The Non-Violent Practice of Productivity

There is a grand difference between being productive and being busy. Though most of us want to be productive, we get trapped in a cycle of busyness.

I’m not sure when being busy became such a definitive part of our culture. Somehow it’s synonymous with working hard, when truthfully it’s so toxic that busyness does nothing except beat us down.

The moment I got out of high school and joined the workforce, as a lowly hostess at the Peppertree Cafe, I remember being jarred by the urge to be busy. That confusion followed me forever after that first job.

What I learned was this. Look busy…even when you’re not.

Honestly, I didn’t understand the point. But because I was at the mercy of a paycheck, I played along. After all, anyone not looking busy would be terminated.

Later on in the corporate world, I saw another side of work. People were slaves to busyness.

It was a tragic competition to see who the busiest person was.

Whoever got there first and stayed the longest…won. Whoever forgot to eat and wasted away…won. Whoever was so overworked that they had a breakdown and had to take a leave of absence…won.

Yet, all they were doing was losing. Losing out on hours of their lives that could have been spent with family, or doing that creative thing that set them free.

waterfalls in oregon

At the beginning of my Yoga teacher training, we learned about the Yamas and the Niyamas. They are basic guidelines for life which help you know yourself and others.

One of the Yamas that really stood out to me was Ahimsa. The literal translation of this Sanskrit word is non-injury or non-violence.

When our focus in life is to be consumed by busyness, we are being violent to ourselves. It is not our boss who is making us do this. It is not our job that is making us do this. We are harming ourselves.

If you truly feel that your job is causing this deep unhappiness, then you should find a different one. Otherwise, you are not practicing Ahimsa.

What I’m getting at is the one thing I always aim for in my life. Balance.

How can I be productive while being kind to myself? How can I kick ass without kicking my own ass?

I get a lot of shocked expressions from people when they learn that I’ve written three books. The inevitable question always comes up: How do you do it?

Well, I practice productivity.

When I set my mind to accomplishing something, I do it. But it took me many years to learn how to be productive instead of busy.

I learned how to fulfill instead of deplete.

Lately for work, I’ve been attending webinars and reading blog posts about productivity as much as possible.

I shared this post on Twitter, which several of you also liked, so please check out Wanna Stop Working So Late? Do Your Most Exhausting Task First. It’s more business-oriented, but I learned a lot about prioritization—including working in sprints and rests.

Why did I go on this productivity rampage? Because I felt like I was slipping into the vortex of busyness.

I started a new job last winter and I had days at work where I didn’t know where to begin. I would stare at my to-do list until I wanted to cry, because I was overwhelmed.

So, I took matters into my own hands to incorporate Ahimsa into my work routine. This is what I’ve learned…

  1. Start your morning right. Take ten minutes for a little bit of meditation (or if you prefer, sitting still) and stretching. The computer distractions can wait.
  2. That thing you’re dreading most…do it first. Don’t worry about your emails, just knock it out.
  3. F*ck multi-tasking. Dedicate your full attention to one project at a time. Turn off email alerts if they’re too distracting.
  4. Schedule half-hour email sessions. You will never clean out your inbox. More will come after you delete the others. Stop trying.
  5. Group similar tasks together. While you’re in that mode, your focus will be optimized.
  6. Step away from your desk. Even if it’s for a short walk to clear your head, the break away from your screen will revive you.
  7. Hang it up. After your ninth hour of work, you’re done. Go home. It will all be there tomorrow.
  8. No matter what…exercise. Staying active will keep you energized. Not doing anything will have the opposite effect.
  9. Cook food. Instead of eating out all the time, make simple meals that have simple ingredients.
  10. Remember your creative side. Never ditch it because you’re drained. Spend a little time each week, and enjoy it.
  11. Lose yourself in sex. You’re not too tired to do it. Experiencing pleasure is vital to our sanity, so get some.
  12. Focus on your sleep. An hour before, shut everything off. Rub your bedding down with lavender oil. And dream, dammit.

Hey, I get stressed out just like anyone else. I’m not perfect, and I stopped trying to be.

Each day I wake up and strive for a balanced life, one where I can pay my bills but still spend as much energy as possible on the people and things I truly love.

It’s hard work…much harder than looking busy.

Alright your turn! How do you practice productivity?

43 thoughts on “The Non-Violent Practice of Productivity

  1. Yes indeed Britt. First industrialisation, mechanisation and later computers have fed the new urge to be rushing ahead, achieving more, producing quicker. Long gone are the days when one could carry out a solid day’s work and everyone was happy. I blame the American Dream and the scramble to the top, doing everyone else down in the process 🙂

    Interestingly – and slightly off the point you’re making – I read that the life of emails is under attack as the new modern curse. Places are having No Internal E-mail Fridays, deleting incoming emails to an employee on leave (with a message of course), generally inviting people to reconnect in a better way.

    1. I totally agree with you, Roy! There has been so much rushing throughout our modern history, and now, everything just baffles me. It truly does. I find myself not trying so hard to keep up with it. I’ve scaled back my social quite a bit. Of course, I do it for work now and that makes me not want to look at it in my free time.

      We had some “no email” days back at the non-profit I was at some years ago. I should bring that to our company. We’re just as small, but the daily emails are absurd!

  2. Thank you for spreading the word that busyness and productivity are not synonyms! My first part-time job in high school was at a small local store that sold just about everything (where no one in my part of the country had ever heard of “WalMart” or knew the behemoth it would become). But even then, clerks had to look busy when we weren’t helping customers. There’s a longer history of thinking that we should always be busy than we might think. After all, just how old is the old-saying “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”?

    But healthy productivity is a much better path for all of us, and healthiness includes downtime!

    1. It drives me crazy when people won’t stop, look around, and notice the dang difference! There is a ginormous difference.

      True, there is a long history with busyness. It goes way back, so it’s challenging to change our mindset. Healthiness absolutely includes downtime, and that’s different for every person, but it’s crucial to our sanity.

  3. Great advice Britt. I’ve become pretty good at balance in my day job in many ways, but I can see that lack of balance in colleagues, which means I sometimes feel a little guilty slipping out the door when others are still working – but that’s their choice and it’s not one I want to make at this point in my life.

    1. Yeah, it’s tough at work. Most of the time we feel that we have to work our asses off, staying later or even working on weekends, when really the human brain is only productive so many hours each day. I think it’s pretty low…like 4-5 or something.

      So the 40-hour work week isn’t really productive at all. Hopefully one day this will change. Until then, we just have to take care of ourselves.

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