How I’ve Changed My Productivity Narrative To Become More Effective

The quest for greater productivity is one of internet culture’s longest-lasting and most influence trends.

“Life hacks” teach us how to shave a few seconds off of common tasks so we can fit more work into our days.

Even my daughter became enamored with life hacks around age 10. To be fair, she wasn’t trying to work more. She loved the clever—completely unnecessary—uses of household objects to solve common “problems.” But I could still see how her kid brain would soon morph into a teenage brain. And with it, become obsessed with hacking her way to a little more productivity.

I do legitimately love to produce. And, I also know that I’ve learned to optimize for productivity because that’s how capitalist culture values me. It’s how I’ve learned to value myself.

“Productive” becomes a key part of my identity, equating Who I Am with What I Produce.

Halfway through last year, I did a big strategy session with Charlie Gilkey. I wanted to figure out how to move forward after a key revenue stream had been completely upended by the pandemic. I told him how exhausted I was and how I just couldn’t seem to keep my head above water.

He asked me about how I was spending my time and how many hours I was working.

I told him that occasionally I worked a 9 or 10-hour day. But mostly I worked about 8 hours per day and clocked in around the culturally acceptable 40 hours per week. In that time, I was producing a weekly podcast, writing a weekly newsletter, hosting mastermind sessions, doing events for What Works, and more. And that was just the first business I was running. I was also meeting with YellowHouse.Media clients, editing scripts, and documenting procedures for a second business.

The problem was not productivity. It was not time management.

I didn’t need to do more.

The problem was what I was doing and how effective that work was.

That’s not to say that I was doing bad work or that I wasn’t good at what I was doing. It’s not to say that I wasn’t effective.

I allowed my ability to produce, and produce, and produce to override my capacity to discern whether what I was producing was the right thing to produce—that was the real issue.

Later in the year, I had a come-to-Jesus moment about how I was actually spending my time. I’d made it through the bulk of 2020’s challenges. Now it was time to plan for what would be next.

I knew that a key part of that would be reallocating my time and stripping away any activities that were more draining to me than they were beneficial to the businesses. So I created a time budget based on my most important tasks for both companies. Then, I set revenue projections based on operating within that time budget. And I set some new “rules” for myself.

I learned that one of the biggest things sucking up my time and draining my energy was task-switching. I felt like I was always “on call.”

It was a type of emotional labor that left me unfocused, ineffective, and depleted.

So I decided to no longer leave my inbox open all day. I would turn off Slack notifications so they didn’t disrupt me if I was in flow. I would reclaim my time-blocking which I had let slip in The Year of White-Knuckling.

In other words, I gave myself permission to focus.

And that felt really good. It also created the kind of environment I needed to produce more remarkable work.

As I went along, I noticed myself defaulting to language that described what I was doing within the narrative of productivity. It was so familiar, so pervasive, that I didn’t know how else to describe it.

And yet, I wasn’t making decisions about becoming more productive.

I was already more productive than I needed to be. I was more productive than I should be.

My level of productivity was exactly what was causing so many of my personal problems in the first place!

Once I noticed this, I changed the language. I would catch myself using a productivity narrative, stop myself, and rework what I was describing through a narrative of effectiveness.

My goal wasn’t to be more productive.

My goal was to be more effective.

I defined effectiveness as being able to have the energy and emotional bandwidth for important social interactions (with clients, with team members, with partners). Effectiveness is also being rested and fed enough to create things that are exciting to me and others. It’s having confidence that what I spend my time and energy on is going to produce results—however I decide to define those results.

Effectiveness might not be the perfect variable to solve for in a completely humane culture, either. I might inadvertently twist my definition of effectiveness into a tool of capitalist or supremacy culture, too.

But, for me, having a variable other than productivity to solve for has, at the least, sparked more creative ways to look at my time and responsibilities.

It’s helped me to take a break from trying to squeeze more in and embrace doing less so I can be more effective. It’s given me a way to define productivity so that it seems much less appealing because it’s, by my definition, just not necessarily effective.

Prioritizing effectiveness is giving me a better way to define my capacity and uphold the boundaries around it.

If this shift resonates with you, I invite you to consider how your time, responsibilities, and priorities would change if you prioritized effectiveness over productivity.

And if effectiveness still gives you hustle culture shivers, what other priority could you use as a focal point or filter for yourself? Creativity? Rest? Connection?

There are so many other ways we can focus our time and filter our choices than productivity. And each one has the power to dramatically change the way we approach our lives and businesses, as well as improve our satisfaction and sense of purpose.

I’ve spent the last few years really dissecting and understanding my unhelpful relationship to things like productivity, goals, and even planning. And little by little, I’ve constructed a new way of relating to how I work and what I’m planning for. In a nutshell, it’s planning for progress, not perfection.

I’ve created a 100+ page program guide & workbook that invites you into this process to and guides you through deconstructing & rebuilding your relationship to goals, plans, habits, and more. It’s called The Commitment Blueprint. When you purchase it, you also get the customizable Leadership Dashboard planning template (for Notion and in PDF) so that you can continue to build that new relationship every single day as you manage your work.

Click here to learn more!

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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