There Is No Single Definition Of Productivity
It's about moving toward the person you want to be.
I am at a one day conference on habits.
I’ve never been to a conference like this. All my other conferences were either medical conferences or Wall Street conferences. This is a much different vibe. But today’s has much more comfortable clothes.
The main reason I signed up was to see James Clear speak. I think he has a brilliant and well-researched perspective on habits. Sometimes hearing and seeing ideas can spark a deeper understanding than reading alone.
But James aside, there have been a lot of other talks throughout the day. The focus has been, in a word, productivity. The word “hack” has been used more times than makes me comfortable. And the topics have included, how to get more done, get more out of your day, do more, be more.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, that is what it means to be productive:
Yielding results, benefits, or profits.
So, everyone here, like many other places, is focused on how to maximize their productivity. To create the most productive habits. I can hear echoes of “optimize my morning routine” ringing throughout the space while we are on lunch break. (I, of course, am hiding in a back corner with my computer.)
But my question about productivity, about creating a morning routine, is this: exactly what result, benefit, or profit do you want to yield?
I feel like this is where the wheels come off.
We see other people churning out 7 stories on Medium per week and think that’s what we should do too.
Or running 10 miles a day, so maybe we should start running?
Or, we hear about a gorgeous morning routine, which really seems to trigger people. We read about a guy getting up at 5:30am. He meditates, does cross fit, brews his own free trade coffee, journals, and plans his day to a tee. Every morning.
For some reason, everyone thinks this is the “most productive morning.” No matter if they have bad knees and can’t do crossfit, don’t drink coffee, or they are a night owl.
We see other people do these things and it becomes compare and dispair. Productivity becomes yet one more thing that we apply our perfectionism to. We have to be perfectly productive, as defined by other people. And that becomes the end goal.
But we’re all missing the point.
Because the definition of productivity does not include a specific end result. We want to create a system and a lifestyle which yields the greatest results. But the truth is, those results can be anything we want them to be.
For some people, productivity might mean creating a balanced lifestyle which includes downtime. So “optimizing their calendar” means they don’t jam pack their schedule. So they are free to binge watch Netflix all day on Sunday.
When that person watches every episode of Russian Doll back-to-back, are they productive? You bet. They achieved their goal. They got everything else done. The benefit it yielded is a day spent relaxing and rejuvinating, guilt free. Because that was their choice.
For others, productive might mean creating a day that results in some family time. Some connection with your kids every day. So a great day means you find time in your morning to sit down and have breakfast with your kids before a busy work day. How would a journal and a cross fit gym and meditation help create that family time? It won’t. You need to put those aside. Because none of those things will actually yield the result you’re trying to produce. But ten minutes sitting on the bar stools at your kitchen counter. Hunkered over frozen waffles with your kids. That might be exactly what you do need. It might not fit the “perfect” definition of a productive morning. But to you, the ability to get up, dressed, and ready for work. And ALSO spend a little quality time with you kids. That is exactly what you want out of your day.
I completely agree that an intentional morning routine is helpful for a good day. But what your routine looks like is none of my business, and it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. How do I know what tone you want to set for your day, or what you want to get out of it? Maybe you’re a night owl. You feel accomplished if you get up in enough time to shower and put on clean clothes before your work day begins. That’s a productive morning, if you want it to be.
In the end, you need to decide who you want to be. What identity you’re striving for. Someone who enjoys a balanced life. Someone who finds time to connect with their kids every day. Or someone who runs marathons. You get to choose. No one else. And then set your sights on moving toward that identity. Closer to the person you want to be, each day. If the output of your day, your choices, your life, is moving you closer to where you want to be, you’re productive.
With or without the $60 planner, the 30 minutes of meditation, or the free trade coffee.