I really liked this article at the Illuminated Mind, which I subscribe to through my email. Feeling "productive" is something I struggle with and I thought his take on it was enlightening. He talks about his own struggles, then gives three key suggestions. Here is his article:
1. Focus on Fulfillment
The first shift is to switch from asking How many things can I get done? to What actions can I take that will make me fulfilled? This is a simple shift, but the results are dramatic.
Just this slight alteration can be highly challenging. Often what makes us feel fulfilled, doesn’t seem to “get much done.” A typical fulfilling day for me might look like:
15 minutes of meditation.
2-3 hour hike in the morning + strength training on gymnastic rings.
30 minutes responding to email.
Write one or two articles.
Work on marketing plan for a product for an hour or two.
Spending quality time with my wife.
Jeet Kune Do class in the evening.
From the outside, it doesn’t seem like I’m getting much done, does it? I’m not really checking lots of items off a list, or completing a lot of measurable tasks.
However, I am creating a lot of value for myself and others. Which leads to the next key…
2. Create value
I’ve found that creating value is a much more meaningful way to view how effectively I spend my time. If I’m focused on always being productive, it’s easy to lose focus of the value in you’re doing, because productivity usually involves maximizing time. Value, on the other hand, has no interest in maximizing time, because value is not directly correlated to time spent.
You can be highly “productive” without creating much value. Or you can spend very little time producing and create an immense amount of value.
Also, value is relative to perception. I may perceive something as highly valuable ( hiking for instance), and others may think it’s quite boring or uninteresting. Whether or not it’s productive doesn’t really matter. Whether or not it creates value to the individual, on the other hand, is extremely relevant.
When I plan my day, I like to think of the different levels of value I’m creating:
Value to myself.
Value to my family.
Value to the world and my community.
Obviously there is a lot of overlap within these circles. And in some ways, anything I do that adds value to me greater enables me to add value to others. Every time I add value to others, I benefit in some way as well.
So there are activities where I’m primarily the one that is benefiting (exercise, recreation, etc.) and it increases my capacity to provide greater value to others (because I’m maintaining or increasing my ability to expend energy).
They are all interconnected and interwoven. But I’ve found it best to split them as equally as possible. So in a given day I may spend…
One third of the time doing things that I highly value — hiking, gymnastics, reading, etc.
One third of the time spending time with my wife, and family — quality time.
One third of the time spending time creating value for others — writing, creating products, marketing, etc.
All of my days are obviously not perfectly divided. Sometimes I’m highly unbalanced where I spend the whole day or week creating value for others. Sometimes I spend the majority of the time working on a product. And some days I’ll take the day off to spend time with my wife. But thinking about dividing these roughly into thirds helps me keep perspective.
3. Following your natural rhythms
This is probably the hardest of all three keys, and the reason I listed it last. What does natural rhythms even mean, anyway? It sounds ambiguous and kind of whimsical. You can’t measure it, you can’t plan it, you can’t really control it. That’s a little unnerving for most people. At least that’s the reason I’ve had such difficulty incorporating it myself.
Following your natural rhythms is a highly intuitive way of living. And it’s messy. Too much scheduling and measuring can obstruct it, because it requires more flexibility.
It also involves trusting yourself.
Learning to do that has been the most challenging thing for me. I never really realized how much we don’t trust our natural impulses and subtle intuitive directions. For me, this has mostly been about learning to trust what I need.
Following my natural rhythms (at least the best that I can) has lead me to spending days or weeks where I do nothing but connect with nature, or times when I spend entire days reading and meditating. And it’s led to me the opposite spectrum; holing myself up in a cave and writing or creating for days or weeks on end.
Ultimately, when I do this the fulfillment and value takes care of itself. And surprise… I’m highly productive.
But it’s not on a schedule. It’s not on a rigid time-line. It’s not something that I can measure or regulate. To be honest, it can be a bit intimidating at times.
But it’s also led me to the greatest happiness that I can possibly experience. And because of that, learning to become adept at this will be my focus for a long time.
That’s what I like about it. The best paths have no end in sight.
End of quoted article.