What it REALLY means to be productive (hint: it’s NOT what you think it is)

Posted by Olena Mytruk

Do you want to learn how to be more productive? Do you wonder why sometimes you don’t feel like you are being productive, even though you are definitely staying busy? Do you ever have to tell yourself that “rest is productive” in order to justify your need for rest?

If yes, then I have something to tell you. Let’s dive into what it really means to be productive, and why (spoiler alert!) it is NOT what you think it is.

What is productivity?

Last weekend me and my husband did several home improvement projects.

On Saturday, we tidied up one of the rooms in the house: I was feeling like it was getting too cluttered, there was stuff sitting everywhere and it wasn’t looking nice anymore. So we threw away a lot of things we didn’t need, we took our time to really clean everything up, and we even moved the furniture around.

And the room began to look so nice! For the rest of the day, any time I was walking past that room, it was making me so happy! I think I said to my husband probably 20 times that I love how our room looks, he probably got sick of me saying this haha. But it really made me very, very happy.

Also on Saturday, we went to the garden store and bought 15 or 20 plants for our backyard. So when I woke up on Sunday morning, I spent two or three hours planting those plants. I was getting sweaty, I was dirty – I was getting a real workout in! But I was having so much fun!

I put in my AirPods, turned on music, and when all the plants were planted I felt really happy.

I felt very good.

I felt like I was really productive.

“I am not being productive!”

But I also remember other occasions when I wasn’t feeling productive. A few months ago I was feeling very tired, and when the weekend came, the only thing I wanted to do, the only thing I could really do (because I simply had zero energy) was just lay in bed.

I took a nap in the middle of the day which I don’t normally do – but I needed it. I really did. And even though I knew that I needed it, there was this itch somewhere in my head telling me, “Come on, you’ve got to get up and you’ve got to start doing something because you’re just laying in bed doing nothing. You are not being productive.

How many times have you told this to yourself?

“You’ve got to go and do something because you need to be productive.”

I think this is the fundamental problem of our current society. We measure our productivity based on how many things we do. And if we are resting then it means we are not productive, and then we feel bad, we feel guilty, we feel like we should be doing something instead.

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase that has been invented for people like us that rest is productive.

By saying this, we are trying to justify to ourselves that we deserve rest, that we need rest, and that rest is okay.

But I we shouldn’t be needing to justify to ourselves why we need rest!

If we need rest we should just be able to rest and not feel guilty about it, or feel like we are not doing something more important. Right?!

What it really means to be productive

And this brings me to my main point around productivity – what productivity really is about.

And first, let me tell you what it is not about. It is not about how many things you get done. It is not about how many things you check off your to-do list. It is not about the quantity of these things.

It is about how important those things are to you.

If you are not feeling productive then it means that what you are doing right now is not what you think you should be doing.

Read that again.

You are doing something. You are potentially staying very, very busy. But what you’re working on right now is not what you think you should be working on.

Maybe you know that there is a task that needs to be done that is important to you. You keep trying to get to this task, but other tasks and distractions keep coming up, and you never get a chance to get to that important task. So you might end up doing 20 things, but you will still feel like you did nothing – because you haven’t gotten the chance to do that one thing that you wanted to do.

Or, maybe there is an important task that you have been dragging your feet on. You know that it has to be done, but it’s boring and unexciting, and instead, you’re picking up things that you want to be doing, whether it’s your hobby or just a more exciting task.

And then you start to feel guilty because something important still needs to be done, and the thought about it is very uncomfortable and unsettling.

And if you continue with your day as is, you will end up feeling like you “wasted it”.

How to become more productive and motivated

The good news – you can fix that problem.

Let’s get something straight: we want to be productive not for the sake of being productive.

We want to be productive because we want to feel good.

We want to feel proud and accomplished – like we did something valuable today.

So here is how you can actually turn things around so that you are always productive (or even better – you won’t even care about being productive anymore!)

Let’s say there are things that you are doing right now, and the things that you think you should be doing, but for some reason you’re not doing them.

Write them all down in one list.

Now, ask yourself:

Out of this list, what is really important right now?”

What is the true priority right now, this minute? What do you need right now?

Maybe it is a work item that has a deadline and you really need to get done by the end of the day because you are a responsible professional and you know that if you don’t do it, then nobody will. Or maybe you’ve been feeling tired lately and you need rest, because it is beginning to affect the quality of your work.

There are no right or wrong answers. The only rule is – be honest with yourself.

Once you start thinking about it, you might realize that what you are already working on is actually a priority. In this process, try to get to the why of it – try to align it with some of your core values. You will know that you found the right value when it starts to feel rightyou will begin to believe that it is indeed a priority.

You will stop feeling guilty about doing it.

Or maybe, you will realize that something that you are not doing right now is in fact a priority. And it is okay too. In this case, it is also important to align this task with your core values – it will help you find strength to get it done, especially if it’s something that you don’t enjoy doing.

Regardless, it is essential that you really understand why this specific item needs to become a priority right now.

Align with your core values

In order to do that, it is great if you have your value map.

Values are the things that are important to you in life. These are core beliefs and principles that guide you and help you make decisions. Discovering your values, prioritizing them and learning to use them in your daily life is one of the key components of the life navigation system that I teach inside the Life Design Academy.

If you have your value map created, great! And even if you don’t, simply ask yourself, “What is important to me in life right now?”, and go from there.

Here is a big bonus of aligning a task that you are working on with one of your core values:

Once you get it done, you will feel good.

In fact, whenever you feel good when some task is completed, it is a sign that you are living that moment in alignment with your true priorities and your core values.

And this is what true productivity is about.

It is when by completing only one task you feel happy and accomplished – you feel good about yourself.

You don’t need to complete 20 tasks anymore! You only need one, or two, or three, but these three will be the ones that matter most.

Because, as I said earlier, it’s not about quantity.

You can get 30 things done, but if none of them are important to you, if none of them are aligned with your values, then at the end of the day you will feel like you wasted your day. And on the other hand, if you only get one thing done, but you know exactly why you picked that thing and why that thing is a true priority, then you will feel very good about yourself. You will feel happy. You will feel accomplished.

And then you won’t need to justify needing rest anymore.

You won’t need to say to yourself that rest is productive. You will simply prioritize rest when you need it.

You will be perfectly fine with rest being rest. And nothing more.

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