You know I like researching and trying new productivity tools and systems, but they’re just tools. They’re a means to an end, not the end itself. The end we’re going for is a life that matters, as each of us defines it for herself. And no matter how popular a tool or system is, it’s only worth using if it makes your life better.
How do you make a life that matters?
This episode was inspired by recent conversations in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group about various productivity tools and systems and whether and how they might work for one person or another. I thought it was important to talk about this issue: whether and how and why to make changes to our lives to adopt an approach or perspective that’s raved about by others.
One of those conversations was about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism–one of my favorite productivity-related books of the past few years. Lucy commented that though she had read the book multiple times, she found it incredibly difficult to implement. My response to her was:
I think each of us has to decide for herself what she wants her life to look like. Although I see a lot of value in what McKeown says in this book, the bottom line is if you like how your life is working, then there’s no reason you have to change it to conform to what McKeown (or anybody else) teaches! Making a change based on a book (or podcast or webinar or any other teaching) is a good idea only if the change addresses and improves something you’re not content with in your life.
Another conversation with Ruth reminded me once again that we need to decide for ourselves what to do, how, and why. Ruth commented on a group discussion about my conversation with Natalie Eckdahl (Episode 225 – Mindset Management) and said she is going a different path from Natalie’s methods of childcare and household chores because she has different values and is creating a different life for her family. What a perfect reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all solution!
Does it work for you?
There are countless good resources out there, but no matter how good they are, what matters is whether YOU want to incorporate the concepts or principles into your life. If your life works for you, it doesn’t matter what anybody else does or what any expert says.
Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her new Netflix reality show have made decluttering a big thing recently. There are lots of benefits to decluttering, but you don’t have to get rid of a thing if you don’t want to. If you are happy with your space, that’s what matters.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown and The ONE Thing by Gary Keller ae thought-provoking books with many good ideas. Personally, I see value in the things these books teach because I’ve found I want more space in my calendar, less full days. I’d rather do less, but do it better, rather than spreading myself out over several things (even if they’re really good things). That is MY choice.
If you like having full days and juggling multiple projects, if you’re happy about how your days are spent and satisfied with the results of your efforts, then it doesn’t matter what Greg McKeown, Gary Keller, or I say. If you like how you feel at the end of each day and generally during the day, then that’s what matters.
Remember that productivity tools, systems, and resources all are just tools. They are a means to an end, not the end itself. The end is a life that matters, as you define it for yourself.
“All tools, whether digital or analog, are only as valuable as their ability to help you accomplish the task at hand.”
– from The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll p. 46
When to consider trying a new system
If you’re not satisfied, if your space isn’t working for you, if you’re not at peace, you can’t find what you need, you’re missing appointments, you can’t think straight, you’re not sleeping well, then these may be signs that your current approach may not be working for you. If this is the case, go out and learn what other systems and approaches have to offer and see if they make a difference in the areas of your life that you are not satisfied with.
“There are good guidelines and high-level principles that are universal, but you alone can define and refine what works for you. When your system makes you feel comfortable and confident that your productivity bases are covered, and it has a track record of actually helping you do your work without missing anything important, stick to it. If you try a system and it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean the system is broken. It just doesn’t fit you. Move on. Try something else. Focus on the results, not the system. If you’re spending more time researching and implementing a productivity technique than you are being productive, it’s not actually helping you.”
“A new productivity tool or strategy is almost always a placebo for your poor productivity habits.”
We talked more about this in episode 86 – 5 Reasons to Change your Productivity System (& 4 Reasons Not To).
When we’re talking about a tool – a task manager, a system or approach such as the Bullet Journal or Marie Kondo’s KonMari system, think about what it’s actually helping you accomplish. If you are satisfied with the way things are, there’s no reason to adopt it into your life just because everyone else is talking about it. Do what works for you and that will help you make a life that matters to you.
Consider the same things about choices regarding how to live your life
It’s the same thing when it comes to making choices about how to live your life: how to parent; what career to pursue; what to eat; where to live.
There are lots of opinions about all these things, but making a life that matters is an intensely personal thing. There is no one answer for all of us.
When I was a young mother, I was very conscious of what other moms were doing in terms of their parenting style and how they maintained their homes, and I judged myself based on what they were doing and whether I was living up to whatever vision I had of what their life was like.
In past episodes, we’ve talked about the idea of comparing ourselves and how toxic that is–because we are inevitably comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. We compare the reality of our lives to the view we have of other people’s lives through their Instagram stories or their Facebook posts. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes nor do we need to know. The fact is we just need to decide for ourselves what we want our own lives to look like.
So often, we put pressure on ourselves, a judgment that we’re doing it wrong. Where does this come from?
- Fear of missing out: We don’t want to miss an opportunity to do something better.
- Not wanting to disappoint others or let others down
- Lack of confidence. Our self-esteem has a direct impact on our productivity
“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
M. Scott Peck
“Self-esteem is a state of mind, and it can be changed. However, you can only improve your self-esteem if you’re first willing to challenge the negative feelings and judgments you have toward yourself. No matter how convinced you are of your current evaluation of yourself, you have nothing to lose and the world to gain by considering that you have much more control over your self-esteem than you think. Making the choice to challenge your thinking may change how you think and what you do, now and in the future.”
When we doubt ourselves, we subconsciously look for evidence that we are right to do so. And we always find what we look for. When other people question our choices, or simply make different choices themselves, we see that as evidence that our choices might be wrong.
There will always be someone questioning your choices (most parents are familiar with the experience). What really matters, in the end, is whether the choices you make reflect your values and support your efforts. The irony is that often the questioning or criticism that can shake our confidence often is itself the result of the other person’s lack of confidence.
“Often, criticism comes from a place of insecurity. Rejecting the status quo and trying to make changes feels to some as though you are rejecting them. But it’s not. The choices you make, you are making for your own well-being and it’s critical to remember that,” says Mirgain.”
“Don’t mind your critics. If you’re acting in a way that’s true to yourself, never mind the critics. Someone who criticizes you may be mired in their own insecurities, and that’s not your problem to solve.”
- Peer pressure (yes, even for adults).
A lack of self-confidence, or just an inherent need to fit in, to belong, can make us susceptible to following the crowd. We pick up something because . . . well, everyone’s doing it, so there must be something to it, right?
“No matter who you are, everyone wants to feel that they belong. This means that people are influenced by family, friends, coworkers, other members in organizations to which they belong (such as a church or step-group), social media contacts and other forms of media. Peer pressure is very strong. It is one of the most powerful tools that advertisers have in their arsenal.
All of these pressure-filled avenues use different means of influence. Advertisements and TV programs promote an idea of what it means to be ‘normal,’ telling people how they should look, what they should drive, and what they should put in and on their bodies. Family members pressure you about relationships, such as dating partners, friends and other acquaintances. Coworkers set the norms in the office. Every aspect of life can be controlled by some sort of peer pressure.”
Healthy people are able to learn from others without letting others’ choices dictate theirs. Healthy self confidence means deciding what matters most to you and ordering your life accordingly.
“Good mental health requires the ability to make decisions for yourself based in part on the values you’ve developed through thinking independently, often with some influence from family, friends, and role models. When you behave in ways that contradict your core values, your self-esteem suffers, and you may lose feelings of autonomy and control over your life. This can easily lead to other poor choices that further negatively affect your physical and mental health.”
The bottom line is this: your life is your life. A life that matters is one that’s lived in a manner consistent with your values and beliefs and the priorities you’ve chosen. We can learn from each other and get ideas, but nobody else gets to say how you should be living your life, whether it’s how to manage your to-dos or how to decorate your home or how to raise your kids. All that is between you and the people who are actually involved.
Let’s remember that we get to choose, and the way to make a life that matters is to do that on purpose. We need to recognize when the choices we make are influenced by peer pressure or by lack of self-confidence or any other outside force, when we’re just going along to get along, when we subconsciously make choices that are inconsistent with our values. When we are able to recognize that, we can choose to do something different.
Nobody is going to give us a life that matters. It doesn’t just happen. We need to step back and decide what that life looks like to us as individuals and along with the people we live with, and then we can take action to create that life. We create that life by being aware of the choices we make and the reason why we make those choices.
What do you think?
Have you felt pressured to adopt a tool or system based on what everybody’s saying is the most awesome? How are you making a life that matters as you define it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
- The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
- TPW Episode 86 – 5 Reasons to Change your Productivity System (& 4 Reasons Not To)
- TPW Episode 225 – Mindset Management, with Natalie Eckdahl
- “Harnessing Systems to Get More Done”
- “Why you shouldn’t change productivity systems”
- “8 Common Causes of Low Self-Esteem”
- “Dealing with Peer Pressure When You’re an Adult”
- “How to Deal with Peer Pressure as an Adult”
- “Adult Peer Pressure”
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