A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post in conjunction with Stacie Walker’s “Love Yourself First” video series, which you can access for free here. This article expands upon one of my first blogs.
Productivity is a popular buzz word that gets a lot of “how to” discussion, but I’d like you to join me in looking at it from another side. People often think of it as “doing more” but it’s actually defined as the power of producing; being creative; abundance; causing or bringing about of something.
I love how those definitions speak to more than just achievement or doing more. Instead they suggest fulfillment, plenty, and purpose.
What I love even more is how I experienced these very things through my own productivity practices, long before seeing these definitions.
Where It Began
My mother passed way on Christmas 2011, a heartbreaking loss compounded by the aggressive and unforgiving disease of Alzheimer’s. For nearly five years prior I was her primary caregiver. During that time I gave birth to two beautiful, healthy children. I was a wife, mom, and “sandwich caregiver” – caught between parent and children. My husband and I were running a business as well. (I have shared some parts of this story here and here.)
Life moved at a blistering pace, shooting challenges at me like an automatic ball machine. It was beautiful and painful. It was emotional and often confusing. We had the blessing of new life and milestone celebrations and we had the unanticipated grief from losing my mom in pieces, a little at a time, and never at a pace we could prepare for or anticipate.
Some days I felt like I had it under control, most days the only thing I knew for sure was where I put the chocolate. The truth is I never truly relaxed. I was sleep-deprived and self-care was a rare guilty pleasure.
I was in survival mode.
I made so many mistakes, but I made it through, and the experience affected me profoundly. I am more compassionate and patient and I see the world so differently now. I knowingly smile at the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.” I’ve learned to forgive myself and reject unnecessary obligations. I can see clearly which productivity practices helped me survive and since then, I’ve learned so much more. I’ve figured out what’s truly essential in my life.
I minimized my schedule. I dropped all non-essentials (and, unfortunately, a few essentials too). I wrote down everything and planned ahead each week. Lists were my life and they still are! I learned to let go of expectations (most especially mine) and embraced shortcuts, keeping things as simple as possible.
What didn’t work?
My lack of self-care quite literally didn’t serve me or my family. I found it so hard to care for myself, thinking I needed to put them first. I had mom guilt that pushed me to try to do and be everything to everyone. I didn’t delegate enough. I didn’t ask for help.
For me, productivity was necessary for survival. The unexpected benefit was how it helped me heal.
As I grieved and recovered, I poured through inspirational resources on positivity, mindset, and gratitude. I aggressively decluttered my personal space and schedule and explored different productivity tools and concepts. Simplifying was paramount. The more I fine-tuned my positivity and productivity, the better my entire family functioned. We spent more quality time together. Organized spaces made chores easier, which reduced the pressure on me. Simpler systems helped life flow easier. As soon as I increased my self-care, I saw a shift. I wasn’t just happier, I was a better mom and wife…a better person.
And it hasn’t stopped. The more I simplify and use the productivity tools that work for me, the more I heal. The impact was so profound, it led me to help others do the same.
I’ve always been a self-proclaimed #productivitynerd and loved to talk about this topic, but my reason why has shifted. It’s not just about changing lives, but about how those lives impact the world. It’s space to create, to create abundance, to connect.
So can you accomplish this from some calendar apps and a morning ritual? No, not quite. It requires a willingness to look inside yourself and a desire to shift your perspective – not always easy, but the results are worth it.
Here are the four approaches I use when working with clients, generally in this order:
Identify Core Values
- Do you know what you truly value? What you really want? What drives you? When you’re clear on this and honest in your approach before setting your goals, you create a critical alignment. This not only increases your likelihood of achieving your goals, it helps you design the life you want to live (e.g., more family time, travel, learning)
Shift Your Mindset
- Weekly Gratitude, Obligations, Possessions. Why do you do the things you do? Why do you buy and keep certain possessions? What do you really want to do? Shifting your mindset requires frequent inspiration and practice, like building muscle. Simplicity and consistency will help. Believing in your ability to shift your perspective is crucial.
- Remove all the things that do not serve you. Clutter is not just objects. It’s the digital noise that surrounds you. It’s the demands you make of yourself. It’s your “busy” calendar. Every object you own, owns you. Everything you say “yes” to represents at least one “no” to something else (if not more). It’s time to clear your path, both physical and mental.
Create a Plan
- Take what remains and create a plan that honors your values and fosters the changes you’ve made. It’s about being proactive versus reactive. Start with a weekly review. Focus on the tasks that will move you most efficiently toward your goals. Continue to apply the right productivity approaches (for you, for the task) to achieve those goals. (Think you might like help with this part? Contact me and we can talk about what you need.)
If you take the time to work through these phases, honestly and genuinely, you cannot help but come out the other side with a completely different perspective. While results vary depending on the person, the most common feeling is one of freedom.
Imagine creating space in your life for those things you think you don’t have time for: dreaming, helping, healing, learning, relaxing, exploring…simply being. That, to me, is the deeper purpose of productivity.