Why Striving for 'Perfect' Productivity is Actually Holding You Back (And What to Do Instead)

I share some thoughts on Why Striving for 'Perfect' Productivity is Actually Holding You Back (And What to Do Instead)

Why Striving for 'Perfect' Productivity is Actually Holding You Back (And What to Do Instead)
What I pictured I would feel like when I finally found THE productivity tool. Well.. I pictured less red and anger, but you get the idea.

 Last Thursday I had a very productive day, got a bunch of work done, but at the end of the day I had that gnawing feeling that, "If I could just squeeze out another hour, I would feel better. I would be more on top of things." That evening, my wife and I finished dinner, and put on Survivor -- side note: I was never a Survivor fan, and now I am fully hooked. If you haven't watched. GIVE IT A SHOT. Okay back to the story.

 As we went to put on the show, I reached for my laptop -- something I've done from time to time in the evenings while watching TV. We turned on the show, and I opened my laptop to work. My wife asked, "Why not just watch the show?" I said, "I am watching, I'm just going to do some work in-between, and during the commercials, and when things get boring." So that's what I did.

 Fast forward 1 hour later, and... not only did I not really know what was going on in the show, but I also had re-written the same email intro about 5 different times. In the end, I didn't get the benefit of relaxing, nor did I get the upside of getting a bit more work done. But why?

I felt like this guy ^

 As much as we like to tell ourselves we are excellent multi-taskers, we just aren't. What I was doing was watching a little survivor, a little email, survivor, email, survivor again -- you get the picture. But why did I feel the need to do even more work after a long day?

The answer is that I am hard on myself to deliver, to be productive and get. shit. done. All good qualities, however, I have learned that I put too high of output standards on myself and I suspect that a lot of you reading this do the same.

 For as long as I can remember, I was always in search of the next big productivity hack (e.g. time boxing, pomodoro, rainbow pots (this one I made up). There is something alluring about the never ending search for THE tool/system that will unlock infinite productivity power. I hate to spoil the search for you, but there does not exist a perfect system. So what do we do about this? Here are some of my thoughts:

1/ In the BEST case scenario you likely only have bandwidth for 3-4 hours of meaningful, mind intensive work each day. In fact, this 4 hour pattern shows up in the lives of some of the most "productive" and influential people in history, as author Oliver Burkeman points out here. So. Try your best to protect those 3-4 hours each day, and take comfort in knowing that there is no perfect productivity system out there.

2/ One thing that has been constant in my life is change, interruptions, etc. One of the reasons I sought after a better tool/system for productivity was because I thought if I had that system all small interruptions would melt away, each activity I did would be 100% intentional and meaningful, etc. The truth is that life and work are ambiguous and messy. Throw in all of the other roles you likely play in life (e.g. Parent, Sister, Care-Taker, Friend, Manager), and you'll begin to see how unrealistic your expectations likely are.

3/ Be kind to yourself. Lean into the fact that there will ALWAYS be more emails to respond to, people to get back to, work to be done, no matter how productive you are. Take comfort in knowing that this act of needing to choose, focus, and be kind to yourself in the end is what I think makes life interesting and deep.

 So I hope tonight, when you are done for the day and you're getting ready to relax, that you learn from my mistakes and really take the time you need to recharge, detach, and lean into knowing you didn't get it ALL done and that's the point!