A Peek Into Productivity

owl peeking

When people ask me what I do, I answer that I help people to organize their time, space and belongings. In effect, I’m all about productivity. In fact, one of the organizations I belong to is the National Association for Organizing and Productivity Professionals (NAPO).

At a recent NAPO Chapter meeting in Connecticut, a group of us were talking specifically about productivity. It has become a “hot button” topic, with many posts, videos, courses and memes offering instruction on how be more productive. But what exactly is productivity? Here are some thoughts we came up with:

Productivity is…

  • Articulating priorities and making progress against them
  • Moving forward, rather becoming stuck or stalled
  • Maximizing available time and money
  • Achieving efficiency and balance in work and personal life
  • Doing what is needed, as opposed to simply doing more
  • Maintaining focus and silencing distractions
  • Achieving desirable benchmarks
  • Possessing some measure of control over my time
  • Feeling content about past effort and achievements

As we talked, we tried to zero in on what it feels like to productive. These were some of the comments:

Productivity feels like…

  • “Knowing exactly what I need to do each day, which task I should tackle first, and then actually doing it.”
  • “Crossing things off my list.”
  • “Getting the best price on something I need to buy because I’ve done my research.”
  • “Having enough time and energy to enjoy my hobbies and spend time with my family.”
  • “Receiving recognition when I’ve worked hard on a project.”
  • “Staying on task for more than five minutes.”
  • “Seeing visible progress, such as when the counter is clear or my inbox is empty.”
  • “Hitting a goal I set for myself, such as completing a sale within a certain number of days.”
  • “Being on time and not having to rush.”
  • “Not forgetting things that I need or panicking because I can’t find what I need.”
  • “Knowing I worked hard and did the best I could.”
  • “Being able to schedule my work commitments around my personal life, so I can do things like go to my son’s game.”
  • “Not blowing the day binge watching videos on the Internet.”

I thought this was a pretty interesting list. Productivity is truly multi-faceted, and “being productive” encapsulates a variety of characteristics. Furthermore, it seems to mean different things to different people. I imagine this reflects our individual strengths and struggles.

In light of this complexity, how can we become more productive? There clearly isn’t one formula. Instead, progress seems be associated with at least three factors.

Productivity can be enhanced by…

  1. Identifying our own personal weaknesses, or in more appealing words, our “areas for growth.”

One person may struggle with getting started on the tasks of the day, while another may need to work on knowing when to quit. Feeling more productive will only happen if we address what we individually need to improve.

  1. Focusing on what we can control.

While it may be true that others are interfering with our productivity (e.g. superiors with last minute requests, coworkers who interrupt us, children who have their own agenda), fixating on these issues won’t help us be more productive. In fact, doing so is likely to make us feel stuck and hopeless. Instead, it is helpful to concentrate our efforts on our own habits that are sabotaging our productivity.

  1. Setting a “measurable” objective for progress.

In order to stay motivated, most people need to experience positive change in a tangible manner. Having concrete success can help us keep going, so it is helpful to clearly define a success target. Maybe the goal is to be on time for at least 5 days in the week, or shut off the phone by 9:00pm for 30 days. Small goals are better, as they are realistic and within reach.

*     *     *     *     *

Is there an aspect of your life in which you would like to be more productive? What change could you make this week?

21 thoughts on “A Peek Into Productivity”

  1. What a fascinating conversation you had about productivity! How interesting, yet not surprising, that people defined it in so many different ways. I am very good at accomplishing what I set out to do. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes because I’m so action/goal-oriented, I just need a break. During those times, I need more float time with less defined goals and activities. It’s my recharging time. It used to bother me, thinking that I had to be productive every minute of every day. But that’s just not possible and a sure way to burn out.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Say Goodbye and Let Go With LoveMy Profile

    1. I tend to be a “slave to the list,” largely because I find great satisfaction in seeing a list of completed tasks at the end of the day. The concept of Sabbath has been helpful to me… a day to step away. I’m not perfect in keeping it, but I do find that it gives me that permission to take that “float time,” which often is when I have my most creative ideas!

    1. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a list I didn’t like:) Filling in my boxes on my bullet journal is crazily satisfying to me. It just makes me happy!

  2. This is a particular week for it because I have four different projects in one week, AND, my 10 year anniversary. So I’ll be taking a full day off during a really busy week. Productivity to me is also about drive and ambition, and feeling good while doing it. Sometimes I’m unproductive and just sort of sitting here and taking up space, and doing the bare minimum of work. Other times, I fly.
    I have to think about which factors contribute to which outcome.
    Tamara recently posted…A House in the WoodsMy Profile

    1. I love that phrase about “feeling good while doing it.” That resonates with me for sure. There is an inner feeling of being in the groove that characterizes productivity. Good luck with the busy week, and Happy 10th!

  3. This is a great conversation.I agree with Linda. I am a very task oriented person and tend to do what I set out to accomplish. However, I also love having lazy days. I’m not productive on work but more on personal projects which mean so much to me – like weeding or pruning in my garden, making progress on my needlepoint, or finish reading a book (for fun)!
    Diane Quintana recently posted…De-cluttering and Marie KondoMy Profile

    1. Being productive can be relaxing for sure! Right now my dining room table is covered with a shower curtain that I am painting for our church’s Vacation Bible School. I just go in there and listen to a book on my phone and relax. I am still doing, but it is for fun, no pressure. I love seeing it come together, and often have some very creative thoughts in these moments!

  4. A topic truly close to my heart. Great conversation to have at a NAPO meeting, Seana. I agree. Productivity goals are reflected differently for different people. For me, if I need to add new projects to my schedule, I revisit the other tasks that take me the longest and examine the ways to reduce the amount of time on these tasks. It also helps when I create checklists for recurring activities that may take some time. By writing out my steps, I always find areas that can be modified or eliminated altogether. It also helps to get it off my mind and make room for the new project coming aboard.

    1. I have a bunch of checklists as well, and I also find that writing down the steps for a task get it off of my mind. Once it is in the book, I can move on, which is a relaxing feeling. We had such a great conversation – very interesting!

  5. Good advice as usual Seana. I don’t take enough time to do things I enjoy. I always feel pressured because there are those long term projects that are ongoing. I am however allowing myself more time for reading in the evening. Sometimes I have to remind myself that if those long term projects never get done it will not be the end of the world!

    1. That’s so true… and enjoying your life means having a balance of work and play. I also can have a tough time allowing myself to “stop” and relax. Most of my downtime is in the evening or on Sundays. Reading in the evenings can be a nice reward for having worked hard during the day!

  6. My husband was recently hospitalized for three weeks, and during that time I didn’t have much time or energy for anything else. Some tasks I was able to manage and some were delegated, but many were just put on hold. That experience has made me realize how much time I spend on activities that really don’t matter in the big scheme of things, so the next step in my productivity journey will be to evaluate what I do and decide how to make the very best use of my time, not just during a crisis but every day.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…A Website Makeover for Canadian Author Kathy StinsonMy Profile

    1. First, sorry to hear about your husband’s hospitalization… I hope he is feeling better. Being forced out of the routine can be a moment when we gain a new perspective on how we’ve been living. I had a similar experience when we had to move out of our home for a renovation. I realized that the simpler life of living in a smaller apartment had some tangible benefits. I made an intentional decision to try and carry some of those lessons back when the renovation was complete.

    1. I live by my planning system:) On the left side of the page, I have my calendar. On the right side, I have my “to do” list, which has little boxes for each item. I track my progress on tasks by either filling in the box, “Xing” it out, adding a diagonal line for items that are on hold, or filling in half the box for items I’ve taken action against but am waiting on something else to proceed with. I love planning, and I love that it is paper, and not dependent on good wifi!

    1. That’s an interesting point, Jessica. We tend to think productivity = work. In reality, it impacts all aspects of our lives, aspects of which frequently overlap.

  7. I love the descriptions of what productivity feels like. Feelings often drive me to get something done (or to just start) — especially the feeling I’ll get when I do what I’m supposed to do. Just thinking about and visualizing how I’ll feel at once I’ve completed the task can motivate me to start.

    I also like having a good winning streak. So, when I complete specific tasks every day (or as scheduled), I mentally check them off in my brain. I don’t want to break my streak! =)
    Deb Lee recently posted…Why Small Business Owners Struggle With Productivity (And How to Fix It)My Profile

    1. I love a winning streak too, Deb. I am often a bit cautious, as sometimes a big “win” can be followed by a surprisingly difficult challenge. Still, there is something very motivating about feeling like I’m killin’ it:)

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