Do You Suffer From Toxic Productivity? (Part 2)
Our society has gotten such that we all want to be more productive. There are literally hundreds of books on productivity, and even more content online on levelling up your productivity. But for some, myself included, where the chase to become ever more productive becomes toxic, and I addressed some of the signs that might indicate that your mission towards improved productivity might be toxic. But I don't like when people just point out problems and dwell on negativity. So I thought it might be prudent to also talk about some tools that might help so that we can take some steps towards a healthier relationship with productivity.
Reflect on Values
I'm finding that as I grow older and as priorities change, the importance of understanding and embracing our values become ever more important. Yes, our careers are important, and as an entrepreneur, our business is, essentially, akin to our children. But the more entrepreneurs I speak with, the same message keeps repeating itself over and over again, that the one thing that they would do differently, would be to spend more time with their family.
So for me, family is right there at the top of that list of my values. And the next, because I have fibromyalgia, right up there next to my family, is my physical, mental health. And while we can burn the candle at both ends for a short period of time, I'm increasingly aware that the business isn't more important than these two things.
To me, this might mean that I don't take on as many projects as I can. This might mean that I grow my team out to more people than I absolutely need. But if making less (obviously still trying to stay profitable), can help me to embrace my values better, the opportunity cost is definitely worth it.
Set Realistic Goals
Once we embrace those things that are valuable to us, the big items, so to speak, then we can start looking at goals. My goals are still lofty and ambitious, but once I set them, I don't really look at them anymore. Someone significantly smarter than I am once said that if we're making a cake, we're not really thinking about the OUTPUT of that cake while we're making it. We focus on the inputs into making that cake. We think about putting together the ingredients and the steps that we need to take to make the cake. We think about collecting the ingredients. We focus on cracking the egg and beating the egg to the consistency we require. At no point, are we thinking about the final cake.
So this is what I've started to do with my life as well. You can call it the breaking down of tasks. But those tasks can be broken down further as well. Putting together this blog is an input, that goes into the greater goal of building this company. But even within this article, those tasks are broken down further. Looking for references, layout out the structure, writing, editing, launching, etc. And even within each of these tasks, they can be broken down even further.
So my goal setting then, is looking at very specific inputs towards putting together an article like this, prioritising those inputs, and putting the inputs together so that they become an article.
A lot of this goes back to reflecting on values and priorities. All of us, only have 24 hours in a day, so we have to figure out what we can fit in to those 24 hours, and set boundaries for ourselves so that we can take all of the items on this list into consideration.
These priorities may change over time, so we do have to review it from time to time. As an example, I have a toddler at home, and the recurring answer older, wiser, and more successful people have given, is that if there is one thing that they would change, would be to spend more time with family. Looking at my toddler, I completely understand that the time that I get to spend watching this little person grow, passes quickly. It still seems like just last week we were bringing this new being into our lives. And in what seems like a blink of an eye, this new little being is walking and talking, and every day, I see growth and change. So this is a priority for me. So one of the boundaries that I try very hard to not take meetings and events for work during evenings and weekends. There are some exceptions of course, but I try VERY hard to limit these activities.
But this goes beyond our person and family time. So one thing that we can try, is to set up an ideal week. Trying to accommodate for all the likely things that will happen on any given week, meetings, correspondence, etc., what SHOULD our week look like? Once we have this ideal week set, we should look at what boundaries that we can put in so that we can adhere as much as possible to this ideal week. So one thing that we might try to to, is set windows up for when we will allow for meetings, and try hard to allocate meetings within those set boundaries. Maybe from 10AM - 12PM and then again from 3PM - 5PM. Something like that, so when we're booking time on someone's calendar (ie., Calendly, or CalendarHero), we choose times within those windows as much as possible.
Self-compassion is one that is very close to my heart because of my Fibromyalgia. I need to understand that my body doesn't work the same way as other people, and more importantly, that my body doesn't work the same way as it used to when I was younger and before I ended up with this affliction. Because of this, I need to forgive myself when I cannot be as productive as I'd like to be.
But this isn't just for me either. We all have days when we're a little more run down. Maybe we didn't sleep well the night before, or maybe we're slightly under the weather. Or maybe, we're just not feeling it that day. Whatever it is, when it comes to productivity, we need to understand our mental and physical limitations on any given day, and be kind to ourselves.
Embrace Mindfulness and Relaxation
One thing that I'm working on, is being more intentional with the productive time that I do have. It goes back to that self-compassion; I can only be productive for XXXXX amount of minutes at a time, and YYYYY amount of hours in a day. By being intentional with the person or task that is in front of me, and putting in time to relax and recharge.
It's about learning to include rest within our ideal day/week. It's learning that if we can take some time out of our day for a walk, or even a nap, that we can be more productive afterwards. Those who have visited our office will have noticed that there's a sofa in it. Not only is it there for guests to sit on, but it's a spot that my team has taken many a nap on. It's something I encourage. My team works on their own schedule, so as long as we're able to complete our tasks on time, it really doesn't matter how everyone's time is being allocated. If they're not feeling up for it that day, by all means, get some rest so that we can be more productive afterwards.
I remember one of my team members who came in one day, she said she was coming in, but when she did, she very honestly said, "Sorry, I'm here because I said I was going to be here, but I'm really not", before plunking herself on to the sofa and taking a nap. When she woke up, she set another time to come in, and went home. I appreciated that honesty, and what do you know, when she came in the next time, she was very productive, and we didn't miss any deadlines.
We take our cars in for an oil change a few times a year, and that's just a material tool that we can change, shouldn't we be more vigilant with our health as well?
Don't be afraid to seek support. This can be in the form of family, friends, colleagues, or professional help. Toxic productivity is a pernicious thing, so if we are seeing signs of toxic productivity, like anything toxic, we should try to address it as quickly as possible so that it doesn't fester.
I've been fortunate that after some time with my therapist, I wasn't in dire need of that support anymore. But I do try to make it a point, every once in a while, to book an appointment for a check-in and a tune up. We take our cars in for an oil change a few times a year, and that's just a material tool that we can change, shouldn't we be more vigilant with our health as well?
This one is for those who equate productivity to their self-worth. And also those who have changes in their lives. Getting married, starting a family, having to deal with some affliction, be it physical or otherwise, or being a part of the sandwich generation; these changes in our lives means that we need to figure out a new definition of success. Again, going back to our priorities and values. Have our ambitions changed? Has feasibility for those ambitions changed? Maybe we just need to adjust timelines as opposed to changing an entire trajectory.
Figuring out what success means to us might be different as life changes around us. And maybe we aren't going to be able to reach the same lofty ambitions as we originally intended, but not adjusting for life changes will push us to feel that we're not doing enough and for those that equate productivity to self-worth, will lead to us feeling like we're not good enough.
This is the last on my list because this is the one that I feel is the most important. The older I get, the more I understand just how important it is to live a life of gratitude; how vital it is to be active in our gratitude. Over the years, there have been people in my life that are no longer with us. Some of these people were taken from us too soon. I've learned how important it is for us to appreciate those we have in our lives, and to make sure we show that appreciation. I've learned how necessary it is for us to count our blessings and to be grateful, not only for what we have, but for what we've accomplished so far.
Living a life of gratitude has changed my life. It's helped to keep me grounded and centred, and it's put a much more positive outlook on life. This has also affected all the things that I've listed here today. Putting my family first, because I am grateful to them and I want to reciprocate my appreciation of them, thereby establishing boundaries so that I can be present for them. It is in practicing gratitude that I've learned to be more compassionate to myself, so that I can take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Practicing gratitude has helped me to better appreciate the support that I have had and continue to have from my family, friends, colleagues, and yes, also my therapist. And it is in this gratitude that I've redefined what success is to me, so that I can continue all of these things.
So let's be grateful for being able to do what we can do, for being as productive as we already are. Let's be grateful for the people and the tools that have allowed for us to accomplish what we've done. Before I close this out, I also want to mention that I am grateful to you for spending time out of your day to read this.
And as I'm writing this, I'm realising that these tools that we can use towards a healthier relationship with productivity are also steps in developing a healthier relationship with ourselves as well. As we embark on this journey, it's about learning more about ourselves, the things in life that are truly important to us, and to take care of ourselves.