Confession: I love being productive, but I am not always very good at it. In fact, sometimes I feel so bad at being productive, that I just get overwhelmed and want to crawl back into bed. Unfortunately, this can be a vicious cycle: Want to be productive —> Get overwhelmed —> Waste time instead —> Feel like a terrible failure —> Want to be productive. It’s not pretty; just ask my husband.
Now, while this isn’t always the cycle that I fall into, it happens frequently enough that my husband and I decided it was time for an intervention. Mostly because I got tired of being unproductive, and he got tired of me feeling like a failure for not being productive (he’s a keeper).
So what did we do, you ask? Well, we came up with a system that we’ve been trialling now for the past month. So far, I have been able to accomplish much more than I had been doing, but even more importantly, I feel so much healthier emotionally now as I’m meeting my goals; that’s why I decided to share with you what I’ve learned from the beginning of my journey towards a healthier pattern of productivity.
First, a disclosure: this is not an 8-step program to make you a more productive person. Instead, this is meant to be a helpful tool, or guiding principles to help you get ideas on how to create a system that works for you, because let’s be honest– different strokes for different folks.
I would also LOVE to hear some of your ideas on how to stop wasting time, be more productive, or on ways to motivate yourself to accomplish goals. I can use all the help I can get, and I’m sure others would love to know your secrets to success as well!
1. Lists are your friend (and your enemy)
No, really. Lists can be helpful, but they can also be overwhelming and time consuming. My suggestion is this: Start with one week at a time, and at the beginning of the week take a quick minute to make a list of the things you would like to get done. Then prioritize; be realistic and choose only a few things that are most important to get done. Make these your goal for the entire week, and the rest of the items on your list are whipped cream on the pie if you complete them. This process really shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
2. Find what motivates you
This is very important for me and my husband both. Truthfully, the feeling of accomplishment that I get from being productive is a type of reward in itself, but it’s not often enough to keep me motivated. Here are some ideas for rewards/motivations that might work: When you complete a task, you earn some “free time” for guilt-free relaxation (a nap, reading a book, writing, watching a show, taking a walk, or anything that makes you feel guilty when you have too much to do). Or you can use money as incentive if your budget allows; Timothy and I get personal money each month, but we have been getting a small amount of extra personal money if we meet our goal for the week, kind of like earning your allowance like you may have done as a kid. Whatever it is that motivates you, find a way to use it as a reward for accomplishing a reasonable amount of things per week.
3. Cumulative rewards help you stick with it
It is far too easy to say to myself, “Well, if I don’t accomplish this week’s tasks, there’s always next week.” So what we’ve done to keep ourselves motivated is having an extra reward for being able to complete our goals for all four (or five) weeks in a month. Because then if you miss one week, you’re really giving up two rewards.
4. Revise your system if necessary
If you picked too many tasks for your first week, don’t be discouraged. Just realize that there are only 24 hours in each day and it is not healthy or helpful to try to fit too much into that time. Use trial and error to help you figure out a balance of how many goals or how big the goals are that you’re setting for yourself and how you are handling them. If you become stressed or overwhelmed by the goals you’re setting, tone it down. If you find that you didn’t choose enough things to accomplish and it was too easy, add some more (because it’s good to have a little bit of a challenge).
5. Healthy expectations = healthier productivity
What I have discovered for myself is that when I set attainable goals and accomplish them, it actually helps me to accomplish more. Having healthy expectations of what we can get done decreases the stress and discouragement that often go hand in hand with having “too much to do.” God did not create us to be non-stop working machines; too much productivity can be just as unhealthy for your body and mind as being completely unproductive.
6. Cut yourself some slack
This is the most important thing I will write in this entire post, so I hope you’ve kept reading… Do not link your productivity to your self-worth. Ever. You are so much more than what you can accomplish. My husband, thank the good Lord, does not love me because of how much I can get done in a day. Do not fall into the terrible black abyss of feeling like you are not enough, you are a failure, or you are somehow less than everyone else because you are struggling with getting things done. God has never, ever, ever said anywhere in the Bible that our value comes from what we can do. That’s not the way He based the plan of salvation, and it’s not the way His love for us us works either. As Brené Brown so aptly puts it in her book Rising Strong,
“I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.