Is your productivity problem actually a physics problem? Good news: that one’s easier to solve.
For years, I thought I had a productivity problem.
I never seemed to be able to get everything done I needed to do. For every item I checked off my to-do list, I added 4 more.
I implemented GTD. Tried multiple task management systems. I bought paper planners and downloaded digital to-do apps.
When the pandemic hit and I started working from home, I began working longer hours. It got harder and harder to draw the line between work time and personal time. I started feeling more and more burnt out.
Then I realized: I don’t have a productivity problem, I have a physics problem. A space-time problem.
There’s never time to do it all, because — hello! — time is limited.
A day has 24 hours. A year has 12 months. My life has a limited number of both of these.
As Oliver Burkeman explains in his book Four Thousand Weeks, if I deny that fact, then I try to solve my not-getting-everything-done problem with productivity hacks. I go faster on the hamster wheel. I try to work more efficiently, automate things, multi-task. I say “yes” to everything and try to shoehorn it all in. When I get behind, I try to do more to catch up. And the wheel just spins faster.
The problem is not that I haven’t figured out how to make it work.
The problem is that it will never work.
Because life doesn’t work that way. If I believe that I can do it all, all at once, I am living in a fantasy world.
In the real world, I can:
#1. Do a limited number of things.
Not just a limited number of things at a time, but ever.
Realizing that is freeing. Once I really believe it, I am empowered and can give myself permission to prioritize.
#2. Prioritize, passionately and ruthlessly.
If I can only do a limited number of things, they’d better be good — no, not just good. They can’t be just “urgent”, or “important” (to whom?), or “a great opportunity”.
They’d better be THE BEST.
What can I get behind 100%? What do I value most, more than anything else?
#3. Focus on strengths.
What am I uniquely suited to do, that nobody else can do (not that nobody else wants to)?
When I embrace the fact that my time is limited, I am naturally moved to do the things that are the best and highest expression of who I am.
I am trusting that the satisfaction inherent in that will more than compensate for checking fewer things off a never-ending to-do list.
And you? Do you have physics problem too?
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