How are productivity and freedom related? How can one contribute to the other?
Greater productivity can bring us greater freedom . . . unless we get bound up in our productivity efforts
This episode is being published on July 4, the American Independence Day holiday. It’s an important holiday for the U.S. but it is also near a milestone day for The Productive Woman podcast. On July 1, 2014, I published the first episode of The Productive Woman podcast. That means that as I’m publishing this episode 197, The Productive Woman is now 4 years old.
With this episode being published on Independence Day, I could’ve talked about productivity and independence, but I kept thinking about a connection between productivity and freedom (although in a way that’s about independence, too), and how those concepts interact.
Pressure to be “productive”
For some people, productivity means following rigid schedules, having meticulous to-do lists, living by full calendars, and always being “at work” doing things.
Maybe because I podcast in the productivity space (and therefore read and listen to a lot of productivity-related content), I hear a lot of talk about hustle and grinding and getting tons of stuff done. There are lots of people selling productivity systems and tools and telling us the “right” way to live and be productive.
At the same time, there are lots of us feeling like we’re not “doing it right” or not doing “enough.” I feel that way, especially when I see other people in my space building something big around their podcast, or building a hugely successful coaching practice.
Even in the legal world, lawyers are always working to accomplish things and making more money than I do, and I find myself thinking “I should be doing more.”
Many of my listeners have also expressed their concerns that they could be doing “better” or “more” or that they aren’t living up to the images they have in their minds of what it means to be productive.
We’re looking for answers all the time to important questions: How can I get things under control? How can I get more done? How can I achieve more? How can I make a life that matters?
We’re always looking for the next book or course or program that might contain the answer. And as I think about productivity and freedom, I feel a bit disheartened sometimes. There’s so much we can learn from each other, including the people who write those books and put together those courses, but it’s overwhelming sometimes because there are so many different approaches and ways to do things, and we feel pressured to find the right answer and bound up in the systems we try to build into our life and follow faithfully in the hopes of being . . . more productive.
Defining our terms
What is independence?
According to Dictionary.com, independence is defined as “the fact or state of being independent.” So, what does independent mean?
- not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself
- not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free
- not influenced by the thought or action of others
In our productivity, we are seldom independent as defined on Dictionary.com as we’re all influenced by each other, and I think our efforts to be more productive are not aimed at becoming independent in that sense either, but we do want freedom, and productivity can help us achieve it.
What is freedom?
According to the Merriam-Webster website, freedom means, among other things:
- “the quality or state of being free: such as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
- the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous
- boldness of conception or execution”
Productivity has an effect on our freedom in these senses of the word.
The relationship between productivity and freedom
“. . . [T]he new paradigm for productivity is about more freedom. It’s about how you can get more done by working less, so you can enjoy life and invest in the people and priorities that matter most. . . .”
Michael Hyatt in “The Problem with Whack-a-Mole Productivity”
Remember, when I talk about being productive, I’m not just talking about getting more stuff done, but about getting the right stuff done (as you determine what that is). For me, the productive person is not the person who gets the most stuff done and checks things off the to-do list. The productive woman is the woman who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact on the world around her.
Productivity brings freedom
Becoming more productive–being able to check the right things off the to-do list and maximizing your positive impact on your world–can provide us freedom from, freedom of, and freedom for.
- Coercion – feeling forced to make decisions for the wrong reasons, last-minute things that have to happen because we’re not organized or prepared.
- Guilt – feeling like you “should” be doing something other than what you’re doing or living in a way other than you’re living
- Stress/anxiety – feeling out of control; an overwhelming to-do list, jammed calendar, cluttered home or workspace
- Embarrassment (missed appointments, etc.)
- Regret – for missed opportunities, for choices made for the wrong reasons (under pressure)
- Choice – in how you spend your time, energy, and attention
- Conscience – to act in accordance with your deeply held beliefs
- Creating the life you want without worrying about what others are doing or what they think.
- Being yourself
Being productive in the best sense can result in the freedom that comes from the confidence that you are enough, you’re doing enough, and you can create a meaningful life.
Hyatt puts it this way in his article The Problem with Whack-a-Mole Productivity:
“Any productivity gains worth striving for—what I call ‘true productivity’—should help enable us to enjoy each of these four freedoms:
- The freedom to focus—where all the important work is done
- The freedom to be present—instead of thinking about work or other things when you’re with your family.
- The freedom to be spontaneous—to have room on your calendar for the fun and interesting opportunities that crop up.
- The freedom to do nothing—to shrug off the unrelenting busy-ness of life and just be.”
Freedom enhances productivity
Productivity can create freedom, but the effect goes the other direction too. Freedom is the best element of a truly productive life. We are free to design our own approach, systems, and routines (we all have them, and the only criterion for a good one is that it works for you)
We are free to choose the priorities, values, guiding principles we build our lives around, and we are free to make choices about how we spend our time, energy, and attention that are consistent with those priorities and values. We can choose. I’m not saying there won’t be consequences, sometimes ones we don’t like, but we still have the freedom to make those choices, to intentionally identify what we value most, what priorities and values guide our thinking and our hearts, and to make decisions about what we do and don’t do in a way that is consistent with those values.
We are free to choose our view of the world and our attitudes towards life, people, and circumstances. I believe our attitude literally creates the world we live in, which is why two people in exactly the same circumstances can experience them completely differently. Things happen around us and to us, but along the lines of what Eleanor Roosevelt said (“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”), I believe we can decide how to think about those things and what we will let them mean to us.
It’s an incredible freedom to know that no matter what others do around me or to me, I can choose what that means to me, and therefore I choose how I will experience my life is going.
Get more done by working less
In the earlier quote, Michael Hyatt referred to gaining freedom through getting more done by working less. That surely refers to becoming more efficient – refining systems, choosing better tools, and getting better at implementing so you have less wasted time or effort. But we can also gain freedom by paring down what we do.
“If you want to create more time, money, and freedom in your life and business, do not try to do everything at the same time. It will only lead you to giving up on your goals too early.”
And above all, we gain both freedom and true productivity by making sure we order our activities to include regular action toward the goals we’ve chosen on purpose, and making sure our goals are in line with our own values and priorities.
It doesn’t matter how efficient you are with your time if you don’t end up achieving the goal you set out to achieve. Before you begin, you have to make sure that your goals are worth pursuing.
Make sure those goals are worth pursuing to you, not based on how someone else has defined it.
Ideas to consider in finding freedom in productivity
- Find a way to learn from those who teach productivity tools and techniques without letting yourself get bound up in the “rules”
- Give yourself permission to live your life the way you want to.
- Let go of expectations about how much you should accomplish from one day to the next.
- Pick one thing you want to accomplish and let everything else go for the next 6 weeks.
I hope you’ll give yourself the freedom to use the tips and tools that work for you and let the others go. Nothing works for everyone. Your life is yours to design. Learn from others, but don’t measure yourself by what others do. That will create a level of independence in the best sense, freedom, and a productive life that is worth living.
What do you think?
When you think of productivity, do you associate it with freedom or with bondage? Please share them in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- The Problem with Whack-a-Mole Productivity
The Ultimate Productivity Guide to Help You Achieve More Time, Money, and Freedom by Working Less
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