You don’t always have to be productive

Productivity means making every minute count, which implies that every minute not spent in active pursuit of a goal is wasted.

Getting sleep, socializing at work, and geeking out over sports or hobbies can be seen as lazy or unproductive.  Yet science tells us that sleep enhances cognitive abilities and compounds our ability to focus.  Despite technological innovations, 80% of jobs are still acquired via connections to friends and colleagues and not online applications.

It’s difficult to quantify productivity here, but it’s worth noting that being attentive to our own mental and physical health and our relationships are effective in producing outcomes that we care about the most.  Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to produce something every moment.

Progress = fulfillment

The silver bullet message in my keynote speech on rapid learning and goal-setting is that nothing is more empowering, motivating, or sustainable than your belief in what’s possible.   And nothing makes you believe in possibility more than progress.

This doesn’t just apply to chasing a huge dream or a new skill.  You can shift your perspective and see every little thing you do as progress.

Even something like texting a friend jokes is an investment in the relationship.  Getting a great night of sleep is an investment in your physical and mental health.  Progress – no matter how small the steps.  The fastest path to a more fulfilling life is feeling that overall, you are a better version of yourself today than yesterday.

Jobs and problem-solving

Every consultant or employee is compensated for the value they add.  Their ability to solve relevant problems dictates their value.

When interviewing for jobs or obtaining career advice, minimize talk about the positions you’ve held, and talk more about the problems you’ve solved.  If whomever you speak with is confident that you are capable and motivated to deliver their outcomes, they will happily hire or refer you.

This is the supply-and-demand curve at work.  The best of the best have the most useful and most rare ability to solve problems that matter.

How habits make us

James Clear’s outstanding book Atomic Habits outlines how our habits are not goals to be met, but the things that make up our very identities.  Where you are financially or health-wise today is precisely the result of your prior habits.

There’s an obvious difference between “I do yoga” and “I did yoga”.  One implies that the practice is part of your identity or lifestyle.  Unlike goals (lose 10 pounds in a month for example), habits don’t have an end date.

There is tremendous power in creating new habits that serve us.  And again, unlike goals, every tiny action you take casts a vote for the person you wish to become.

Time management

For some, being a stickler for scheduling every activity feels rigid.  But a quick look at your calendar (or reflection if you don’t keep one) reveals your priorities. You vote with your actions, not with what you claim as important.

If it feels rigid to you, just remember that YOU are in charge of your calendar.  You can change it anytime to something that feels better.

The purpose of keeping a calendar and managing your time is to make sure that you allocate time for your most important items. The point then is to schedule your priorities, not just prioritize your schedule.

The journey

One way that ‘as-soon-as’ syndrome manifests itself is in our belief that we’ll finally be happy once we reach some goal.  Studies show that the gratification from achievement is surprisingly fleeting, even for a major life accomplishment.

The Buddhists have a thousand sayings that all translate to the cliche: ‘life is a journey, not a destination’.  They recognize that we’ll never really get “there” – that magic place where we’re finally happy and need nothing more.

An honest reflection reveals that some of our journeys brought more fulfillment than the achievements or the accolades.  As Miley Cyrus brilliantly sings: “It’s not about how fast I get there, it’s not about what’s waiting on the other side…it’s the climb.”

Luck and gratitude

When I take stock of any successes I’ve had, I realize that luck played a major role, and that I was fortunate to have the advantages I had. I could have been born a woman in a country where the treatment of women is appalling, or in a location devastated by war.

You can’t pick where, when, or to whom you’re born.  By sheer luck, I won the parent lottery without buying a ticket. I give my parents enormous credit for any of my successes, which includes coaching me through the failures.

For those of you fortunate enough to have your parents still with you, take the time to express gratitude.  In most cases, they did the best they could with what they had. In my case, they couldn’t have possibly done better.

Selfishly serving

There’s really no such thing as selfless or selfish.  Even those who “selflessly” dedicate themselves to the service of others do so because it makes them feel good.

Perhaps we need new words that recognize that everything we do is out of self-interest, but we can still feel good about serving ourselves and others.  Selfish and selfless imply that someone loses.

Or perhaps we could see certain kinds of selfishness as a virtue, and feel good serving others and ourselves and know that it doesn’t have to come at anyone’s expense.

The best tools I’ve found for getting through difficult times

BREATHWRK: Very simple, guided breathing exercises to change your physiology and help de-stress, oxygenate, and focus.

HOME GYM EXERCISES: I’m guessing you don’t need convincing on the value of exercise. No need for an actual home gym or equipment for this workout:

CONNECT WITH FRIENDS: Connection with those we love boosts our mood, deregulates the stress response, and actually improves your immune system.  For friends and family not nearby use Zoom.

HUMOR: Read or watch anything you find funny.  Laughter truly is the best medicine for your body.

My humble advice in trying times

In uncertain, even devastating times, it’s easy to get caught up in how surreal life feels when we see how quickly things can deteriorate.  I’m not a therapist and am not trying to play on the Internet.  Just some humble advice for friends coping with the pandemic or any hardship.

DON’T PANIC – Panicking has never improved a situation. Sometimes even over-reactions are appropriate, but panic has never caused anything good to happen to our health, economy, or ability to help others.  Do your best to stay grounded.
CREATE A PLAN – Spend the time you need in disbelief, denial, and anger about your circumstance.  It’s warranted. But then accept reality.  Focusing on a plan is the fastest path to feeling more in control.
OBSESS ONLY OVER THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL – This is smart advice regardless of circumstances. Getting mad at the weather simply diverts resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
DO THE BEST YOU CAN – WITH WHAT YOU HAVE – FROM WHERE YOU ARE – Read that again slowly.  Commit to taking inventory, using resources you do have, and moving forward.