As a kid and throughout my earlier adult life I learned, that always being busy and doing something productive is the thing to strive for. When you’re busy, you show, that you are a valuable part of society. You earn your place in the world by being busy with productive tasks. Right?
Over the years, I had started to question that I need to do something to “earn” my place in the world. That I’m only worth something, if I contribute. Both in the micro of the family and friends circle, and in the macro of society. It’s an ongoing process of observing my thoughts around that and bit by bit changing my actions. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
What I only realized rather recently, and still tend to forget a lot, is to question what I judge as productive. Is it productive to take the time to cook a fresh meal? Is it productive to do handicrafts in a very slow and tedious way? Is it productive to stare out the window and let my thoughts wander? – Well, all of those I labeled unproductive, and am in the process of re-assigning the label.
Eating a fresh cooked meal is helping my body to function better and the cooking is relaxing me. Also the handicrafts and the staring out the window are relaxing me. So I guess, that’s all “good” and therefore allowed to switch over to be productive.
But what about watching movies or TV-shows? Especially the ones that are shallow. And that you’ve watched so many times that you can almost speak the character’s dialogs? Yes, this also can be relaxing. But it also distracts me and detaches me from my feelings. And yes, I can tell myself that I’m using it to analyse different types of storytelling, but do I really?
So then we come back to the question: How to (re)define productivity? It of course has to do with re-assigning the label of what’s productive and what’s not. But also to question what we even mean by productive.
What is productive?
The way I interpret the word is, that being productive you produce or create something. Where something comes out of your actions. Some sort of result that has some kind of positive or constructive connotation, as opposed to destructive. But isn’t a demolition company being productive by tearing down a house? Or isn’t burning wood giving us warmth and all kinds of other things, while it’s destroying the wood? So isn’t the whole question of destructive behaviour just a point of view? When I destroy a belief system and build a new one, isn’t the destruction part just the first productive step?
And if we look at it that way, somehow, we can’t not think. We can’t not do. And we can’t not be productive. We just don’t know what we are producing right now. And it’s in our hands to judge something we did or what came out of it as “good” or “bad”.
Productivity and business
Even when it comes to my business I need to see it that way. There is still a big part in me hat judges myself if I am not busy all the time and not doing something “productive” for my business. Or – more accurately – for all my different businesses. How can I be successful or be respected in my work or in society overall, if I don’t actually have something to show for in my work?
Well, even in business l am proposing to question productivity. Is it really always better and more productive to do more? To grow on the outside metrics of more employees, more customers, more revenue? Gary Vaynerchuck reminds us over and over again, that it’s all about happiness. So wouldn’t everything that promotes happiness then be something productive?
Productivity, goals and values
My main mission in life is to create spaces for people to be, without needing to do anything. To embrace the core of who we are, love ourselves and heal. And through that, without actually aiming for it, happen to become a free human. Up until now I would also add something like “heal, so that we can live our full potential and fulfill our purpose”. But I can see the bullshit in it now. Because it again just pushes for some sort of goal to achieve, because someone defined that as the ideal state to thrive for.
As a free human, we are allowed to do anything. Even sit around all day every day and do nothing. The difference to other people sitting around doing nothing is that a free human will not be trapped in any mind-games, blaming or judging, or distracted from feeling their feelings.
Setting goals will keep us trapped in only defining certain things as productive and judging ourselves if we don’t do something that follows that goal. Values however will allow us to keep a focus on the direction we want to go. What we strive for and HOW we want to get there. And we can still have a bigger picture vision and mission that guides our actions and decision making. But always in connection to our values. That way we’ll have our values that (hopefully) keep us from falling into any productivity traps, while still having a direction to work towards.
So what to do with productivity?
Those are all really interesting points to consider. But how does that help us find a good direction in life? Well, I’m proposing to let go of the label completely. To not strive for a balance of productive and non-productive things, but to align our actions with our values. It’s not a question of being productive or not, but about joy and fulfillment. We will still have moments where we simply have to do something that might not bring us joy or fulfillment in the moment, but that we know is an important step towards our life’s mission. But overall we will judge no by “was that productive?” but “Was I enjoying it?” or “Did it align with my values?” or “Do I feel deep satisfaction or fulfillment afterwards?”
What resonated with you? Where did you notice resistance? Where do you disagree or have something to add? What do you take away from the words that you just read? – I’d love to know what you’re thinking. Learn new perspectives and have a discourse, so please share in the comments or sign up to my newsletter so that we can communicate more directly.