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Are You Taking Productivity Too Far?

Since you’re reading Pick the Brain, I expect that you’ll agree with me when I say that productivity is a good thing.

Being productive generally means:

  • You’re living up to your full potential (instead of daydreaming about what might be … and never actually doing it)
  • You’re being proactive rather than reactive, taking control of your own life
  • You feel good about yourself and your life: each day, you have a sense of accomplishment
  • You’ve got clear goals, and you’re on track to reach them

Pretty great, huh? It sounds like a recipe for a happy life.


…can you end up being too productive?

The Darker Side of Productivity

Like I say, I’m all for productivity. I like to do useful, fulfilling work, and I get bored easily if I’m wasting time or procrastinating.

But … I know that sometimes I take it a little too far. And I’ve often read blog posts or comments from other productive people who are definitely edging towards too much productivity.

Yes, getting things done (or if you’re a David Allan fan, Getting Things Done) is good. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of life.

When you get overly focused on being productive:

  • Your relationships suffer. Hanging out with your friends might seem “unproductive” whereas staying an extra couple of hours at work is “productive”. But what’s really more important to you in the long-run?
  • Your health might be at risk. Sure, maybe your gym routine counts as “productive” – but what about a long, leisurely walk, or a healthy meal eaten away from your desk?
  • You get stressed. You feel a constant pressure to keep doing more, and more, and more…
  • You lose perspective. Instead of trying to be effective you end up just being efficient.

Do you need to take your foot off the pedal?

Is your focus on productivity starting to make you feel miserable or stressed out?

Taking a Break From Productivity

If this post is striking an uncomfortable chord with you, then it’s time to take a step back and learn to breathe again.

You could:

  • Re-examine your definition of productivity. Spending two hours reading a great book in a coffee shop could well be more productive than spending two hours staring at your computer screen. Taking care of your kids could be one of the most productive things you’ll do in your whole life.
  • Plan some down-time. Take an afternoon off – or a whole weekend. If you plan ahead, you’ll have it to look forward to (and you’re more likely to actually hold yourself to it).
  • Find leisure activities that you really enjoy. Sometimes, we get caught up in productivity – whether that’s at work or in the home – because we don’t really have anything else to do. Join a club, take up a new hobby, or plan a date night with your partner.
  • Get away from it all. It can be hard to “switch off” from work at times. By getting physically away – to a different city or even a different country – you create a real break from your regular life.

Life is about so much more than simply checking off everything on your to-do list – and being less than 100% productive is no crime. In fact, it’ll probably make you happier (and easier to live with!)

So … a challenge for you! If you think you’re overdoing things, how can you get comfortable with being less productive? Let us know in the comments…

Don’t Forget To Follow PickTheBrain on Twitter!

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20 Responses to Are You Taking Productivity Too Far?

  1. Chetan says:

    Thanks Ali for the post :)

    Recently I have started playing some game with my Little Daughter after work or read one story for her from Story Book. Although this can be term as “Non Productive” but It gives both of us upmost Joy…


  2. farouk says:

    Hey Ali
    glad to come across your post here
    i liked your post so much, i believe i am doing this mistake
    thank you dear for notifying me about it

  3. Clint Cora says:

    I see what you mean by being too productive. Brian Tracy always suggested that it’s not how hard we work, it’s how efficient. We should aim to do things in the most efficient manner so that we don’t have to spend a lot of time. Therefore, we have time left over for other things in life that will result in a better balance for us.

  4. Nacho Jordi says:

    Thank you for the always oh so necessary reminder that one is more than one’s work. David Allen himself admits with embarrassment that sometimes he forgets to have fun (so he has created a list for that too :) ).
    I think productivity must be an option, something that awaits on a shelve for you so you can switch on/off your focus very quickly when you want to, but not a system so structured that it FORCES you to work work work… it would rather feel like slavery to me…
    Thanks for the read

  5. Hey Ali,
    Great points here and I would like to add one more. Being productive and getting things done is one area that all of us can control.

    We can’t control the weather, politicians, our boss, spouse or traffic. You’re right though, many of us take it a little too far, me included.

    I implement chill-out time in my life where I do nothing and this helps me to re-charge my batteries and clear my mind.

  6. Great article! I can’t agree more. Besides ‘being productive’ there must also be a time to get-a-way-of-it-all and look back on your work from a distance. And this time can be used to re-examine the definition of ‘being productive’ which is a great opportunity to become even more ‘being productive’ :-)

  7. Jack says:

    I agree. One can’t get caught up in the whole productivity mode.

    I for one have been through this a lot. I believe short term burst of solely being productive can be very beneficial. But one needs relaxation and time to recover as well.

  8. Griff says:

    Lately I’ve been taking time off (sometimes even during the week) to take day-hikes. They help clear my head and get me away from my desk. I come back more ready to “be productive” than I would be had I sat staring at my computer screen all day.

  9. Jane says:

    I think of being productive in terms of how focused I am on the task at hand, being in the moment fully and appreciating what I am doing. So a productive day could be getting lots done at work, but it could also mean I have been productive at relaxing, being silly, connecting with people and doing nothing. Yes, I do schedule do nothing times… where I don’t think about work, life, relationships, just feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin.

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  12. Great point! When you’re in the zone being productive and productive and productive it is super hard to stop and take a break, read a book, or just go for a walk.

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  14. I just took a break to do some yard work, which I find immensely relaxing (albeit productive) so I could come back and concentrate on reading the article. Sometimes doing something completely different can make you even more productive.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Wow. this feels like my current status.

    Luckily for me though, this topic came at the right time coz i’m checking off for the weekend and enjoying a few precious moments with my wife.

    Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom and hope others can benefit from them. :)

  16. Marelisa says:

    Hi Ali: This article is right on point. We have to remember that we’re trying to be more productive in order to improve our quality of life, and that getting more done is not an end in and of itself. I remember when I was in college, I had a friend who was always complaining that her boyfriend would yell at her for interrupting his schedule. And I would think to myself, “You’re obviously not a priority for him.” One of the reasons that we want to be more productive is precisely so that we have time for leisure and time to spend with our loved ones.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    There’s a difference between making a living and making life. I like the Australian attitude where work is a means to make a life.  Work is not life itself. Americans place too much emphasis on what they do for a living and how much they earn.

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