How Can We Be More Productive?

It is already lunch time or perhaps even after lunch, but for whatever reason, we feel like we havent accomplished anything. Sounds familiar? Productivity is arguably one of the favourite words that our bosses, teachers or coaches like to use, and is undeniably one of the best words to put us to sleep. It is common knowledge to us that when we’re trying to build muscles, we don’t simply read about it, we actually do something to our muscles. We lift weights in the gym, or we do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout at home. We know that in order to gain muscle mass or to develop some form of definition to specific parts of our body, we need to do some kind of exercise. If we’re able to lift heavier than the week before, or run further than the week before, then we’re stronger now.

Yet, it seems like when it comes to being productive, we actually expect people to be productive, simply by telling them to do so. It doesn’t work this way. We can all agree on the same page that it can be difficult to manipulate our will. We can have a tub of ice cream in the fridge and resist eating it. However, we can also choose not to buy the ice cream so that we don’t even need to resist it at all. Instead of willing ourselves to be more productive, there is a much better way to do this. Some simple questions are all we need.

Looking at our to-do list of which much is probably undone, which one of these if accomplished, would make everything else easier or irrelevant? Which one of these, if checked off, would make the others less important? Which one of these, if done, would leave us satisfied with our entire day even if it is the only thing that we do for the day?

It is crucial that we are brutally honest with ourselves, because it can’t be the case that every single thing is as important and urgent as we perceive it to be. Furthermore, it is worthy to note that we’re not going to be super productive or on point every day, and that is okay. It is not as though we need to have a minimum number of hours each day within which we’re hyper-productive to produce great results. We don’t have to get a lot of things right if we pick the right things. What we do matters a lot more than how much we do, or how well we do them. If we pick the right targets, we can get a very high ROI. Saying yes to less is the way out. Sometimes we need to learn that throwing spears is less effective than holding shields. Specifically, we need to choose projects and goals that have beneficial side effects even if they don’t turn out as planned.

Which of the tasks on our to-do list are ones that we are willing to commit through which we will develop skills and relationships that persist even if they fail?

It might be the case that maybe at this point in time, we still feel that the prompts are not quite enough to get us going. Perhaps, today isn’t achievement day. Today can be an appreciation day. Let us focus on the other side of the coin. We haven’t really achieved anything if we can’t or don’t appreciate what we have. Look at our surroundings, look at the people around us. We wouldn’t have been who we are today for some special individuals in our lives. Let’s take some time to be thankful and do nice things for them. It can be as simple as buying our friends or colleagues their favourite type of coffee. If we don’t know how they like their coffee to be made, then maybe this is a good time to find out as well. If we can’t be happy with what we have, we can’t get anything that will make us happy.

If we can’t get what we want, we can practise wanting what we have.

Oftentimes, the reason as to why we are unproductive is because we do not know how to prioritise. Everything seems urgent and important if we allow it to be. The act of complaining, something that adds almost zero value to our lives, can be urgent and important if we let it be. Sometimes we justify this by saying that we complain together with our friends and colleagues, as though that changes anything. The most basic filter we need to have is to differentiate between things that we can control and the things that we cannot control, and focus our energy on the former. If not, there will be a lot of wasted energy, calories and brain cycles in preventing us to do the things that truly matter to us. It is not the case that we don’t have time. The truth is — we don’t have priorities.