Welcome to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host Lisa, and I’m so grateful you’ve joined me today because it’s time to dig into a popular topic that’s totally my jam: productivity.
As a productivity strategist, it’s what I’m all about…but perhaps not in the way you think so stay with me for a conversation about productivity that will be much different and much deeper than others you’ve heard.
What Being Productive Really Means for You
Being productive is incredibly important for us to achieve our goals, which is why I focus on it, but there is more to it than most resources and experts would have you believe.
Just as our external space affects and reflects our internal space, especially when it comes to clutter…so too our productivity both affects and is affected by who we are and how we live.
As a nod to Inigo Montoya, before I “keep using this word”, let’s take a step back and make sure we’re on the same page, and are using a consistent definition for productivity. Then we’ll explore what drives us to be productive and what it really means for us.
What is Productivity?
Productivity is defined as the power of producing; being creative; abundance; causing or bringing about something. I’ve always loved how most of those words express more than just achievement or doing. They speak to fulfillment and purpose…see where I’m going with this?
Everyone wants to be productive. I know I do–so I’m with you on this journey.
I named my business Positively Productive to express what we’re trying to achieve when decluttering and organizing our lives. It’s an important result for sure, but it’s not actually our endgame.
Productivity is not something you strive for on principle. You’re not trying to be productive for productivity’s sake, but for your sake…to support the life you want to live. It’s a means not to an end, but to every beginning, every season of your life, every passion you want to pursue. And it’s why I named the podcast Positively Living instead of my business name Positively Productive. Productivity connects directly to how you’re living your life.
Speaking of the podcast, here we are at episode 170. We’ve covered practical and functional topics related to simplicity and systems, wellness topics like self-care, and stress management, critical life topics like trauma, grief and caregiving and self-awareness topics, including my favorite: being a multi-passionate.
We’ve talked to tons of guests who shared their personal stories and unique perspectives. I’ve shared many solo episodes on these topics and coached a number of clients on the podcast, allowing the listener to be a fly on the wall of an actual coaching session with me. (You can find those as you scroll through episodes by searching for keywords “[Strategy Call]” in brackets at the beginning of the episode title, or by going to the podcast page of the website and typing those words into the search bar. https://positivelyproductive.com/podcast/)
A common thread throughout each episode here is how the topic connects to being productive. Sometimes it’s quite direct, like creating a specific system, and sometimes it’s in an unexpected way, like living a trauma-informed life. Everything’s connected. In those conversations, I’ve done my best not only to highlight the HOW but also to keep us reaching for the WHY…WHY these things affect productivity, WHY we want to be productive, and WHAT it really means for us.
Understanding the whole point of productivity is so important to me that I covered it in my very first podcast episode. It’s called the “deeper purpose of productivity” and urged us to ask WHY. I had some ideas that still stand, but I thought it was time to bring this topic back to the forefront.
If you’ve been with me since the beginning, I think you’ll appreciate this review, and if you’re new here, you picked a great time to join in because this is the best place to start.
Not only has the focus of productivity been far too much on the “how” and far too little on the “why”, the whole point of it seems to be skewed. Productivity resources traditionally claim that being productive will help you do more. That’s the phrase: “get more done” But I would ask more of what? My business mantra is “Do Less, Live More, Breathe Easier” so I have to (respectfully) disagree. Too often when we focus on doing more, it leads to being busy, rather than productive, and that leads to burnout.
Doing more is an archaic definition that goes back to the Industrial Revolution. The goal was to find ways to create more of the same thing in the same amount of time, in factories. Reduce overhead faster, and boost profits by having more to sell. That makes sense, right? But now we live in an Information Age where we’re trying to apply the same tactic to our lives.
Machines have taken over factories, yet we’re trying to apply the same production principles to humans. We’re not machines. For a time, we thought it was working…but there are cracks in the foundation, and I am here with a sledgehammer. When we keep the tradition alive of doing MORE without considering what that means and what it’s doing to us, we are contributing to hustle culture. And when we do that, I truly believe burnout follows.
I go deeper into this connection in episode 61, Freedom from the Hustle, which I encourage you to queue up after this.
What is Productivity to Me?
For me, being productive means opening up space in my life for what matters. I learned firsthand just how critical this is when I was a caregiver for my mother. While I started out focused on efficiency, that time with her helped me discover a much bigger and better reason for being productive and a way to redefine how I approach it. I share my full story of caregiving in episode 34, but I’ll give you a quick summary here:
For nearly five years, I was a primary caregiver to my mother. A challenging situation under any circumstances, my time with her was compounded by the aggressive and unforgiving disease of Alzheimer’s and two pregnancies, which thankfully gave me two healthy children. I was also running a business with my husband as well as freelancing. I was a wife, mom, and business owner — an unusual “sandwich caregiver” – caught between a parent and very young children – with no discernable room left for me.
Life was like a game of Tetris, continually gaining speed while I frantically scrambled to put things in their place. I took over as the family matriarch, handling my Mom’s health, financial, and social needs along with my own and my family’s. I made appointments, shopped, cooked, cleaned, and basically kept our family going. Sleep was limited and my health suffered. I experienced the debilitating strain of mental load and physical exhaustion.
For years, I lived in this survival mode and faced each day the best I could, and the experience affected me profoundly. I am more compassionate and patient than I ever thought I could be and I see the world so differently now.
At the time, being productive was necessary for survival, as was letting go of expectations. I planned ahead each week, scheduled everything, and tracked my life through multiple notebooks. Lists were my life, and they still are! I embraced shortcuts and used the words “easy,” “simple,” and “fast” in my searches for every task possible. I became an unapologetic shortcut aficionado because I needed to be that way, but I still choose the simpler options to this day for different reasons. Once my caregiving days were done and survival mode had lifted, I realized I had a second chance to design my life instead of letting it be by default. And I saw how many productivity principles could help me do that.
I can see clearly how productivity practices not only helped me survive but were key to helping me thrive. What I learned during this time was that I had decisions to make. When you’re forced to let go of things, you can identify what wasn’t necessary in the first place. And as you rebuild your life, you get to decide what you allow in and don’t.
What’s the Goal of Being More Productive?
Simplifying was my #1 goal, and it still is. I aggressively decluttered my personal space and schedule and explored various ways I could get things done with not only less effort but more value. I had been forced to minimize my calendar while caregiving, and now I do so voluntarily. It’s instinctual for us to fill an opening, or feel obligated to create space for others, but my intentional choice NOT to has given me space I didn’t know I needed…space that has allowed me to breathe and helped me heal, which I am still doing years later.
Walking my own productivity talk has helped me get through some tremendously difficult times with far less stress and impact than you might expect. Our family was hit hard financially after caregiving, and things got worse when my husband lost his job. We then moved across the state, downsizing by over 60%, we started over in a new community. I did so with two moving vans, the smallest storage unit and without any changes to my business other than to shift some in-person clients to Zoom. We then went through a pandemic shortly after our move, followed by some major health scares for a few of family members, as well as multiple family deaths. We have grieved so much. We have also experienced incredible joy and designed and built a place for our family to live and create musically and artistically. We play in a band together with friends and I’ve been able to be fully present for my children’s art and music endeavors (which have helped them heal). Every day we experience reminders of what’s truly important and I’m grateful for the space and flexibility in my schedule, the batch processing I have done, and the systems I have in place. All of these things give me the space to create and heal.
Being truly productive–not “busy”– allows you to be proactive instead of reactive. It gives you the opportunity to choose things that are critical to your happiness and well-being: what you want to be, to do, and to have. And then it gives you the space to go after those things and a fighting chance to actually get them.
Productivity is not about doing more. It’s a means to live more.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about productivity from Franz Kafka that I’ve had on my website for years. “Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.” So I ask you this: What’s something you’ve never been able to do before? What’s something in your heart? Your soul? A dream of yours? Or something you truly need or desire that you haven’t found the time to do.
I would love for you to message me–which you can do from the Connect page of my website–to let me know what being productive really means to and for you.