What’s So Great About Being Productive?

by Randy Murray on February 28, 2011

Why do you want to be so productive? I’m serious. Take a moment and ask yourself what it is that you want that makes being productive so necessary? What makes you spend so much time and energy thinking and worrying about it?

That may sound strange to you, but again, I’m serious. Stop and think about it for a moment. Why do you feel that productivity is so important to you?

I recently sent a somewhat joking tweet saying that it’s more important to look productive than to feel productive. Here’s my tip: if you need to look productive, just walk around carrying a clip board.

I do think about productivity a lot. I’ve had times, probably a great many times, when I’ve felt like I’m far behind on everything. It may seem like there are too many things to do and I’m missing things, probably important things, that have to get done. And I hate that feeling of wasting time, spinning my wheels, and not making progress.

And yet, at the same time, I like nothing better than a day, a night, or a weekend with absolutely nothing to do. Those can be the best times, when anything can happen, but nothing has to happen. Inside the heart of this busy, busy guy is a lazy man, longing to get out (actually, he’s longing to stay in and do nothing).

I’ve tried productivity and time management programs across the years and I’ve learned one key thing: any of them can work for a short period of time, but almost none of them work over the long term. It’s like dieting: you may lose weight, but there’s the very real danger that soon you’ll gain back all that you’ve lost and pack on a few more pounds, too. I even worked for a company that developed and sold calendar and contact management software, so I’ve spent a chunk of my professional career thinking and talking about how to make people and organizations more productive. I’m also a big fan of Getting Things Done (GTD). I think that David Allen’s basic process is sound. He tries to get at the heart of the matter, to get yourself to that relaxed state where you’re not worrying about things, you’ve captured everything. You have a mind like water. That simple image is what I keep reaching for.

But I still wonder — why do I need to be constantly productive? Why am I and so many other people in such a big hurry to get everything done? I know my own answers and I’ve worked over the last few years to try and gain control of this obsession with being organized and feeling out of control. I think I’m making progress.

It’s also why I’ve been publishing my series, Simple Productivity Task Of The Day. My goal is to help myself and to help others to feel more productive. I really do think that feeling productive is as simple as moving from a state of standing still, inert, to moving and creating momentum. Getting one thing done often leads to getting another thing done. It’s addictive. The lazy guy inside likes doing a few simple things. And a few simple things, done every day, amount to a whole lot of work done over time.

Frankly, all productivity must be simple productivity. You can’t finish a massive project in one superhuman effort. You must complete many simple steps. Breaking down your projects, your to-dos, into simple, achievable steps lets you start attacking them, finishing them. Get your projects broken down into things that can be done in no more than one hour and you suddenly will find that you can complete 5 or six things a day, every day. You’ll create momentum, you’ll feel more in control, you actually will be getting things done.

So, what’ll it be? You can start carrying that clipboard or learning to not obsess over productivity. Or perhaps just embrace that lazy person inside and just do a few simple tasks today. I think that the lazy way may actually work best over the long term.

See also James Shelly on “Productivity is the Ultimate Distraction.”

The What’s So Great About Being Productive? by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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