude journal. You don’t have to spend hours writing in it; just write down a few things that you’re grateful for at the beginning of each day (or the end, or both). Make a habit of paying attention to gratitude.
You can also get gratitude reminders from Daily Gratitude and Gratitude Reminder, and following @GratitudeWriter on Twitter will keep a steady stream of gratitude-inspiring tweets coming to your Twitter feed.
Remember What Productivity is For
I recently read Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan, and it included the parable of the fisherman and the businessman, a great lesson on the purpose of productivity. If you aren’t familiar with it, check out this quick video:
It’s clear that the fisherman is focused on living his life, and the businessman is focused on productivity. But to what purpose? The businessman belongs to a school of thought that says increased productivity will lead to getting the things that you want . . . but the fisherman sees the truth: that he already has those things.
You can put this into practice in your own life. Ask these questions:
- Do your goals support what you want in life?
- Are you considering taking on a project to accelerate your career goals?
- Are you thinking about taking a job that pays more, but requires more time?
- What are you missing out on when you’re focused on productivity?
The answers to these questions will help you figure out if you’re focused on the right things or if you’re just focused on getting things done.
Practice Stress Management
Being productive can be stressful. The idea behind the many productivity management systems out there is that having a system in place will reduce your stress and help you be more productive, but being solely focused on accomplishing tasks in itself can contribute to stress. Especially when things don’t go as they’re planned—which they often don’t.
You get drawn into unexpected meetings, your kids need to go to the doctor, your project gets delayed, you get sick . . . all of these things get in the way and can throw off your plans, further contributing to stress.
Make sure to give some of your time to stress management. Akshata wrote a great article on taking the stress out of productivity, and I strongly recommend going through it and adopting some new habits to keep your stress under control.
You can even do simpler things; when you start feeling stressed, take a few minutes and practice some deep breathing. Meditate in the morning, exercise or do some yoga after work, and spend a bit of time journalling before bed. Take vacations, even if it’s just for a weekend at the cabin or a day at the spa.
Practicing mindfulness is another great way to keep your stress under control. Mindful practice helps you keep a better eye on how you’re feeling and teaches you how to deal with it in a way that’s healthy, gentle, and effective. You can introduce mindfulness into every part of your life; even browsing the Internet!
Keep up Hobbies and Side Projects
When you’re focused on being productive, it’s easy to sacrifice other important parts of your life, like hobbies and exploratory side projects. These things are important, though, not just for your mental health, but also for your productivity!
Working on things that are outside of your comfort zone are great for increasing creativity and learning new ways of problem solving. They’re also good for stress relief, taking your mind off of work, and — often—improving your physical health as well.
Set aside time for learning new things — learn a language, or spend some time teaching yourself electronics using an Arduino. You can have fun learning to program online, pick up a new sport, read a novel, or even just play new board games with your spouse and kids. No matter what you decide to do, make sure that you set aside time for it regularly.
Your side projects can even be work-related things. Some companies, including 3M, give their employees a set amount of time to work on side projects that aren’t directly related to their jobs, because it helps them think more creatively and increases satisfaction with their job. And if companies like 3M are doing it, there must be something to it. So make sure to spend time on yourself, too!
Put Productivity in Its Place
Productivity and efficiency are important. We all have to get things done and make money—but it’s important to remember that those aren’t the only priorities in our lives. There are others, and some of them are much more important than work. Use the strategies above to help maintain balance in your life and keep from getting burnt out. Use good productivity strategies when you need to, but don’t forget that there’s more out there!
How do you keep productivity in its place? Or do you feel like it’s taken over your life? Share your experiences and tips below!