No more than 2 or 3 years ago I was a productivity freak. Back then I was in charge of my own business, an online publishing company started 10 years ago. I was managing all the aspects of that company and that built a fantastic pressure on my health and time. I had to be more productive, otherwise I would surely crack up.
About that time also I started to be involved in productivity techniques such as GTD and other personal improvement techniques like NLP or Transactional Analysis. Being a quite early GTDer made this blog moderately popular and that served as an encouragement to me. I continued on this path as it seemed the right one.
Why Getting More Productive?
But as time passed I started to question myself more and more often: “What’s the point in being more productive? What’s the point in doing more in less time? What’s the point in doing more, anyway?”. Those questions emerged from a real state of frustration and sadness. Yes, I was way more productive each month, but other than really doing more stuff, nothing interesting happened.
Doing more in less time is a big trap. Doing more in less time makes you wanna do even more. Freeing your time by using productivity techniques, without having a proper life management system, makes you wanna use the free time in order to do even more. You get caught in your own treadmill.
I thought I was the only one caught in my own setup, but as I read other productivity blogs I started to see some sort of a pattern going on. Almost everywhere, productivity was perceived as a technique to squeeze more stuff into your capacity of doing. Just do more. It was weird. And it still feels weird, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now.
Productivity in itself, without a steady and complete personal management solution is simply unhealthy. It’s a paradigm of greed disguised in a technique for self-improvement. Doing more in less time is as bad as not doing nothing at all, because it directs your energy into a dry land of meaningless numbers.
Do versus Enjoy
As time passed by I started to shift my productivity approach from a quantity paradigm to a quality paradigm. In other words, I replaced the “more” with the “better”. As simple as it looks at the first glance, this shift is a total reinterpretation of the productivity concept.
The “better” part means to enjoy what you do. Means to be there and continuously enhance your activity, not just to adjust it against a set of fixed numbers. Doing things “better” means I have a quality system management in place. This system allows me to evaluate things around me and chose the ones I want to improve. Doing things “better” instead of just doing “more things in less time” doesn’t mean I have a life management system in place, but it’s the next best thing.
Begin productive, and here I refer to the “old school” definition, doesn’t have anything to do with your own capacity of being joyful. Anytime people talk about productivity, joy is usually out of discussion. Productivity is measured in tasks, lists and checked items, not laughs or smiles.
I’m sure it will sound weird to you, but for me being productive is a mix of doing and enjoying. If I’m only doing and not enjoying, I feel dull. If I’m only enjoying and not doing anything, sooner or later I start to feel equally dull. Whenever I mix those two states of my being, though, something magical happens with me: I am happy.
Productive vs Happy
As popular as they are nowadays, productivity techniques don’t vouch for your happiness. They can guarantee you’ll be doing a lot more stuff, but they won’t outline the real cost for that. They won’t tell you that you can be caught in the process… Yes, you can do it with a mind like water, yes, you can Get Things Done, but then again, if you don’t have something bigger than just a productivity system in place to run your whole life, your own productivity will become a worm hole.
A life management system is something that includes a productivity technique, if you want to. It’s something that assess your desires, allows you to make decisions and to implement them. The implementation part can be enhanced with productivity techniques, but without the first two steps: assessment and decision, your productivity is an empty space, emptying your life task done by task done.
Doing more is consuming, doing better is happier. Almost any productivity technique I learned and applied have a consuming mindset: they are based on numbers and quantities. They teach you to do more in less time. Why? Maybe I want to do less in more time, but I want to do it better. Maybe I need a quality assurance system for my life, not just a quantity measurement system.
A Life Management System
During the last few years I felt more and more the need for a life management system, for something bigger than just a productivity system like GTD. Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of benefits from applying GTD but I don’t think a productivity system in itself is the only thing I need in order to be happy.
Life management is the process of consciously living your life. It’s the process of integrating all the parts into something meaningful and controllable, into something that you can understand at any moment. A life management system can only use one or more productivity techniques every now and then but it cannot contained by them.
During the last few months I started to gradually create what I call my own framework for life management. Getting rid of the productivity as a daily habit was the best thing I had ever since. Not thinking in terms of productivity but in terms of happiness is enlightening.
In the end, using productivity for just doing more is unfair: it takes you from your real self, it steal the genuine joy from your life and puts you in slavery to the numbers.
Later update: there’s a follow up to this article, in an attempt to create a more formalized approach towards productivity: The Productivity Map.