If I asked you what being productive means to you, what springs to mind?
Is it a full schedule? Getting things done? Blasting through everything on your to-do list?
Crossing things off, or seeing a long satisfying list of check-marks?
This seems to be a commonly accepted definition of productivity – getting lots of tasks completed in a short amount of time.
I used to think that’s what being productive was too.
I love lists, and I love the feeling of accomplishment. It’s just so satisfying to finish things off and put a check in the completed box, isn’t it?
These days though, I look at productivity quite differently.
Redefining being productive
To me, being productive isn’t about getting ALL the things done.
I believe it’s about getting the RIGHT things done. The things that have a positive impact on my life.
But it’s even more than that.
It’s not just about things, and it’s not just about getting them “done”.
To me, being productive means making progress.
Productivity to me isn’t just about completing things. It’s about starting – and then keeping the momentum going. For me, this means taking small steps and tackling small tasks.
If I have 15 things on my to-do list, and then get them all ticked off. Is that being productive? Not always – it depends upon whether those things were important.
Being productive means asking myself whether the things I’m doing are getting me closer to where I want to be. Or am I filling my time with busy-work – perhaps as a distraction, or a way of procrastinating?
And that means being honest with myself about what the important things are.
It’s important to me to spend my time intentionally, in line with my personal values.
For me the important things include quality time with loved ones, maintaining a calm and welcoming home, working towards personal goals, and taking care of my health and well-being.
I see myself as being productive if I am spending my time in a way that aligns with my values
That doesn’t always mean getting a lot completed in a day.
When it comes to my to-do list if I have 5 tasks I want to get done, and I work through the first 3 important things, I consider that a successful, productive day.
Taking a lunchtime walk with my son, having a cup of tea while reading a few chapters of a book, or enjoying a few minutes of quiet in the garden listening to the birds and the feeling of the sun on my face, may not seem like traditionally productive things to do. But they are things that align with my values. They are things I want to do and make time for. They are things that have a positive impact on my life.
Anything that I do, any small step I take towards the life I want to live, is progress. And to me, that’s being productive.
Do you want to redefine productivity too?
Remember that being productive looks different for everyone.
As well as considering what being productive means to you specifically, it can be helpful to challenge some other popular ideas about productivity.
You don’t need more time to be productive
It’s no secret that we all feel short on time, and it can be easy to fall into the “if only I had more time I’d accomplish x, y, or z” mindset.
To counter this, focus on the time you do have rather than the time you don’t – and use the time do you have available to you intentionally.
Being able to resist distractions stay focused on the task at hand is the key to making progress, not more time.
Read more: Simple ways to deal with distractions
Remember, small steps and simple tasks are just as important as the bigger, grander, sexier ones when it comes to fulfiling your goals.
You don’t have to get up at 5 am (or earlier!) to be productive
There’s a lot of buzz about mega-successful people and “goal-crushers” getting up super early to blast through a long list of tasks before most of us have even got out of bed.
However, what’s important isn’t the time you get up, but utilising your time wisely.
This means knowing when your peak energy levels are.
If you are a genuine morning person who enjoys waking up early, then yes, this is often a great time to get important things done.
But if your energy levels peak at 10am, 2pm, 6pm, or later, then try to take advantage of this by tackling tasks that require focus or concentration during these times.
Now, not all of us have the ability to fully control our schedule to decide when things happen during the day, or the luxury of large amounts of interrupted time to get things done.
If this is the case, small blocks of time and small tasks are your friends – as well as the ability to focus and deal with distractions when they arise.
You don’t need to follow strict routines to be productive
Overall, I love routines and I believe that there are many positive reasons to incorporate routines into your life.
Firstly, routines will help you be intentional in the way you spend your time. You can be proactive instead of reactive and prioritise the things that are important to you.
Routines help you keep on top of the things you have to do, as well as the things you want to do. The structure and boundaries of routines help you to stay focused and help your life feel calmer.
BUT flexibility and self-compassion are important.
Routines are a sequence of events – they don’t have to be timed, or follow a strict by-the-minute timetable. We are human beings, not machines, and our energy levels fluctuate from day to day and week to week.
Some days it will take longer to do things than other days. Some days certain things won’t get done at all. And that’s okay.
When you are intentional about how you spend your time, when you are doing the things that you want to do, as well as the things your need to do, you are making progress.
Read more: How Routines Will Improve Your Life
To recap, for me being productive means spending time intentionally – in a way that aligns with my values.
It means making progress, however small, towards fulfilling my goals, and the life I want to live.
Do you feel the same?
What does being productive mean to you?