Is it possible to be both productive and peaceful? If that's not your experience, what can you do to find peace in your productivity?
Can we have both productivity and peace?
Recently, I’ve been haunted by the things I should or could or want to be doing but am not. I find myself waking at night feeling guilty about the things I’m not getting done, things I have in mind to do, things I’ve talked about doing but am not making progress on, feeling like a fraud, and having general feelings of anxiety about what’s not getting done.
I tried taking a step back and thought about why I’m feeling this way and what and how I’d rather be feeling. I realized what I’m really looking for is to accomplish the things I want and need to but feel peaceful while I’m doing them. So today I wanted to talk about whether it is possible to be productive and peaceful at the same time.
What does it mean to live a peaceful life?
In order to live a peaceful life, we need to know what it means to be peaceful. The writer of “Inner Peace: The Key to Being More Productive at Work” says “the standard definition for inner peace [is] finding serenity and calmness within, while maintaining it outwardly under stressful conditions.”
Living a peaceful life doesn’t necessarily mean everything is awesome all the time. It doesn't even mean that your circumstances and surroundings are peaceful. There may be stress and chaos, but it is possible to be peaceful inwardly and to demonstrate that outwardly.
I believe it's a question of how we maintain that peace amidst the stress and chaos. Perhaps living a peaceful life means being satisfied with life as it is instead of being anxious about what it's not.
So the question I've been pondering, and that I’m trying to address in this episode, is whether one can be both productive and peaceful. I think so, but to be honest, I haven’t been experiencing it lately.
What steals our peace and interferes with peaceful productivity?
- A discouraging definition of productivity
If we're measuring our worth by how much we’re doing, we’re probably never going to be at peace. I don’t think you can ever do enough to feel worthy if that’s how you’re measuring your worth.
I used to define productivity by how many things I got checked off the to-do list, but over the years of walking through life, I’ve changed how I define it. Now I define productivity as ordering your life in such a way as to maximize your positive impact on the world. Of course, we’ll get anxious or unpeaceful when we start questioning whether we’re doing that.
In The Productive Woman community we also talk about productivity not in terms of getting the most stuff done, but getting the right stuff done. This, of course, leads to other questions, such as how do we define what that means? And am I getting the right stuff done?’
- Comparing ourselves to others in our endeavors
It is said that comparison is the thief of joy, and it is certainly the thief of peace. You think “They’re all doing A, B, and C, and I’m only doing A.” This is something I struggle with.
- Lack of clarity
Lacking clarity about what we want, and about where our time, energy, and attention would be best used, leads to doing things because everyone else is doing it, or bouncing from one thing to another, trying to find that “right” thing, without having taken the time to get really clear on our priorities. Though we might get a lot of stuff done, we won’t be at peace because we won’t be productive in the sense of moving intentionally towards a direction that has significance and meaning to us individually.
By impatience I mean wanting to do it all, and right now. That leads to a feeling of “I should be so much farther along by now” and will take the joy out of the things we are doing because we’re so focused on the things we haven’t yet done.
- Impostor syndrome
Back in episode 63, we talked about the prevalence of Impostor Syndrome among very accomplished people, and quoted an article defining it:
“Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart [person], that you are only [posing] as such.”
- A schedule that is inconsistent with our personality
If our schedule is too full, it may be unpeaceful if we’re an introvert or another personality type who needs plenty of downtime.
On the other hand, it can feel unpeaceful if it is not full enough if we’re an extrovert or other personality who needs lots of variety and activity.
If the way we're ordering our lives or the schedule we're living with is inconsistent with the type of person we are, that will make it harder for us to feel at peace no matter how productive we may look to people on the outside.
How can we accomplish the things we care about most while still living a peaceful life?
- Get back to basics
- Clear the decks and give yourself permission to do only the absolute necessities for a period of time while you recalibrate and analyze where you are off the path. Is it the reality of what you’re doing the problem, or is it the perception of it? Where is the disconnect and what can I do to change it?
- Remember that at the end of the day you can choose how to live your life.
- Know yourself: What do you want?
- The things that you’re working toward that are filling your time (or the things on your list that you’re not working toward): What need/want/desire/value do they serve?
- What matters more to you: getting lots of things done, conquering a mountain, or being at peace?
- What do you want your days to look and feel like? What balance of activity and rest, solitude and interaction with others?
- How do you want to feel? (Remember that our feelings come, not from our circumstances, but from our thoughts about our circumstances. Even if nothing changes externally, we can feel better about it if we change how we think about it.)
- How much white space do you need, and how often? Figure it out, and plan for it. Make it a priority.
“you are the cause of your own suffering. . . . When a co-worker undermines a project you’re leading, it’s not the action itself that raises your blood pressure. It’s your reaction – your sense of betrayal or concerns about your reputation – that drives up your stress. You might worry, obsess and complain. You might fantasize about giving the co-worker a piece of your mind. You might start concocting excuses and ways to confer blame. If you pay attention, you’ll find that all of your pain and suffering comes from the convoluted story you have created around a simple external event. That’s good news, because it means you have the power to alleviate your stress – in all aspects of your life. With practice, you can control your reaction to events that occur around you.”
- Be kinder to yourself
You’re probably doing better than you think. Instead of always focusing on what you haven't done, take a look at what you’re doing, what you’ve accomplished, and give yourself a pat on the back.
But be honest. If you’ve been spending a lot of time on mindless, meaningless activity, then maybe it’s time to talk to yourself lovingly but firmly, the way you would tell the truth to a dearly loved friend: “Watching TV isn’t getting you anything you want except escape. Today, spend just 10 minutes doing something meaningful.”
- Let go
Let go of the vision of what life should be or what you should be doing or how things should turn out.
Stop using the word “should.” There is no particular way things should be. Stop arguing with reality, and get down to the business of finding solutions.”
“The beginning of the path is to see the world as it really is, not how we want it to be. We all have dreams, filters, and baggage that we bring to the workplace. If we can drop that for just a moment and see our work just as it is, we can see that it is always changing and our flexibility will benefit us.”
- Learn strategies to deal with the anxiety that paralyzes you and steals your peace. Practice them ahead of time
“just as the body knows how to rev up to protect us from danger, it also knows how to calm down — and we can help it do this more effectively. Techniques like meditation, yoga, and breath work can combine to create and sustain a tranquil mind.
“Training yourself in times of nonstress becomes increasingly important, because you build up those practices for accessing calm quickly.”
(This article offers several practical ideas of strategies you can use to calm your anxiety and restore peace.)
- Slow down
It doesn’t all have to get done today or this week or this month or this year.
Make time for the things that bring joy or peace, even if it means other things have to wait. Schedule them first, rather than trying to fit them in around the “work”
Learn to be okay with things taking longer. Learn to find pleasure in the process instead of only in the completion, in the journey, rather than the destination.
What do you think?
Are you satisfied with the balance in your life? Are you peaceful in your productivity? Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- “Inner Peace: The Key to Being More Productive at Work”
- “Turn Your Stress and Suffering Into Peace and Productivity”
- “Zen Business: the Eightfold Path to Peace and Productivity at Work”
- “Finding Calm in a Frantic World”
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