Purpose for our productivity, and productivity with purpose, make for a meaningful life.
Productivity with purpose and a meaningfully productive life
I’ve been publishing this podcast for 8 years, and reading, learning, and thinking about productivity for over 50 years. When I decided, back in 2013, that I wanted to launch a podcast, the reason I chose the topic of productivity was my lifelong interest in the subject. Before I ever recorded an episode–or even thought about launching a podcast–I already had shelves full of books about time management, organization, and all things productivity-related. I had tried dozens of different planners and calendars and organizing systems.
I’ve been thinking lately about why it’s been such a thing in my life since I was in middle school. And the bigger question of why any of us think about this–why I’ve been talking about it for more than 8 years, and why you listen. Why do we care about productivity?
All that got me thinking about purpose in connection with productivity: What is the purpose of this podcast? But more than that, what is the purpose of productivity?
What is productivity?
From the Oxford Dictionary:
“the state or quality of producing something,” or “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input”
By this definition, a productive woman is the one who produces something; the one who gets the most output per unit of input (whether that input is time or energy or something else).
In a Harvard Business Review article a few years ago, the writer defines productivity this way:
“the amount of value produced divided by the amount of cost (or time) required to do so.
By this definition, a productive woman is one who produces the most value for the cost or time invested.
Of course, here at TPW we have our own definition of what a productive woman is: A productive woman is one who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact on the world around her. To me, this definition actually builds a purpose into the productivity. We’re managing our time, pursuing our goals, and organizing our space all with the purpose of making the most positive impact on our world–whether the world within our 4 walls or the world at large.
We as women have an impact on others. Each one of us, no matter where we live or what kind of life we live, has an impact. Our choices, our behavior, our very presence, impacts
- the people in our immediate circle–spouse, children, parents, siblings;
- the people in our close circle: friends, co-workers, clients;
- the people in our extended circle: others in our church, business acquaintances or patrons, those we meet as we go about our life (such as the grocery store clerk, postal worker, customer service agent on the phone, kids’ teachers);
- even those in our remote circle: the people who interact with the people we interact with).
What does purpose mean?
From the Oxford Dictionary:
“the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists” and “a person’s sense of resolve or determination”
Career coach Rebecca Fraser-Thill writes in a Forbes article:
“We feel purpose when we have a sense of direction and are engaging in activities that we find valuable and that impact someone other than ourselves.”
So as an example, I asked myself: what is TPW’s purpose? That’s an easy one to answer, because I state it at the beginning of every episode: to help you find the tools and encouragement you need to manage your time, life, stress, and stuff so you can accomplish the things you care about most and make a life that matters.
My purpose? That’s hard for me to answer. I’m still pondering this, even at this stage of my life. It was a little easier when I had young kids at home: keep them safe and raise them to be decent human beings. With that as my primary focus for that long stage of my life, what happened when they all went out on their own?
What is the purpose of being productive?
The purpose is the why. Without a why, it’s hard to keep going.
Is productivity an end in itself? Do we want to simply say we’re productive (whatever that means to us)?
Or is it a tool for accomplishing a larger purpose — that is, does productivity serve our purpose? If so, what is that purpose?
Personally, my purpose for wanting to be productive is to maximize my positive impact on the world around me. I want to make a difference; leave behind something meaningful. That’s what drives my desire to be “productive” in the sense of getting stuff done. I want to be efficient about the must-dos to make sure there’s time and energy left for the want-to-dos.
How does purpose affect productivity?
It provides meaning and motivation and guides decision-making.
One writer posits that “the absence of meaning in what we do heavily impairs our ability to perform at our best.”
“Our aspirations should be the result of the person we want to become, they need to be identity-defined. They need to reflect intention. Otherwise we won’t be able to find the consistency between our broad targets and the path we walk on a daily basis. And with no alignment between our objectives and our actions, we won’t be able to find purpose in our journey. It is not the achievement of our goals, but the person we become trying that brings meaning to our lives.”
Then he goes on to say,
“If we don’t believe in what we are doing, we won’t be resilient when we hit our lows, our times of doubt. We won’t be able to refocus and regain our centeredness. We won’t be able to establish clear priorities and to live by them, to stay on the ball. A sense of direction and deep intentionality are what keeps us in the right direction.”
Having a purpose for what we do is what keeps us going when things get difficult or even just tedious.
Productivity with purpose
How do we combine the two, so that our productivity is meaningful and our purpose is effectuated?
In an episode of her The Intentional Advantage Podcast, Tanya Dalton talks about purposeful productivity, defining it as “clearing away the clutter, getting to the heart of life itself and what you want.” This reminds me that true productivity isn’t about doing more stuff, but about doing the right stuff–the stuff that matters most to you.
I like what I found on the home page of a website called Productive with a Purpose, where she talks about what that means (i.e., to be “productive with a purpose”):
- Have clear priorities – she recommends “live every day like you want to be remembered.” That requires us to answer the question “How do I want to be remembered?” to help identify what’s most important.
- Be “in the zone” – which she explains as meaning “live your values, play to your built-in strengths & pursue your passions as often as possible”
- Have “endless focus” – “confidently use your trusted productivity system to deflect distractions & stay laser focused”
- “Drive everything” – “Relentlessly drive everything you can to inspire meaningful change & influence others to take action”
- Nurture “intense clarity” – “Eat right, sleep more & sweat just enough to generate intense, weapon-like, problem-solving clarity”
- Seek “lasting impact” – she says “only when you are present & in the NOW, do you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on others”
The need for and value of purpose applies to all contexts, both big-picture, long-term, and the more immediate short-term. Identifying our purpose and intentionally putting it at the center of what we do will lead to a meaningfully productive life, a life that feels like it matters–because it does.
Figuring this out requires asking ourselves some rather deep questions and answering them honestly.
Bigger picture inquiry
What is my purpose in life? Why am I here? If you’re a person of faith, your faith will inform the answer to this question.
- Who do I want to be in the world?
- What do I want to leave behind?
- How do I want to be remembered?
“To know what purposeful life is you need to consider who you are and what you want. You need to know your personal values – what is important to you in how you show up. And you need to know your vision – what you want your life to be like and feel like.” [from Productivity Needs a Purpose]
In the podcast episode I mentioned earlier, Tanya Dalton suggests an exercise to help us identify what matters most. She calls it “using death as an advisor”; it basically entails imagining you are given notice of the day of your death, and asking yourself what would you do in the time you had left–starting with knowing you have 24 hours left; then 1 week; then 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. I recommend the episode for more food for thought and some really useful guidance on this exercise.
What is my purpose today? How will I know at the end of the day whether it’s been a good day? What outcome do I want, either in terms of things done or effects experienced by me and the others I come in contact with?
What is my purpose for undertaking this project or task?
- Being more intentional–more purposeful–in what we do with our time and energy during the day
- Before I say yes, ask “to what purpose?”
- Throughout the day: Why am I doing what I’m about to do? What is my purpose for writing that report? For sending that email? For running this errand? For cleaning that room?
In the Forbes article I mentioned earlier, Rebecca Fraser-Thill shares questions she asks herself to keep purpose at the heart of her productivity:
- “What is the greatest value-add I can create in this situation at this moment? What do I have to offer that few others do? Reflecting on our skill sets and what we uniquely bring to the table [as she wrote about in another article,] can help us prioritize our to-do lists so that we’re delivering more value in less time/chunks of attention.”
- Why does my work matter? How is it contributing in some way to somebody beyond myself?
Productivity should serve a purpose. When our activity and our goals and tasks have purpose–when they line up with our values, our life principles, and our intentional, purpose-driven objectives–then we are being truly productive.
What do you think?
Have you thought about the purpose of your productivity? Are you purposeful about how you use your time and energy? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Link
- Productive with a Purpose – Be in the NOW … like, all the time.
- The Paradox of Workplace Productivity
- You Want to Be Productive? You Need a Purpose and a Process | by Rafael Sarandeses | The Startup | Medium
- Productivity Needs A Purpose
- 272: Productivity with Purpose | Tanya Dalton
- Using Purpose, Priority and Productivity for Living a Good Life — Financial Alternatives
- Purpose And Productivity Aren’t The Same: Embracing A New Metric During A Pandemic
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