Productivity is one of the hype-concepts of modern life. It’s one of those things that people nod sagely about when they hear the word, like creativity or teamwork, and put on presentations and plans even if they can’t really define it.
Productivity is very important these days. I’m not just saying that in order to get you to read this article; it’s really true. Thanks to the internet, social media, and several other factors, we are living at a time of rapid change. Things are moving so quickly that there’s no way you can keep up with everything unless you’re productive ALL-THE-TIME. So if there was ever a time where being organized, efficient, and hard-working is really important, this is it.
Let’s try to define productivity.
If you ask ten people what productivity is, they might give you ten different answers. Here are some of my favorites:
Productivity is getting more done with less wasted effort.
Productivity is being able to do things quickly and well.
Productivity is the state of being efficient guided by practicality and necessity.
Being productive is the key to success.
Productivity is the art of doing more things in less time.
The key to productivity is making sure that you don’t waste time on things that aren’t beneficial to what you’re trying to do.
To be productive means keeping focused on your goals and working steadily towards them without getting distracted.
Being productive starts with having priorities, setting goals, and making a plan for how you’ll achieve those goals – it’s all about organizing yourself, your personal life, and your work life, so you can find time to do all of the things you want to.
So, now we know what productivity means at its most basic level. Now let’s look at why everyone seems obsessed with being busy all the time.
Being busy is the new way of saying “I’m important and I don’t have time to do anything that doesn’t support my important-person agenda.”
It appears to be the occupation of 99% of managers and entrepreneurs. Having free time suddenly became a bad thing. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” — we are taught to fill every moment not spent working with “productive” activities like taking courses, learning another language, sleeping on the Peloton, everything that looks good on our CV and is Instagram-worthy.
We are these perfect creatures that wake up at 5:00 AM for a morning jog, meditate for 30 mins sharp before grabbing a green smoothy on our way to the yoga class, order a vegan gluten-free high-protein breakfast and start taking calls in our glass offices at 09:00 AM. Then there are 15 minutes of mindfulness at 12:00, saving the world’s economy at 15:00, and dinner with our perfect family at 19:00.
We are super-fit, super-happy, super-productive, super-efficient, healthy, eco, making 6-figures, sleeping 8-hours, perfect partners and parents, love nature, read a lot, highly educated, always on the edge of new technology, have everything under control, and live these picture-perfect li(v)es 24/7.
There’s just one problem with that.
As much as I fight with this concept myself, unfortunately at the end of the day, something’s gotta give.
Let’s take a moment and talk about that feeling of guilt when you’re doing nothing; the sense that you should be getting things done (or even better looking busy). Wasting your time, and time equals money, therefore, wasting time AND money while doing absolutely nothing that will result in a material gain.
We keep putting pressure on ourselves to “do” more and be better, getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of things we need to achieve. We stress out about not being productive enough. And on top of that, the constant push for us to do more actually robs us of our energy (the same way eating junk food does).
I recently took a look at some of my first to-do lists. Most of them have more than 30 tasks a day! I wanted to ride the wave of constant productivity so badly, that I was trying to do what most people do in a week or more in just one day. Needless to say, this one ended with a huge burnout, but “burnout” wasn’t coined back then, so we used to simply call it a breakdown.
The Productivity Burnout
I don’t know about you, but I was raised to be productive. My parents wanted me to learn how to get things done efficiently. The idea of hard work has always been drilled into me, the message being “you should always do your best”. Being busy meant doing something useful and profitable. And so this “busy” thing became a norm as I got older. I played the game, being so busy all the time with my social life, schoolwork, and career plans that there was no chance of me falling behind.
I’m working since I was 18. Since then, I’ve been working not just because I have to but because I wanted to. Working felt good. Even when my job was the worst ever, even when it was tiring or tiring me out, something inside of me kept telling myself that this was what life is about.
I worked 80 hours a week in college, worked a lot of part-time jobs, did freelancing, started my own business, and even though I was doing a lot of things at the same time, one thing was for sure:
I had my life together.
And even more importantly, I worked nonstop to make it better.
Eventually working became a lifestyle instead of an activity that I did to make the ends meet.
Then came the point when work took over my entire life. Suddenly there was no space for anything else, including hobbies, relaxation, or even catching up with friends.
My life had become a series of business meetings and Skype calls, and the only time I had to do something for myself was on my way home or before going to bed. And if that sounds like you, then you know what I’m talking about.
The need for constant productivity is a recent phenomenon. It’s not just me who feels it, but everyone around me as well. We’re all doing more in less time, stressed out about the lack of time, and getting exhausted by it.
We need to quit this myth that we should be productive all the time. I mean, at least a few hours a day for yourself is a must if you want to feel sane and healthy. Your body needs rest to rejuvenate itself every once in a while. Otherwise, you’ll burn out, crash and burn, or simply stop caring altogether because there’s nothing left to care about.
If you find yourself constantly rushing from one task to another, try taking these 3 steps:
1. Figure out what needs doing.
Before setting any tasks on your list, make sure you really need to do them. Sometimes all you need to do is postpone something, or even better—remove it altogether if it’s not that important.
2. Set an achievable goal.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much in one day simply because you can, but also don’t underestimate your abilities just because you’re feeling lazy.
3. Lean on your time management skills to fit it all in, and remember: everything is possible!
Once you balance out your schedule and become more efficient in what you do—even if it’s just a little bit, you’ll be able to fit in time for yourself or something that truly makes you happy.
So today, when someone asks me how I’m doing, instead of replying “busy” like always, I’ll tell them “I’m productive”. Let’s make this world a little bit better.
Staying Productive Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Once I accepted the fact that everything can’t be done right away because patience is a virtue, time management became easier.
I put myself at the top of my priority list and started to fight for my well-deserved breaks. I made sure that no matter how many tasks I need to get done before the day ends, I’ll always fit in some personal time.
Because the truth is, you can’t be productive all the time; but when you fit in some downtime for yourself once in a while, your productivity levels skyrocket.
So here’s what I suggest—after every few tasks, take five minutes to do something that makes you happy. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be anything big. Just move around, do the dishes, clean the house, take a walk outside – whatever it takes to get the little dopamine rushes that will remind you that this isn’t all of life, and guess what? You’re still alive!
Then get back to work because there’s still so much more you need to do.
Every time you take a break, your brain gets the signal that it’s okay to slow down. It may be hard in the beginning when all you want is to get everything done ASAP, but if you master this balancing act of staying productive while still taking time for yourself, I promise – you won’t ever stress about work again.
How I tamed the productivity beast
I have often wondered what really makes us feel productive. Is it the number of tasks we finish, or how much time it took us to do them? Or is it all about how many times our boss tells us “great job!”?
Let’s dig deeper and try to figure out one thing that truly corresponds with feeling productive. When you think about it, every time you get something done – that’s a good feeling. But why? What does it actually do for us?
For example: finishing an assignment before the deadline—that makes me feel productive because I did what I had to and sometimes even more than that.
It takes me two days at most to finish anything given to me, and even though working on something for almost 48 hours straight is not exactly a picnic, it’s still fulfilling.
Why? Because in the end, I can look back at my day and think “hell yeah! I did what I was supposed to do.”
I don’t need my boss’ praises or anyone else’s for that matter because I know I did what was asked of me.
That’s the kind of feeling you need to get every time you accomplish something—you need to be the best source of your own happiness.
I can’t even remember how many times I felt miserable while working on something because all these trivial things seemed so much more important than my own well-being.
I was stressed and angry, and all because I lost sight of the things that matter most. So if you’re struggling with your productivity as well, here’s my simple advice: instead of trying to do it all at once – do one thing for five minutes.
Do one task. Get it done. Move on to the next one. That’s it. You’ll be surprised how much more you can get done when you start to give yourself these little breaks in between.
You’ll feel lighter, happier, and most importantly—more productive.
So remember – your productivity is not about getting everything done right away. Your productivity is all about fitting some time for yourself into the space between your work tasks.
And if you make sure to take care of yourself first, everything else will fall into place anyway.
I still have my bad days, even weeks, when I feel like my brain shuts down, and nothing seems to go right.
But most days I figure out the trick: all you need is five minutes of doing something that makes you happy. And after those five minutes are over, get back to work because there’s still so much left to do!
…Five minutes later…
…And five minutes later again.
There’s no rush, there’s no guilt. It will all be done anyway. You just have to take care of yourself first.
To end things positively, in the past two years, I’m finally living the life I dreamt of – I love my job, I find time for most of my hobbies and I feel highly motivated most of the time. I’m not happy 24/7. I’m not doing everything perfectly. But I’m fulfilled enough to keep going and set new goals for myself every day.
That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned – being productive is all about finding balance, staying motivated, and enjoying whatever it is that you’re doing.
If you get the first two right, the third one will follow on its own.
So stop making things so complicated! Go outside for five minutes of fresh air. Take five minutes to visit your favorite website. Five minutes of drawing, five minutes of reading, and definitely five minutes for a hug from the people you love most in this world.
Just give yourself that little time and watch how miraculously it will help you become more productive than ever before!
To end things on a high note, here are some of the tips that help me get through my day.
- Take short breaks in between. If you feel yourself losing focus, don’t be afraid to take a little break. Go outside for five minutes or check your favorite site (I swear it helps). These little pauses will give your brain time to relax and re-focus – which brings me to my next tip…
- Rewire your brain. Just because you work online doesn’t mean all your hobbies have to involve a screen, too! Do something more analog from time to time – take up a new hobby, get yourself a sketchbook, pick up some watercolors and just paint for five minutes…it’ll change your life!
- Surround yourself with people that are good for you. Having friends that encourage your ambitions is amazing, but having friends that are supportive no matter what will help you more than anything. These are the people that will save your day when you feel like *****, and they’ll pick you up when you need it most!
- Find something really important to motivate yourself with – whatever it is, it will be a reward that you’ve earned for yourself
- For long-term projects, give yourself small rewards for milestones: after writing 1k words, after 10 minutes of editing each day. These can be really anything about your project – maybe you’re working on a book and every time you finish a chapter, your reward is a 10-minute phone call to your best friend.
- For short-term tasks, look for ways to motivate yourself through the task: maybe you need to write a paper and it’s due the next day – ask yourself why this matters, and what will happen if you don’t do this task. If you’re getting worked up about not being able to focus on this task, remind yourself that it will be over in 20 minutes and you can go back to what you were doing.
- Remember, everything is a step: don’t get overwhelmed by the idea of “starting” or “finishing” your project – just start somewhere! Even if you just sit down at your computer and stare at it for an hour, you’ll be starting your project.
- Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed – if you don’t manage what’s most important, nothing else will work out either! Remember, the reason why you’re doing this is to make yourself more productive in general, not to finish one particular task.
- Don’t forget about breaks: take a break every 30-60 minutes to get up and move around, get a drink of water, check your phone for a minute. It will help you focus better on the task at hand when you get back!
- Remember why this is important: anything worth doing will take work. If it’s not worth doing, let it go! Life will go on either way 🙂
- Don’t beat yourself up about mistakes or interruptions
- If you have a bunch of stuff to do in a day, don’t try and tackle everything at once! It’s better to get one thing done really well than three things done poorly
- Don’t take on too much – again, anything worth doing will take time. You can always add more, but if you feel overwhelmed or stressed, you won’t be able to focus on anything!
- It’s okay to stay in bed for an extra half hour or take that nap! Just try and be productive when you’re actually doing something
- Simply starting the task is worth celebrating. If you’re worried about finishing, remind yourself that just starting is a step in the right direction
- Just start somewhere!
- Try to find a time of day that works best for you and work with that, instead of against it
- If you’re stuck, try the Pomodoro technique. Take a break every 30-60 minutes to get up and move around, get a drink of water, check your phone for a minute. It will help you focus better on the task at hand when
- Work doesn’t have to be serious or dull. It can be fun and enjoyable too. Don’t burn yourself out just because you’re focused on productivity. If you work all the time, nothing will get done and life will feel very unfulfilling
- Don’t worry about finishing, just start.
- If something feels overwhelming, break it down into smaller tasks and celebrate those as milestones instead of the overall “final product”.
- “Done is better than perfect”, don’t fall into the trap of perfectionism
- Anything worth doing takes time, so it’s best not to burn yourself out on stress.
- Take breaks for yourself! You’re more productive when you’re rested and happy
- Last but most important: don’t forget to take care of yourself. Everything else goes out the window if your mental health is in bad condition – find ways to work around it, whatever they are, but keep track of your mental health because that is the absolute priority.
Productivity is tough, but it doesn’t need to be horrible. Balance and working within your limits are important, as is taking care of yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle everything on your plate. If you feel overwhelmed, take a step back and figure out what needs to be done first based on importance. Then, take it one step at a time and try not to get overwhelmed when you’re in the middle of doing something. And I can’t stress this enough: take care of yourself – if you don’t work within your limits, nothing else will get done. You might be able to push yourself further, but the quality will suffer. It’s better to take it slow and do something well than burn yourself out and have nothing to show for it. Take breaks, even if you feel like you’re wasting time! They will refresh your mind and help you get more done in the long run.