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We all want to be productive  but what IS productivity?

Sounds like a simple question but the answer is more complicated than you think – and worthwhile considering at the start of a new year.

If you had asked me this question a decade ago, I would have answered differently than today. I would have talked about the way we work, focusing on how to get things done. For example, I might have discussed the importance of managing our time in a “smarter” not harder way – learning skills to manage email, plan calendars and focus on projects without distractions. All good stuff, to a point.

But over the years, my thinking has changed – in part because I’ve grown older, and in part because the context in which we live and work has changed.

In the digital age, it is no longer possible to get everything done, even if we are organised and efficient. There will always be more to do, more to read, more to achieve – and ironically, efficiency is often the enemy of productivity. For people who gain efficiencies are often rewarded with even more work. Get your inbox to zero and you end up with more emails. Achieve a project in record time and you get rewarded with even more responsibilities.

Working smarter does not necessarily lead to more space but more clutter – unless you have a different philosophy and overarching narrative about the meaning of work and life itself.

Productivity, therefore, is less about life-hacks and more about reflecting on life’s meaning. Rather than being a niche field of interest for a select group of driven leaders, productivity (and it’s cousin, “time management”) is incredibly important for anyone wanting to be intentional about the way they live and work.

For you and I don’t manage our time like we manage money or material possessions. In the apt thinking of Oliver Burkeman, the human lifespan is absurdly short, and if lucky, we get 4,000 weeks. Every hour we spend on an activity is an hour expended from life itself. We only get so many breaths and every one matters. If time IS our life then the decisions we make with our time become imminently important.

This may sound somewhat grim but it’s actually quite good news, because once we realize that time is not a thing we manage, but our life itself, then we can begin to take more seriously the study and practice of how we use our time. We can begin to accept that we will never have enough time to do all the things we would like to do – books to read, people to talk with, places to go, experiences to try out, the list goes on and on – especially in an age of infinity scrolling. Therefore, because we will never have enough time for everything we want to do, or even have to do, we might as well accept the need to be ruthless in what we say “yes” (or more importantly, “no”) to, because we only have one life.

In Burkeman’s own words; “Once you stop believing that it might somehow be possible to avoid hard choices about time, it gets easier to make better ones. You begin to grasp that when there’s too much to do, and there always will be, the only route to psychological freedom is to let go of the limit-denying fantasy of getting it all done and instead to focus on doing a few things that count.”

Productivity, therefore, is the practice of
 making space to consider what you really want in work and life (rather than being ruthlessly efficient in the things that happen to come your way). It is the practice of reassessing who you are and where you want to head, so you can get the right things done.

For this, of course, we need space – space to think deeply about what we value, who we love, what our strengths are, and how we might best impact the world. It’s about being intentional in how we use our 4,000 weeks, or at the very least, the next 4, 12 or 52 weeks of our lives. Then, after re-imagining the life we want to live, mapping out a path to get there – which of course, includes managing our emails, lists, calendars and more.

So if you want to be productive in 2024, how can you make space from the churn of the everyday to think about your greater “why?” What are your strengths? What do you really value? Who do you want to be in relationship with? What is the mountain you want to climb next? To what good things can you say “no” or “not yet” to? What practical skills do you need to stay focused, on track and intentional so that you use your time, and therefore, build your life in a meaningful way?

If you need help, feel free to contact us to have a discussion about how we might work with your team in 2024.

And keep your eye out for Productivity Masterclass coaching if you want to journey with me in a more intentional way over the next 6 months.

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