Productivity means something different to everyone. Some people might find it really productive to spend time on certain tasks, while others would rather outsource those tasks and let someone else figure it out. It really just depends on what our goals are, and what we’re trying to accomplish.
What really helps in being productive is to find your personal why. Figure out why do you want to be productive? In other words, what is your major goal that you’re trying to achieve? What destination do you have in mind?
When you want to a plan a trip somewhere, like a vacation, you need to know where you want to go. It’s hard to a plan a trip (or go very far with those plans) if you have no destination in mind. It ends up just being pretty abstract— you could know the dates, you could know the types of activities you like, but without an actual place in mind, you’ll never end up going anywhere. It doesn’t make any sense, right?
Yet we often do this with our own productivity and our own work goals, especially as freelancers or independent professionals, or even entrepreneurs. We have in mind some vague idea of where we want to go, and what we like. For example, I really know I want to build a fun supportive company culture that treats its employees as humans. I want to build products that people love, and I enjoy sharing things as I learn them. All of these are great things that I enjoy, but none of them are really a destination or my ‘Why’. They’re not foundational— they’re more outcomes of some other deeper reason.
I set out to figure out how I could link all of the things I enjoy, and figure out what my personal why was. I started by just writing a bunch of things I enjoy on post it notes and putting them up on a wall. I had a close friend come help me take a look at them too— and she instantly saw the connection. It was all about having a positive impact. Everything I was interested in, or everything I enjoyed doing, or wanted to do, was all about that positive impact—whether on a person, a company, or even the environment.
When I discovered this myself, my daily productivity immediately started to change. I could start to measure everything I was doing on whether or not it met this goal—did it leave a positive impact? Was it in line with my values? More importantly, did completing this task get me closer to that destination? It was like I had finally set where I wanted to go—and I could begin to take much more actionable plans to get me there.
If you often struggle with truly feeling productive, or wondeirng if you’re doing meaningful productive work, then try this exercise. Write out all the things that interest you — just let your mind go free with it. Look at what you wrote, and try to figure out if there’s one sentence or goal that can explain all/most of those attributes. Get a friend or family member to help out if you’re stuck—often that outside perspective is what you need.
Once you find your ‘why’, then see if all your work you’re doing falls into it. If it doesn’t, how can you make changes so it does? Do you need to drop a project or tweak it somehow? Maybe you need to start saying no to other opportunities because they don’t quite interest you?
Finally, I highly recommend the book Start with Why by Simon Sinek. It really expands on these topics and gets you a deeper understanding of the principles. If you don’t have time to read a whole book, his TED video works too! It's aimed at companies but it can applied to your personal life as well.