"How to be productive?"
There is a paradox at the very heart of this question that needs to be clearly seen in order to get its answer.
You don’t need to believe me, I’ll show you over the next few paragraphs the absolute impossible nature of being productive and what to do about it once you see it.
In 2017 I started out as a Life Coach because many of my friends suggested I would be good at it. And I was! I offered a generalized coaching service for a few years and then as time went on I wanted to find an area of coaching to really sink my teeth into. Ultimately I decided to specialize as a Productivity Coach since I was obsessed with the practice and philosophy of productivity; getting important work done.
The thinking was: If I could get myself to do my most important work, consistently and reliably, then I’d be able to move at the fastest possible clip down the path of my self-actualization. The term “self-actualization” as a placeholder for any concept of success that’s relevant to you or me. This includes all of the goodies – riches, fame, health, happiness, peace, a thriving social life, adoring sexual partners, as well as all of the inner ones - fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness.
PRODUCTIVITY V1.0: FORCE
Productivity was to be the lynch-pin. The Master Key. The point where the rubber hits the road. The meeting point between fantasy and reality. The connection between what we say and what we actually do. Getting things done. If I could master productivity, then all that’s left to stop me are the basic laws of Newtonian Physics.
Isn’t this so?
Isn’t this the basic idea behind your old-school classic mom n’ pop Self-Help style thinking?
Pushing the mythological boulder uphill
I gorged deeply on all ideas and techniques that would move me in the direction of being more productive.
But then as I went through dozens of trials with different techniques, apps, and ideas, I began to notice some larger trends over the years. And once I noticed these trends in myself, I could very clearly see them in everyone else around me, including in the related Reddit communities that I was involved in.
The trends would always go something like this:
- We get a new insight, inspiration, or technique
- We start applying it with great immediate success
- We get a blast of motivated, inspired energy
- We feel like we’ve finally “got it”
- Things go well for a while
- Soon the motivated energy starts to dry up
- Instead of rolling downhill, it now feels like we’re pushing a boulder uphill
- We start burning out
- We double down on what we’re doing, hoping the inspired energy will show up again
- It doesn’t
- We burn out more deeply
- We stop temporarily
- 'Temporarily' becomes permanently
- Deep frustration, disappointment
- We stay down here for some time until the cycle starts again
PRODUCTIVITY V2.0: SUSTAINABILITY
Once this trend became clear and I could start learning to anticipate it, the game started to shift. I was no longer in search of permanent full-out force, I was now in the business of learning sustainable, high-level productivity.
The question behind it was: “Can I discover what my maximum capacity is in any moment and simply operate from there, such that I’m always operating at full-capacity?”
Perhaps instead of trying to be perfect, I just make sure that I'm doing my best, whatever that means in any given moment, and let that be enough.
This was a real V2.0 moment because I was building into the model this idea that I’m an animal, with animal needs and animal energy fluctuations. I’m not a computer, I confessed to myself. I can’t just program myself to be at 100%, 100% of the time. So perhaps I’ll just simply ask that in any given moment, I always be offering the absolute max of whatever is available right now.
This lead me down much richer, much more mature paths of study such as the flow state and holistic wellness. It lead me to realize that I can’t expect myself to be energetic and productive during the day if I’m destroying myself with beer and pot at night.
It's around now that meditation became a stable habit
It also created a massive focus on doing the inner psychological healing work that was necessary. I had to grapple with questions like “how much of what I do is dictated by fear?” and “what am I even afraid of?” and “who am I trying to impress?”
Going about it this way was much better. There was such a beautiful blend of self-care and self-push. I was also starting to get little hints of synchronicity that would guide me from one moment to the next.
But even after all of this I still couldn’t quite get there.
I was still fighting to be a match with an enormously high standard that I had set for myself. The updated, relatively relaxed concept of “full-capacity” still had me exhausted and shameful, and was something that I couldn’t seem to fully embody.
The insight that I needed had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while, but I was also rejecting it because I didn’t want to hear it.
It’s this: productivity as a concept is the problem! It’s deeply, profoundly futile.
When we talk about being productive, then we inevitably bring into existence the reality of being unproductive. And now from this duality that we’ve created, we’re hard at work trying to be productive, while trying to avoid being unproductive.
Saying this you’d think “Right! That’s the point!”
But what exactly have we made to be unproductive?
... Sleep? No way. Even though we’re not working while we’re sleeping, there’s no way to work if we don’t sleep. If we remove sleep, we remove our ability to work.
... Meal times? Recreation? Family time? Hobbies? All of these are also alternatives to work. But again if you remove them then you diminish your ability to work. Or you remove the actual reason for working in the first place, thus removing the motivation out from under you.
... You might reply then: “Okay well maybe we need all those things, but when it comes time to actually work work, I don’t even do that! I just waste time! I just play games or dick around on social media!”
There are a number of reasons why you may not do your work during the time you set aside for it. But it would be a mistake to judge this as wasting time. To label it as “having wasted time” only adds new layers of confusion and suffering to the situation, making it more difficult to diagnose the real problem.
Remember, there is a deep, inexorable desire in you to grow and become self actualized. You’re not lazy. If you’re not doing your work, then it means there’s a blockage somewhere that’s preventing it from getting done, whether mental, emotional, environmental, or otherwise. Once we figure out what it is, then we can rectify it. There could be many such blockages. It could take quite a while to sort it all out, assuming you ever do.
But nowhere along this journey is there any wasting of time. It’s literally THE journey! Your life isn’t what happens after this, it’s this! This is the very duality that we’re dissolving in order to move beyond the limitations of the productivity mindset.
When we divide our life into “the life I’m in now” and “the life I’m trying to get to” then we disempower ourselves. We’ve created an endless game that can neither be won nor lost. Same with “productive” versus “unproductive”.
So now in order to get off this crazy carousel, we allow productivity as an actual concept to collapse so that we can step beyond it.
PRODUCTIVITY V3.0: SURRENDER
What, then, lies beyond productivity?
We’re left with some serious questions. How’s our work going to get done? How will our ambitions and potential become actualized, if at all? What’s there to catch us if we allow productivity to fall away?
Well to start with – we don’t actually need productivity to get our work done. Remember, productivity was invented in order to get something done faster than it otherwise would be, for the express reason of getting onto the next thing. Without it we’re left with the pure simplicity of it takes as long as it takes.
Stepping beyond productivity we say:
Everything takes as long as it takes.
Everything gets done when it gets done.
We’ll get there when we get there.
It’ll happen when it happens.
[Riddle] Q: What can the farmer do to hasten the growth of his corn? A: Less
Productivity isn’t what causes us to do anything, it’s the urgent, fearful energy behind the doing of things. Without that urgent, fearful energy – it’s just doing whatever makes the most sense to be doing in that given moment.
The difference now is that this task is no longer the obstacle to get through in order to arrive into the promised future – the task is the thing we seek to do. There’s nothing terribly significant beyond this task for which we need to wait or hurry.
From an ego point of view, this sounds like hell. The one thing that the ego will avoid at all costs, is this. The ego wants something else. It wants to be elsewhere. It wants to be elsewhen. "Not this, now now, not here!"
But by stepping beyond productivity, allowing this task to be worthy of your attention, then something utterly miraculous comes online. Flow. Deep flow. Only now are we finally aligned with reality in a conscious way. Only now are we finally plugged into life. Only now are we finally grappling with true reality.
Only now do we finally reclaim our power and our sovereignty! There’s nothing to struggle against anymore, there’s no sense of being ahead or behind. We’re free to simply live our lives and do our work. And from this deeply surrendered place, the conditions are finally set for our greatest potential to unfold into the world.
In the end, our self-actualization was never something that we could figure out. It's far too mysterious for that. Our job always was - and is - to create the conditions for the blossoming to occur.
Part of that involves the stuff you do - keeping your body healthy and taking care of your responsibilities, for example. But the other part involves giving yourself time and space. Lots and lots of both.
We treat our success and evolution the way a gardener treats her plants; you set it up with everything they need and then step back. We make peace with the truth that sometimes things just take time. Maybe the success will come, maybe it won't. Maybe the riches will come, maybe they won't. But once we've done our part, it's outside of our control and thus the only true stance we can adopt is that of surrender.
Finding this state of surrender is true success; it's the mother of all other successes.