Our obsession with productivity
began over 100 years ago with the dawn of industrialism. And we’ve carried it with us into this digital age. It’s all about getting the highest output in a 24-hour period.
As a result, you’re killing yourself to meet a popular, imposed ideal – and every month the stakes get higher. I say STOP the madness! Life is not a productivity contest. There’s no lifetime achievement prize for “Got the most shit done.” So you can let that one go. How freeing is that?!
So if life isn’t about killing yourself to “Get More Done” (GMD), what is it about? I’ll tell you – and you’re going to love it.
Ditching the GMD Mentality
Productivity says whoever makes the most widgets wins. In the shortest amount of time, improving output every day. Like a machine.
To put it into perspective, that’s like saying your measure of success is how many holes you can dig in your lifetime. That you need to dig more holes to make more money. More holes equals more happiness. But, how do you do it? Stay up later? Work later? Get a bigger shovel? Those would be the productive, industrialist answers. Just do more. Sleep less. Cram more into a 24-7.
But if you’re working 24-7 just to dig more holes, you’re going to be stressed out, pissed off, and exhausted. You’re not going to have any time for your family. To take care of your body. To enjoy life.
What are the holes in your life? The holes you just keep digging and that are keeping you busy (and killing you)? Is it the dishes? Making sure your kids have the perfect outfit for school? Staying at work late to finish that report or spreadsheet or deck or email? Jumping on a plane every time your clients say they need you? Doing things for other people?
How about stop getting sucked into all those holes? Step off the hamster wheel. Only do the most important stuff. That’s choosing essentialism over productivity. Doing what’s important over GMD.
How? Instead of putting more on, take more off. Delegate. Rework. Focus on things that move the needle personally and professionally. Say “no” more often. Carpool. Hire help. Get your kids involved – doing dishes, washing laundry. And just let some things go.
That will give you more in your life. More peace. More happiness. More space to invent and create.
Creation & Productivity: Two Sides of the Same Coin
You may have noticed a theme in how I approach life. It’s never either-or. It’s both-and.
Our culture tends toward singularity of focus – this or that. But everything has two sides. Forcing a decision on one over the other creates unnecessary extremes that trigger high stress and tension. The beauty in life is blending the two polar opposites. It’s from the yin and yang coexistence that power emerges. The power to produce the most meaningful things in life. And more of them.
That’s the irony. If you focus on either productivity or creation, you accomplish less. The key is to practice productivity and creation equally. Be productive on the few things that matter (essentialism). And make plenty of space for creation. Yin and Yang. Not yin or yang.
Get in the Flow – Productive Creativity
We all seem to have productivity down flat. So let’s talk a little more about creation.
To move from productivity to creation, you must create space in your life.
It’s in that space where the state of creativity begins. Flow state. A state of high performance and high creation. Think pro athlete. A basketball player when s/he’s “in the zone.” A runner experiencing a “runner’s high.” That’s flow.
People who are in flow state regularly share a few things about it:
Time stands still.
You’re so engrossed in what you’re doing that time, in a sense, stands still.
You have super-hero powers.
You have the sensation of being a vessel and some greater energy is working through you. Amplifying your efforts and enabling you to perform to your greatest potential.
You experience high productivity.
Here’s the irony! In your most creative zone – flow state – you experience a level of productivity that far surpasses any traditional notion of the word! In fact, if you know someone who is in flow state regularly, you’re overwhelmed at how much they produce. It seems almost inhuman.
Most people think that flow state “just happens.” That some people are lucky, and they just happen to be gifted with this elusive, creative state. But there’s actually a simple science to flow state.
5 Ways to Get Into Flow
I’m wired to be left-brained. Analytical, practical, driven. I don’t have even the tiniest drop of artistic talent.
Nonetheless, I can get into flow state on demand. Partly because I create the space. And because I’ve mastered the 5 simple practices that trigger flow state.
# 1: Break the pattern of “I’m too busy.”
I hear ALL the time, I’m too busy. In my mind, “being busy” is the new form of laziness. What it really means is you’re too busy to make change in your life. Being busy used to make me feel important. Now I see “being busy” as a sacrifice to creativity.
So choose to be different. Tell yourself you DO have time. You’re not too busy. Even stop saying the words, “I’m too busy.” The first step is to change your language. Then your internal belief system will follow.
# 2: Get inspired.
To “flow”, you need to be inspired. The Latin origin – inspirare – meant “to breath into.” In that sense, inspiration is what gives you air, breath – the source of life. It connects you – at the deepest level – with what it means to be human.
So create some space and get inspired! Inspiration is different for everyone. I spend time and $$$ for one-on-one time with people like Brendon Burchard, Jim Kwik and Fernando Flores – all people who are a deep source of inspiration for me. Travel, reading, listening to podcasts and going to conferences also inspire me.
In fact, the inspiration for this blog series came from Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less that I read while in Italy. He inspired me to break my “trivial many” productivity habits in order to focus more on space and creating all the new things I have coming up!
It’s doesn’t take much. Just put yourself in situations that you love – every day. That introduce you to new people, ideas, music, experiences. New energy.
# 3: Learn something new. Every day.
Certainty is the enemy of creation. Instead, be a seeker. Learn from new sensations, experiences, cultures, and ways of thinking. Even ideas you disagree with can be a tremendous source of creativity. You might create a new way of thinking about why you disagree. Or decide you don’t!
It can be as simple as interrupting the status quo in your life. Like taking a new way home from work. Or eating lunch with a new group of people. The key is to have the discipline of constantly learning. It’s in these new exposures that you achieve those epiphanies or “a-has” that fuel a perpetual stream of your best creations.
# 4: Invent rituals.
Rituals are the habits and practices that make life easier.
One way I trigger flow state is through my practice of meditation. Being in that ritual each morning allows me to be in a mini flow state. So many a-has come to me from that time (that “space”) each morning.
Another practice is journaling. This (almost) daily practice creates space for me to retrieve events, conversations, ideas, learning, and inspiration from my day. As I capture these thoughts, it sparks another mini flow state.
Yet another practice is entering freely into conversations with people. On that note, it must be said that flow state, ultimately, is not something you do alone. Creation is never done in isolation. The final act may be – an artist may paint alone. But the process of getting to that final act is a series of inspirations – and flow states – triggered by people, places and things. So fit those into your rituals, too! Create space for these things that really matter.
# 5: Surround yourself with beauty.
What you surround yourself with facilitates flow state. For me, I love working outside. When inside, I have my office and home full of inspiring art, and I make sure there’s lots of natural light and outside air, whenever possible. I’m very particular about choosing colors that produce the right mood and energy.
Choose your environment. For some, it might be a coffee shop in NYC. For others, it might be sitting on a country porch. Determine what “beauty” is for you. And start to incorporate it into your environment. Beauty will trigger flow state. Especially once you give yourself the space to enjoy it.
Seek Practice. Not Perfection
I’ve been working with this idea of flow for well over a year now. My entire left brain wants to religiously follow the systems for getting as much done as possible. But every time I start to succumb to pure productivity, I remind myself that there is something far better.
You need fewer checklists. And more flow states. Ironically, you’ll be far more productive.