We’re all a little bit obsessed with productivity whether or not we realize it. The basic tell-tale symptom is the obsession with time: who can honestly say that they have enough time to do everything they would like to on a daily basis? Not many people. We would like to have more time and do more things: we would like to be more productive.
The difficult thing to realize is that most of us will not have “more” time for many, many years. If you give up one thing to get more time, something will else will come and take its place. There is a fable of a peasant who went to a priest and complained of how busy he was: four children, five chickens, a plot of land – no time to take care of it all. The priest advised the man to acquire a goat and come back to in a month. Four weeks later the peasant is back, understandably frustrated and sleep deprived: why advise me to get a goat, he says; it has been so much worse, now there is really not enough time to do anything. Now, the priest replies, get rid of the goat, and enjoy all the new free time you have. Point of the story, of course, is that it can always be worse and we should appreciate the time that we do have.
For those of us who don’t want to domesticate farm animals to learn how to appreciate the time we are given each day, I suggest the following tips instead.
1. Do something that runs in the background. I learned how to do a detox cleanse this past month, and it required no extra time at all; it was simply a matter of doing things differently. Nevertheless, I felt accomplished afterwards. There was something that I did that I can substantiate with learning and observations. Surprisingly many things can be done this way. Download a collection of classical music and listen to one composer each week to decide which ones are your favourites. Take a different walk every day at lunch, instead of the same one, and explore your neighbourhood. Buy one strange-looking or curiously named vegetable every week and prepare it to experiment. (A word of warning here that kale is a less interesting vegetable and a more unpleasant one than popular opinion indicates, but then again you won’t know until you try – so go for it!)
2. Make yourself less comfortable. Routine is necessary in life but it necessarily hinders learning. So next weekend, instead of scrolling through your favourite website for hours to relax, go rock climbing. Or read and understand something that you find difficult. Or take a course. Or paint a picture or paint a room. Nothing happens in your comfort zone and certainly no great stories come from within it.
3. Do something leisurely and slow every day. Rushing through a to do list for a full day is exhausting and there is a reason that the 7th Habit of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is called “sharpen the saw.” As organisms that are aware of time, we need to slow down and re-position ourselves within it regularly. Otherwise things no longer have meaning and prioritization becomes impossible. So as difficult as it is, we need to just stop and do very little for at least a few minutes per day.
4. Lose a little bit of sleep sometimes. Disclaimer: I have 5 AM mornings so I understand that sleep is (really) important. However, I know that to be productive (at work and elsewhere), we need to be self-satisfied and content with what we are doing. It’s not enough to be simply rested. So if there is an occasional evening (or morning) when something is just calling you to lose sleep over it, give in. When you wake up you will remember that last chapter you read (or that last chapter you wrote), or that pile of clothes you cleaned, or that extra hour of a workout you did, you will be happier, and you will catch up on lost sleep the following night. It’ll be worth it.