I’ve been thinking about the meaning of personal productivity lately. My wife and I recently finished watching the first season of The Fieldhouse on Discovery+. The show’s premise is about a football player whose career ambitions were crushed after an injury. He then went on to start a gym where he helps people level up their fitness, whether they’ve never worked out before or are experienced athletes looking to improve their performance.
There are many lessons I could share from this show, but one stands out in particular related to the definition of personal productivity. It’s about vision.
If you’ve been following my productivity journey, you might know that I’ve wrestled with the concept of personal productivity for a long time. First, the struggle was more about having difficulties with my systems and feeling overwhelmed by them. After a while, this transformed into a challenge with the broad concept of productivity — what does it mean to be productive in light of the work we do and lives we have?
This summer, the struggle went to a whole new level. The wondering went deep. Do we need productivity tools and systems altogether? I shared a bit about this over on the community when I started a hiatus to deal with burnout I was experiencing, but the wrestle didn’t stop there. These questions went further, like:
- Why do we need long to-do lists we never complete?
- What’s the point of trying to use these strategies if all they ever do is stress us out more?
- Why do all of us productivity gurus tend to hawk advice as if we carry the magic solution to everyone’s problems?
- What’s the point of doing work when it ultimately feels separated from its affect on other people?
I know I’m not alone on this. Despite all of our productivity efforts, we’re still overwhelmed with work, the plans and ideas we have in our heads, and the desire to be the best version of ourselves. But we’re tired of the same old hamster wheel we’re running on that never goes anywhere and never gets us ahead.
In my thinking, I’ve begun to realize a few things about how we think about productivity that might be the problem. The main idea is there’s a disconnect in how we think about productivity in the broader picture of our lives. Let’s discuss.
Productivity means vision
If we’re to get anything purposeful done in life, we must have some sense of vision. However, I think what we usually view as vision is incredibly myopic.
Vision is not checking off everything on your todo list or clearing your inbox using some hack.
Vision is not aiming to get the right things done and avoiding doing the wrong things. Essentialism, if you will.
Vision is not setting a goal and aiming to achieve it.
Vision is not working to focus as intently as possible on a single big project until you complete it.
These are all tactics, the actions we employ on a daily basis to actually get work done.
You could say vision is seeing your ideal career path, the proverbial five year plan of sorts. That’s getting close.
I’d say you’re getting closer by thinking of vision as seeing what you want your life to look like in an ideal state, but even then, that misses the bigger picture.
True vision is bigger than you
Justin, the owner of The Fieldhouse, does one thing with every client that comes in — he ties the daily work of showing up and getting the workout done to a vision. To illustrate what we discussed above, often these individuals come in telling themselves a story that they want to get healthier, they want to go pro, they need to lose 50lbs. This is where things get interesting. Justin pushes them further.
In his experience, Justin found that these goal-based visions don’t work for people. They eventually stop showing up when the goal is focused on a result or achievement. What really motivates people, he’s found, is tying a vision to people that matter to you. “Who are you doing this for?”
And that, my friend, is what personal productivity is about.
Personal productivity is the use of tactics and strategies to effectively benefit the people you seek to impact through the effort of your life.
When we tie our vision to the people we want to impact with our lives, a few things happen:
- Staying on track and on point becomes easier.
- What matters most becomes infinitely more clear.
- Employing certain tactics and strategies doesn’t matter nearly as much as making the impact.
How does this play out in real life?
Well, maybe you’re embracing swimming in a sea of urgency because you’re home with your kids, and you’re doing your best to keep everything afloat. In that case, it makes zero sense to put extra pressure on yourself to be hyper vigilant and organized when the most important thing is taking care of your family.
Maybe you’re trying to work as few, deeply focused hours as possible so you can spend more time with your family.
Or, you might be busting it, putting extra hours in at work because your family needs the money. In that case, being the most effective you can be has a dramatic impact on those you love.
When we put productivity in light of who we’re impacting, it becomes relative to the season of life we’re in and its requirements. What being productive looks like for the fresh college grad will look inherently different from the new mom or the small business owner who is growing his team for the first time.
At the core of this idea, we must bust out of the hustle and attach our work to purpose. And it’s 100% okay if it doesn’t look like a Getting Things Done system executed to perfection. In fact, even if there’s no system at all and you’re making the impact, that’s what matters most.
Where are you looking next?
As I mentioned, I don’t have all this figured out yet, but the realities of life have started to emerge from the haze of the last six months. Life is more about the people we impact and the community we’re a part of than it is the accomplishments achieved or tasks checked off. It’s the purpose connected to the process focused on the people where our productivity is truly found.
But what do you think? How does thinking of productivity in light of others affect the way you do things? Do you wrestle with this idea?