This article will discuss the general problem of productivity – how to increase your output of valuable work – but with a unique perspective. The purpose of this article is to illuminate a new paradigm of “productivity.” To put it succinctly, this article is about learning to go beyond productivity entirely. This new paradigm is one that replaces a life of being busy with a life made from maximizing meaning-filled moments. The pursuit of lifelong growth and development eventually demands we give up our notions of productivity for the most meaningful life we can live. At a certain point in productivity, we start to notice that trading more of our time for more money doesn’t make any sense.
When you think of a highly productive person, you probably picture a business person wearing a suit, slaving over their desk or computer for hours or days on end. These productive people are apparently quite successful, and the fruits of their labors seem appealing to the rest of us. Who wouldn’t want to travel first class around the world, meet other important people, have an assistant to manage their busy schedule, and have every need satisfied? This is the ordinary picture of productivity, but I think you probably realize that this version of efficiency also comes with its own set of problems – namely that most people who live this way, while extremely productive, are miserable.
Most people alive today who are productive in the ordinary sense are profoundly unhappy – they work long hours and accrue incredible wealth and financial success, yet they are never truly satisfied. They have marriages and children, they are financially savvy and have diverse portfolios, they manage multiple properties and vacation homes, and generally enjoy all the luxuries that modern life has to offer. Yet for all of this productivity, they cannot seem to find a cure for their unease, their dis-ease. Something is still missing that makes them wonder if they’re really living the best life they could be. They have mastered the art of working hard and getting things done, but they are far from finding a way to do all of this in a way that is emotionally resonant with human nature. They are distracted by a million material pleasures and are thoroughly “caught up” in the rat race of earning and spending more, while leaving an equally important aspect of life unexamined.
In many cases, the majority of work these people do is often fueled by their anxious attempts to escape their existential misery. In this way, it really is a cycle because the harder these people work to feel good, the more unhappy they become. Earning a lot of money helps ease the pain, and might allow you to afford a great psychiatrist, but merely earning money isn’t what will give you the feeling of living a rich and abundant life. The fact that you can accomplish a lot by putting your nose down, grinding away, and sticking to the plan actually makes it challenging to give up on this style of productivity – it brings a certain kind of success that becomes an addictive lifestyle. Just ask yourself, “am I one of these people that slaves away day after day but continually fails to find happiness?” If the answer is yes, it might be time for you to
A New Kind of Productivity
While this stereotype describes one kind of productivity, I think it’s really dumb. I’d like to change the story about what it means to be productive. I’d like to go beyond productivity. Going beyond productivity means getting rid of the false ideas about productivity swimming around in your head. It means finding your purpose and then working in alignment with that purpose. It means filling your time with maximal meaning and purpose, instead of slaving away to some abstract goal like success, fame, or a future fortune. It can be a life-changing transition to finally get beyond ordinary ideas of productivity and start living your real life.
Going beyond productivity is about living authentically, living in alignment with what we know about ourselves and the world. When we go beyond ordinary productivity, we start listening to our deeper self and decouple ourselves from the more shallow external motivators. This means nothing less than a change to our entire lifestyle, because we are radically shifting how we listen to our own thoughts and how we interpret our experience. Through the process of going beyond productivity, we rediscover our innate sense for what is most valuable, worthwhile, and legitimate – while shedding what no longer suits us.
A Purpose-Driven Schedule
The single most important key to productivity, work efficiency, and creative output – while living a happy and fulfilling life – is to let your life purpose drive your schedule. Finding your life purpose is like uncovering your deepest values, the things that compel you the most in this world. Purpose is the ultimate source of productivity because human beings are naturally creative, productive, and expressive when they are aligned with their purpose.
Without a purpose, nothing else we do really makes sense – and the disjointed and confusing aspects of life don’t seem worth the trouble. Without a purpose, procrastination is easy. Without a purpose, giving up makes sense. Most people have never considered the deep purpose of the work their doing, I hear excuses all the time like “someday when I’m less busy I’ll sit down and figure out my purpose.” But ultimately, that kind of logic is completely absurd because if you’re not following your own purpose (do meaningful work, enjoy my free time, work on projects that inspire me) then you’re probably following someone else’s purpose (work long hours, accept low wages, don’t complain about working conditions). Following someone else’s purpose is the very thing that’s making you so tired: you’re out of alignment with your purpose if you’re living someone else’s.
Living with a purpose also means you’ve freed yourself from living out someone else’s life purpose. In this culture, the purpose that has been prescribed to you can be extremely toxic. Do you really want to work long hours for low wages, give up your dreams so someone else’s stock portfolio grows by a quarter percent this year, and sacrifice your happiness for the sake of ‘business as usual’? Probably not. If you really thought it through, you’d probably realize that with some planning and deep thought you could come up with a far better plan than that of the corporate shareholders that wish you would stop thinking and get back to work.
When you do have a purpose, it becomes easier to fill your schedule because it’s exciting and fun to pursue meaningful projects! If you’re willing to radically change your perspective, and not everyone is, then finding your life purpose can help you reclaim your creative, productive self. It takes a few minutes of deep thought to find your purpose, but anyone can do this in less than an hour. “An hour? But I’m so busy!” Again this is circular logic, because you’ll be far more productive when you have a purpose. We could do some quick math to estimate how long it would take you to reclaim that hour – but I’ll bet that you’ll be able to pay yourself back and more in less than a week. Unless you’re on your death bed and only have a couple of hours to live, spending an hour determining your purpose will almost certainly benefit you in the long-run.
Through the lens of purpose-driven life, productivity becomes less like a chore and more like an exciting game. We now understand that despite our limitations we can structure our life and work environment to maximize our life purpose – and that’s the most exciting “game” anyone can play. When we live like this, every moment is a flow state, every moment is productive, every moment is full of creative expression. Every day becomes an adventure from this perspective, and through living our purpose the hang-ups and and set-backs we inevitably encounter become worthwhile aspects of the journey.
A purpose-driven schedule is one full of excitement, mystery, and wonder, as we now have a solid guide to help us navigate the complex landscape of life’s challenges. Your purpose is like your map and compass, your north star, so no matter where you end up you always know which direction you should be heading. There is even some solid psychological evidence supporting this – we now know that one of the best ways to deal with anxiety and fear about the future is to make a written plan. People who have written extensively about their own futures report less symptoms of anxiety and depression and are far more likely to succeed. This means you’ll be ready and you’ll have a plan next time someone offers you a job or business opportunity, shows romantic interest in you, or just wants some of your time. Imagine what life would be like if no matter what crazy situation you found yourself in you could navigate it with ease and calm, because you know nothing can stop you from pursuing that rich, meaningful purpose that makes life worth living.
To discover your life purpose easily, there is a short journaling exercise in my article “Working in Alignment.”