How do you know if you are being productive?
I’ve always thought of myself as being a hard worker that efficiently and effectively completes prioritized tasks, but does that make me productive?
Some would say, “Yes.”
Then why do I still feel anxious, guilty and not good enough?
I have come to realize I was being “productive” for the sake of being productive. As my friend Mike Vardy of Productivityist likes to say, “Stop doing productive and start being productive.”
Personal productivity isn’t just about doing more work in less time. There is always more work to be done, so how do you know when to stop? If you are thinking about working for yourself, that’s an important question to answer.
Many of us are “doing productivity” as a status symbol. We enjoy the feeling when people describe us as “productive.” But after a while of “doing ” productivity, I always feel as though I can no longer keep up. I eventually crash and burn out as I did in my previous business, UnStuckable.
When we do productivity for the sake of what someone else thinks, we aren’t doing productivity on our terms. There is no joy in doing productivity in this way. It’s not sustainable.
We might be getting a lot done, but why?
I finally discovered how to make productivity work for me. The first rule of productivity has nothing to do with tools, apps, habits, routines, goals, rituals, plans, schedules, or time management techniques.
The first rule of personal productivity is understanding your values.
When you have a clear grasp of your values you will have a clear vision of the purpose behind your work. You will understand for the first time why you are being productive.
I define personal productivity as working in alignment with your natural tendencies, needs, abilities, preferences and purpose.
Your values enable you to be productive on your terms.
What Are Values?
Your values are your personal code of conduct. They are your core beliefs that guide your actions, behaviors, and your interactions with the world.
Your values are:
- The foundation of your personal productivity.
- The constant that guides you through your chaotic work days.
- The blueprint for your most effective work habits and routines.
- A reminder of what makes you uniquely productive.
- What makes personal productivity enjoyable and sustainable.
- Your standards.
- Your personal judgment of what is most important in life.
- A promise to yourself to never forget who you truly are.
- One of the most important things to learn about yourself.
There are lots of different reasons to be productive, but the most motivating reason is to be driven by your values.
In some ways, your values are the core definition of yourself. They shape the quality of your work and how you chose to work. They provide guidance for how you want to design your life around the work you’ve always wanted to do.
They are the reference point for all your decisions. They are the benchmark you use to judge all your decisions against both large and small. They make your decision-making process more efficient and effective by quickly eliminating options that aren’t in alignment with your values. They also end up being the tiebreaker when you face extremely tough decisions.
Your values are a source of strength. Each and every day we are forced to makes compromises as we navigate through life. Your values aren’t easily compromised. They provide a sense of direction when the path forward seems unclear.
If you can’t easily describe your values at this point in time, that’s OK. I didn’t know how to articulate my values until I spent a lot of time studying the patterns in my thoughts, behaviors, and decisions. It takes time.
I know it’s tempting to search for a list of “values,” but I strongly advise against doing so. Your values will be much more meaningful if you use words and phrases that mean something to you, instead of cherry picking through a list of words chosen by someone else.
Here’s how I describe my values in no particular order:
- Choose time and experiences over money and material possessions.
- Keep things as simple as possible.
- Challenge the status quo and “make it happen.”
- Family first.
- Be frugal, not cheap.
- Work from anywhere.
- Be genuine.
There is no right or wrong way to express your values. Your list might be shorter or longer. (Although I do caution you to beware of making your list too long. The longer your list, the more diluted each of your values becomes.)
You also don’t have to limit yourself to individual words to express your values as is the case in most traditional value discovery exercises. As you can see from my list, I’ve used phrases and conjunctions!
Discover Your Values
As I mentioned earlier, discovering your values takes time. If you are serious about understanding what makes you uniquely productive, I believe clarifying your values is unavoidable.
Start by making time for self-reflection to become more self-aware. You might even schedule some “me time” on your calendar on a regular basis. Use this time to explore your values.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:
- What is most important to you in life?
- Which of your core beliefs about have you never broken?
- Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t do that because it’s not who I am”? Who are you?
- What are your standards for how you would like to ideally work?
- How do you like the quality of your work to be judged?
Follow up each of your responses to those questions by asking yourself, “Why?” Honestly, that’s the toughest question of all. It forces you to dig deeper. It helps you get real about why you hold the values you do.
If you are struggling to answer those questions, you might want to direct your focus elsewhere by trying one of the following exercises:
Write about your proudest moments in life.
First, make a list of your proudest moments. I find that the stories I regularly tell to others about myself or accomplishments I regularly think about are a good place to start.
Next, describe why each of those moments made you feel proud. Try to list a value or two that expresses why you feel proud of those moments. What do they say about what is important to you?
Finally, look for common values and beliefs each of those stories and moments share. Now you have a working list of your values.
Define your version of success.
Make a list of what success means to you. Begin each statement with, “Success to me means . . . “
Once you’ve completed your list, prioritize each version of success from most important to least important.
Finally, try to determine your values by how you describe success.
What you don’t stand for.
If you are exploring your values for the first time, sometimes it’s easier to first understand what you absolutely won’t stand for.
Make a list of everything you would never tolerate. Begin each statement with, “I would never stand for . . . “
Once you’ve completed your list, ask yourself, “What do I stand for?” after each statement you wrote.
Finally, think of some values that describe what you stand for.
Values Help You Work at a Human Pace
You know what I love most about values in the context of productivity? They give me the confidence to work at a human pace in our fast-paced digital world.
I’m never going to outwork a computer, but living my values makes me feel even more productive regardless of my output because I’m now creating work of high quality, not just high quantity.
My values also give me permission to take a break and restore, making my productivity sustainable over the long term.
Most importantly, my values provide me with the peace of mind that I am doing enough and doing it to the best of my ability.