We live in a culture that tells us that we can do more and have it all, but the studies don’t bear this out. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that employee productivity has only grown .3% over the past 3 years, yet we are working longer hours and the average work week is now 50 hours a week. The answer to productivity doesn’t lie in trying to do more and get more done, but rather doing less and getting the right things done. This is not a time management tool that helps you get more things done. In fact, I think hustling to get more things done is the road to abject failure. You won’t succeed in any area of your life by working on all of them. Instead, realize that how you do anything is how you do everything. If you will focus on one area of your life and its improvement, then it will translate to the other areas of your life. Compartmentalization is a myth. We are human beings and not human doings. Avoidance is not a worthwhile strategy or tactic because we are one being.
Productivity lies in spending significant time in the short term to bring more awareness to what is most important in your life and then putting systems in place to make execution of these items effortless. The most effective tool I learned for this comes from Greg McKeown’s book entitled “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” The exercise is to sit down and list out every activity in your life right now. If you are married then do this with your spouse. List everything out and place a numerical value of importance by it of 1-10. Once you have completed the activity, then physically cross out on the page those activities with a value of 8 or less. Stop doing these activities. It is time to say no to those activities that are not part of your highest point of contribution. If as you read these words you feel a pit in your stomach or you are thinking it sounds crazy, then you absolutely need this. Trust me. I heard those same voices and had those same thoughts and I put it off. However, once my wife and I completed this activity and began eliminating the values of 8 and below our life changed.
We eliminated and began saying no to some major activities in our lives. We eliminated things like cable, some fantasy sports leagues, friend gatherings, some book clubs, and some church activities among others. We also began evaluating new requests on our time and filtered it through our new gauge of what is important. We thought we would be disappointing other people by saying no gracefully. What we actually found is that people began to have more respect for us when we gave an honest no rather than half-heartedly acquiescing out of a feeling of obligation. We learned to stop doing things out of mere obligation, and instead focus on things that we love and were most important to us. When you read some of the things we gave up, you may think that our lives sound pretty miserable and we cut out the fun. I can tell you that our lives became exponentially better. The items we gave up were mere distractions to the most important parts of our lives. We didn’t feel like our lives were spinning out of control going from activity to activity, and never seeming to find time for the most important things in life.
The moral here is to make time for what is most important to you and let go of what isn’t. We often wear badges of busyness like it is an honor or simply a way of life. It doesn’t have to be. You have permission to live differently. True productivity lies in doing less and ensuring that the things you get done are what is most important to you.