What Productivity Isn’t

“Productivity isn’t about doing a lot of stuff. It’s about getting the important stuff done.” ~Leo Babuata, “Big Rocks First”

I hate being told I can’t do things. Even when they’re 10 conflicting things that all need to doing  immediately. (Especially when they’re 10 conflicting things that all need doing  immediately.)

You see, I have a superhero complex — and apparently also a bit of a masochistic streak. The more impossible my workload becomes, the more eager I am to jump unthinkingly into it, with an impressive flap of my imaginary cape and a bold “Dah, dah, dah, DAH!” on my lips.

I like to Get Things Done, and I’m quite good at it, if I do say so myself. (Which I suppose I just did.) I’ve moved up the ranks at my job by being known as a person who Gets Things Done. Even if those things are simultaneous projects from three separate people. Even if those things aren’t in my “job description” (although my job description, if I had an official one, would most likely be, “Do whatever needs to be done, preferably yesterday”).

I am the office “go-to” person. It frustrates me like crazy sometimes, because I’m consulted on everything from VIP client emergencies to water cooler leaks. But I know I’ve encouraged this reputation because it gives me a sense of importance. Every day, I’m stretched to the limit because I am Doing Things.  I am Making Things Happen. I couldn’t tell you at the end of the day what half those things were, and I certainly couldn’t tell you why most of them were important, but I can tell you They Got Done. They Got Done good.


See Work. See Cordelia Do That Work. (Work, Cordelia, Work!)

I find Things That Need to Be Done irresistible. Like a puppy that can’t help but chase whatever squeaky ball rolls past him, I can’t see a Thing That Needs to Be Done without desperately wanting to pounce on it. If there’s a to-do list that needs checking off or a clutter that needs uncluttering, I’m there, and I’m raring to go.

It’s not just at work; I’m the same way at home. Maybe it’s because I spend eight hours a day being the go-to girl that I take that mentality home with me. Or maybe having that mentality already is why I’ve become that person, both at work and at home. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both.

It doesn’t help that I have a near-OCD compulsion towards order and tidiness which, if given free reign, can easily consume the better part of an evening. I can’t relax when I get from work until the mail has been sorted, the clutter put back where it belongs, a load of laundry started, and my poor husband harassed about several items on his to-do list (which may or may not be important outside of my own head).

Part of it is my natural impulse to neatify everything I come across, and part of it is a secret fear that if I don’t perpetually stay on top of things, they will overwhelm me faster than you can say “what the…?”

Either way, I waste an awful lot of time just Getting Things Done, bouncing from project to project without coming up for air. And then I wonder why, at the end of the day, I still feel like I haven’t accomplished anything (even though I’m completely exhausted).


Tend to Your Big Rocks First

Being in a state of perpetual motion creates the illusion that you’re using your time to the max. But if you aren’t distinguishing between the importance of the tasks you’re tackling — if you’re just doing everything that comes at you as it comes at you — you’re not using your time effectively at all. You’re actually wasting it. (Tweet, tweet!)

I may be a pro at Getting Things Done, but half those things don’t matter, could wait till later, or wouldn’t even be missed if I didn’t do them at all.

I need to learn it’s o.k. to let certain things pile up, or even (gasp!) be ignored altogether. While I’m running around like a maniac trying to check off a to-do list that will never officially be to-done, I’m wasting time I could be using to do the things that really matter to me.

As Leo says in the excellent post quoted above, your time is like a bucket. Each day, you can only fit so many rocks (to-dos) into the bucket, so if you keep filling it up with petty, unimportant little rocks, you’ll never get around the big rocks (i.e. the things that really matter). The way to approach life productively is to make sure all the big rocks get in the bucket first. Then, in whatever space is left over, you can try to fill in as many little rocks as you want.

This is a concept I’m going to have to continually remind myself of throughout this mission to live more deliberately. I’ve gotten so hooked on always being in a flurry of activity — always trying to do everything and be everything, all at once — it’s going to take some doing to train myself out of that mentality and into a more truly productive one. But I need to. Otherwise, all my awesome Get Things Done abilities will be squandered on things that don’t really deserve them.

Superman didn’t spend all his time sweeping floors or washing dishes faster than the average man. In fact, when things got kind of hairy, I’m pretty sure his apartment got to be kind of a mess. I don’t think anyone faulted him for that. I shouldn’t fault myself, either.

There are bigger adventures to tackle.

Do you get caught in the productivity trap? How can you break free?

Image: Flickr

Never miss a post! Sign up here and get a free copy of Your Guide to Calling It Quits.