Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Productivity is the name of the game these days. As it becomes the norm to work from home, many of us are experiencing more pressure than ever to prove that we are being productive. The problem is, being more productive is not motivating, it’s simply a means to an end.
We approach productivity with an old-school efficiency-centric mentality: we think of it in terms of how many things we can get done in x amount of time. We tackle our day like a champ doing all the things, and at 5 o’clock we look at what’s crossed off our to do list. We feel accomplished because of how productive we believe we were. We’ve achieved something, we can clearly see it, and we get that dopamine hit (look at all those crossed off items!).
That’s why writing down our goals, our visions, and our daily to-do lists can be so effective: as we tick off each task our system receives a visual message to release dopamine.
No visual cue, no dopamine. And while there is potential to ride that wave and stay motivated, it’s easy to fall off course. That’s because dopamine is highly addictive; this hormone is released when we’re productive and achieving our goals, as well as when we consume alcohol, engage in gambling, or check out how many likes we’ve scored on our social media post. So even if we had an uber-productive day today, like any addict chasing the next high, tomorrow we may find ourselves spending our afternoon sipping a glass of wine while Instagram-scrolling because it’s significantly easier to befriend dopamine this way than efforting through a to-do list. And we all know how much our brain loves shortcuts!
So how do we avoid this very human pattern?
How do we achieve productivity on a consistent basis if being more productive is not motivating?
We know that taking action, showing up, and getting the work done is important, yet when we aren’t as productive as we would like to be, we tend to get down on ourselves. How exactly do we stop feeling guilty about our less than ideal productivity levels? What is the best way to be productive?
We recognize that Productivity is not our goal. Alignment is.
If we feel guilty about our lack of productivity, we’re likely not focusing on the right projects.
So what are the “right” projects?
They are the things that are aligned with our value system. If we aren’t doing the things that make us feel good: the things that sing jubilantly to our core desires and purpose, then it won’t be long before we become victim to the social media vortex of laziness, cheating the dopamine system yet again. On the other hand, we will always be more productive when focusing on something we truly care about, therefore it’s joy and inspiration that we need to aim for.
So, the next time you feel like you’re running around in circles accomplishing nothing, try taking a moment to ask yourself: What is the ‘Why’ behind the ‘What’? and, Why am I doing this?
Dig deep, because in all likelihood your first answer won’t be the core of it. Keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ until you reach the truth of your motivation. You’ll know when you’re there because you’ll vibrate with inspiration and taste joy on your lips. Once you can genuinely connect the dots between the ‘What’ and your ‘Why’, you’ll find that you’ll be more productive, achieving flow state on a more regular basis. It’s so much easier to get in the zone and produce high caliber results in less time when your actions are backed by your values and beliefs.
Sustained productivity is a result of the conscious connection between the task and our core desires, values, and purpose. Productivity is a byproduct of alignment.
So let’s talk about Alignment. It’s a word that’s becoming a lot more prevalent these days, and for good reason. One of the top reasons employees leave organizations is because the work they are doing does not align with their value base: the ‘What’ is not connected to their ‘Why’.
Our Why is the essence of who we are, and who we are is a combination of our deep-rooted values, our beliefs, and our behaviors. What we think, how we feel, and the actions we choose to take are guided by our inner being and moral principles. So, if we want to know the best way to be more productive, it’s crucial that we honor ourselves through action and behavior that is in alignment with our values.
What if the alignment is not present?
Well, we may push out results in the short term because we believe we “have to”, but it won’t last due to the lack of authentic motivation. Then, very quickly, we’ll sink into bad habits to escape instead of making productive choices.
So, if you’re struggling with productivity, perhaps it’s time you sit down and have a good ol’ conversation with yourself. Really dig deep and get intimate with your core being. This is self-discovery time.
What do you desire?
What inspires you and makes you feel alive?
What is most meaningful to you?
Never mind what your partner, boss, or society thinks is important and don’t fall into the trap of naming things you think you should value. Also, do your best to refrain from referencing values lists on the internet. Your values are unique to you, and I promise that they are there in your subconscious, patiently waiting to be discovered.
Here’s some guiding questions that might help you reveal your innate values:
What ticks you off or offends you? Think of a time you experienced anger, frustration, or hurt. Why did you feel that way? If you flip that scenario upside down and think about what you wish had happened, you’ll likely shed light on what matters most to you.
When have you been high on life? Have you ever experienced flow state or tasted the exotic bliss of euphoria? Think about a peak experience in your personal history. What did you feel, and what in particular made it so impactful?
What are your core essential needs? Beyond the human basic needs of sustenance, what makes up the foundation of your daily life when you’re thriving?
Who are your idols and mentors? What is it about them that you admire most? How do they inspire you?
You’ll likely come up with a list of 20 or so words at first, and that’s great! By finding overarching themes within your words, and focusing on what best represents your authentic self, you’ll be able to group like with like and narrow that list down to a handful of values that truly define who you are.
The final step will be to get your creative juices flowing, play to your strengths, and author phrases that express each of your unique values. Be patient with yourself; this won’t happen overnight.
Your finalized list will be your reference guide: a reminder to yourself about the ‘Why’ behind the ‘What’. You will have clarity on where you truly desire to focus your energies, and you’ll be able to give yourself permission to quit doing the things that aren’t aligned with your purpose. You’ll make space for what matters, and you’ll experience flow state on a regular basis.
When your ultimate goal is alignment, you’ll be inspired, joyful, and Productive AF.