The Practice of un-Productivity

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Why I’ve called you here today

I have many thoughts on many things, but the achievement of or abject failure to obtain a regular sense of personal mastery over my work and day-to-day life is one that keeps bubbling up to the surface. I have a few thoughts on this and also some suggestions on some ways past it.

The short story is that I have developed some focusing sessions to help you get your work done and a group where you can learn to find some ways to get out of the traps that can hold you back and make you more stressed. Click the button below to get details on the programs, but I encourage you to read on to see my motivation and reasons for starting this to begin with.

The landscape…

Focus, attention, etc. seems in short supply for many of us these days. Maybe you have an ADHD diagnosis (I do!) and all of your good intentions, brilliant ideas and bulletproof plans get trampled on by the stampede of a new work week and all of its demands. Even if you don’t have ADHD, the fact that we live in what is becoming a very “ADD” society cannot be underestimated for how much it now affects us all.

Attention spans are a fraction of what they used to be. Things that many in an earlier age would have been happy to engage with for hours at a time are only tolerated for seconds or minutes now. Speed and brevity are the new expectation and this is far too much of a self-fulfilling prophecy for our ability to tolerate things that need time to be savoured and carefully considered to be appreciated… much less feeling you can focus long enough to get through the tasks of your day.

Though there are certainly many good things that come from speed and brevity (many that I desperately need to embody), many other things are also lost. This shift to what can be achieved and how fast it can be done has crept into all aspects of our lives and, I am sure I don’t have to tell you, is very much present in our work life. This pressure to do more, faster adds a lot of stress to our lives that often doesn’t need to be there.

Attention issues and overwhelm are not even the whole story and ADHD, though more prevalent is not the only thing at play here. Anxiety, depression and other flavours and degrees of mood disorders are on the rise. They show up like a low-grade fever or emotional toothache, tainting your general functioning through your daily tasks. It can get a lot worse than that for some, but these same symptoms seem to be more common on a very general level in society.

It is a cliche, but it often does seem like we live in a “sick society”. It’s a great society (trashing the world we live in is not the angle I am going for here), but systems within it seem to leave a lot of people worse off. Too many people are suffering more and more and in ways that are preventable.

It’s not, however, about the absence or presence of mental health issues. The point of mentioning them is to say that there are very understandable and insidious reasons why so many of us struggle to stay on top of so many things in our lives. No matter what you may or may not have as a baseline of challenge in your life already, feeling the stress of being scattered and overwhelmed is only going to pile onto it more.

So, now some good news. Regardless of the presence of a diagnosis or not, the skills needed to manage issues around attention, memory, focus, etc. are pretty much the same for all of us. We will each experience our own dysfunctional version of how we may struggle and may feel it to a greater or lesser degree than others do, but the general impact on us and how we can address it is pretty universal. (Yay!)

As overwhelming as life can feel, with all of the increasing demands and expectations (many put on us by ourselves), things can get better. We may not be able to change the world to our liking, but we can carve out our own little space within it and then learn to connect with the rest of it in saner ways.

Productivity Dysphoria

But people have already considered all this already, right?

There are lots of experts to help you par down and streamline your life on your way to ultimate efficiency, happiness and wealth, right?

You really don’t want to get me started.

The quick and very unsatisfying answer is yes and no.

So many good things have come from the productivity space, but the thing that many do not seem to talk about is that a lot of the productivity world seems equally caught up in the very same pathologies that are part of the root problem they are claiming to remedy. It is often about fast, simple, doing more, being your best, etc. (I can feel my heart rate increase just writing that.) I think we need to think differently and consider possibly getting off this train altogether.

Asking the Wrong Questions

Part of the issue is in the very questions that are being asked. Most parts of the productivity world and the tools that it spawns look at the what and the how.

What you should be doing or not doing.

What the best solution is that will solve your problems.

How you need to make these changes.

How this new way will be better.

These are good points, but they can feel very prescriptive. It puts the power in the hands of those feeding us this info. It relies on us trusting that this very successful and extremely productive person (often who is rich and beautiful too!) knows what is best for us and if we just listen to them, we will maybe even end up like them. (Very seductive, I know. And not entirely wrong.)

But, they aren’t you. Yes, you are a smart person and can decide for yourself what might work better for you. However, as well-meaning and even helpful as many tips, tools and systems may be, they all tend to look pretty slick. There will always be people who sing their praises and swear how using this or that has changed their lives. How do you really tell what is the best solution for you when they all claim to be the only one you need? You are the one struggling with this and look to them as experts. But, what makes you an expert on the experts?

Then there are the embarrassing riches of productivity solution possibilities. Psychologist, Barry Schwartz, introduced the concept of the Paradox of Choice which basically states that the more choices we tend to have the harder it is to choose and the more anxiety it causes us. With so many options, all claiming equal, life-changing benefits and all being updated and expanded seemingly constantly, the solutions start to spiral out of control.

And, the more important point, you are not even part of the equation anymore. The what that needs to be considered is what you really need.

Different Questions

What and how need to be asked at some point, but from a more therapeutic perspective, it might make more sense to look at why and where.

No one tool or technique will work for everyone and even focusing on tools and techniques at all is often missing the point.

Why are you doing a particular thing and where do you actually need the help?

Is the solution really to be more productive?

Maybe you are working on the wrong thing (like Stephen Covey’s ladder being up against the wrong wall) or maybe you already are working too hard?

Maybe it’s not working because you are trying to fix something that can’t be?

Maybe you can’t motivate yourself to do something because, if you are truly being honest, you don’t really give a crap about it? (Oh, the many ways we delude ourselves.)

Why would you want to repeatedly keep trying to push that round peg into the square hole? No new tool or trick can save you from things that are not working because they are unworkable, at least possibly in their current form.

It is looking into questions like these that I want to explore more. Maybe it is not so much about solving the problems you are struggling with and more about how to make your life fit you and be a little saner?

Getting off the hamster wheel

After all of that, it should not be a surprise to hear that I am tired. Tired of trying, again and again, to be better, only to feel like I am coming up short time after time, never catching up and feeling the discouragement (and worse) slowly growing in my gut. Especially in a business environment, the go-to is often to look to the productivity gurus for our salvation. They are legion and I love them all so much! The David Allen’s, Stephen Covey’s, Tim Ferris’s, plus all of the apps, the planners, checklists, calendars, protocols, etc, etc, etc. What they offer is truly amazing and their insights have helped so many people.

What’s the problem, then, you ask?

Like, I’ve already said, it’s too much. Too many options. Too many seemingly contradictory golden nuggets of advice. Each on their own is most often very bang on and extremely helpful and valid. But, to a stressed-out, demoralized, and lost soul like me (and this is just on a Tuesday) the cure can feel more overwhelming than the disease. And, I am getting more and more dubious that any of them really know what I need for myself.

If this sounds overly dramatic to you we really should talk, because maybe you have some breakthrough thing you can teach me and others. But, I promise you that I often have and do feel this way. I imagine, however, if you have found this page and have read this far you may feel this pain yourself and want to find out what brand of productivity porn I am hucking. Maybe you are curious how I might have cracked the nut on this and will solve all your problems?

un-Satisfying Global Solutions

The sad truth is, I have nothing necessarily incredibly new or profound to offer here. (Great salesmanship, eh?) Anything I say, do or offer probably has been said before, offered elsewhere and has been available to you for a long time.

This is exactly my point though. I can’t ever hope to give you the solution. Nothing here can solve all of your problems. What makes sense to me won’t work for everyone.

That’s the true beauty of it, though. For the people who find this helpful, it can maybe help them get their feet under them again. Then, with some traction, there might be more they can learn and start doing here and elsewhere.

So, this may bring in another of those question words: when. The when is now. (Sorry, so cheesy, but it is true.) I believe it is about finding what works for you now and helping you to find ways to implement it in small, doable ways that can help you step forward, out of the mud and into a new dawn of enlightened living! (Or, in a less sickeningly, grandiose and over-the-top way, at least not feeling stressed out and like you are losing at life anymore.) It is one step at a time. If you can find something here that can help now, let’s stop debating this and see what can be done.

Practicing un-Productivity

Much like mediation, yoga, competitive cheese rolling and even all your bad habits, you need to practice regularly to gain competence. (That cheese just doesn’t roll itself!) Solution-Focused Therapy has a concept that gets tossed around a lot: the snowball effect. The idea is that to learn and become proficient at anything you need to start small. Pick something that you have possibly had success with in the past or at least feel confident that you can start doing today and over the next week or so. As you get small wins from successfully doing whatever it is you are doing, your confidence will build and so will the habit of doing it. Each time you do it and especially with every success you have, it is like the little snowball that was your initial challenge to experiment with is rolling faster and faster down the hill, not only picking up speed, but getting larger and more solid as it goes.

I am suggesting that we need to start small, but start something and apply it regularly. You can add more later, if it feels like it is going well, but you mostly need to unshackle yourself from all these productivity shoulds and start just showing up each day to get stuff done.

Again, this is not the solution and it is a tool of sorts itself (which partly, only partly contradicts my points above). But we always need something to focus on. I am just suggesting we focus on less and do it more. You can feel free to glitz it up as much as you want later.

Much like that snowball of work-life effectiveness, I have a few first steps I want to try with you. They may change and grow over time, but I am confident this is a solid and time-tested way to start. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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