There’s no shortage of advice on how to be more productive and get more done in a day. Many of us, as we work to accomplish our goals and establish better habits, find ourselves measuring the day’s success or failure by the level of our productivity.
But in my efforts to spend my time in more productive ways, I encountered a problem. Several, actually. I found myself endlessly chasing an elusive sense of accomplishment and running away from feelings of guilt and insufficiency. I called myself lazy for not being able to reach standards I had set for myself.
Over time, I’ve learned that my perspective was flawed. I wasn’t failing to be more productive because I was lazy — chasing productivity was itself the problem.
So here are some reasons why trying to “be more productive” doesn’t work.
1. “Be more productive” is vague.
One of the key points of setting and achieving goals is making those goals specific. If you’re going to achieve a goal, you have to be able to know exactly when you have achieved that goal, and exactly what you need to do to reach that point.
But how can you measure “more productive”? How do you know what concrete steps to take?
Deciding, “I will be more productive” is like deciding “I will drink more water” or “I will read more.” When can you say with satisfaction that you have succeeded? When you’ve taken one more sip of water than normal? When you’ve read a single sentence?
“Productivity” isn’t something you can measure. So, as a goal, it’s unattainable without further specification.
Set Reasonable Goals
Check out my printable goal-setting template, located in my free resource library. This is the basic template I use when setting long-term goals. For each goal, there’s space to break it down into smaller steps and check off each step as you go.
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2. It’s exhausting, because there’s always something I “should” be doing.
Trying to be productive and get things done all the time only keeps you running in place, chasing the next accomplishment. It leaves no room for rest, because if you have time to watch a TV show, you have time to work, right? Don’t you want to use every possible second to get that much closer to your dream?
But that kind of mindset isn’t sustainable. You need some time solely to yourself, to rest and to recharge. And loading yourself with guilt for doing exactly that weighs you down even more, making it harder to keep going.
3. “More productive” isn’t actually something you can “be” — it’s something you do.
What is a productive person? Is that really a personality or character trait? Generally, when we say, “I want to be more productive,” we really mean, “I want to accomplish more things.”
The problem with that is that it places emphasis on busyness instead of development. Crossing items off your to-do list is great (trust me, I love to-do lists!), but it’s meaningless if it’s done simply for the sake of filling up time with tasks. (And I’ve already written about the problem with trying to do too many things at once.)
Isn’t it much better to work on becoming someone who is reliable, confident in their abilities, and honest about their limits?
4. It ignores some things that are actually more important.
Because trying to “be more productive” is so vague, we often end up putting our noses to the grindstone and losing sight of priorities. Because as long as we’re actively working, we can say we’re being productive.
But there are so many important things in life that don’t count as work. Spending time with loved ones, spending time getting to know ourselves, creative hobbies, and more. Chasing productivity can convince us that pushing those things aside is worth it, because someday when we’ve been productive enough, we’ll have all the time in the world to enjoy those other things. But that isn’t guaranteed to anyone.
Besides, as I’ve already said, there’s no way to measure when you’ve been “productive enough” to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
5. It puts all the focus on what you aren’t instead of what you are.
I do believe there is always room to improve and grow in life. But I think there’s also importance in understanding and appreciating where you are now.
Chasing productivity creates a sense of never being enough, always looking for something else to do, never being satisfied. It can become a trap, holding you captive in your efforts to catch something that is perpetually out of reach.
That’s why it’s so important to pause and look back over what you’ve already done, and to celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small.
We all have our own pace in life, and measuring your success by hours spent “working” or in comparison to others is never going to bring you any kind of satisfaction.
So What Now?
Instead of trying to be more productive, try setting measurable, reasonable goals that will help you accomplish things that matter to you. Make sure you give yourself time and permission to rest, and that you have a reason for the goals you set.
If you haven’t already, take a look at my resource library for worksheets and ideas on setting reasonable goals and simplifying your workflows. Sign up below to get exclusive access, as well as my weekly newsletter.
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