Sit down.  

Close your eyes.

Hear me saying the word, slack.

What’s the emotion that rises up in you?

If you’re anything like most of my clients, ambitious, high-achieving go-getters, the emotion that you’re experiencing is not a pleasant one. We’ve been conditioned to think of slack as slacking off, being lazy and complacent – all qualities that are Kryptonite to those of us who want to create a powerful life for ourselves and others.

My client, Jason, is the CEO of a multi-million dollar tech startup. His goal is to grow his company to a billion dollars, while being fully present for his marriage, kids, and his own emotional, physical and spiritual health. Does that sound like a tall order?

It is.

But it’s entirely possible if we are willing to go about it in a different way than the one most of us think is the right way. This alternative system is so counterintuitive, we don’t even want to experiment with it. It’s a system that goes against everything we have learned from society about success and productivity.

Jason is an ideal client because he is committed to doing his part in our work. His part is to “test not trust.” My job is to share systems I’ve seen work for myself and others, and his commitment is to testing and experimenting with new ideas, even when he doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the courage.  

For so many of us, whatever habits and behaviors brought us to a present level of success in our lives, are simply not sufficient to take us to the next higher level we desire. I see this pattern when a functional manager is promoted to a chief executive position, and he continues to solely rely on the skills he mastered to become an excellent manager. Those skills of managing tasks, directing his team, and working progressively longer hours, ironically are now the exact obstacles in her way to becoming a powerful leader. Unless she uses a new system, one that gives context and meaning to her hours from a different perspective, she will be unsuccessful in her role as a chief executive.

The same applies for each of us, whether we are leading one person (ourselves), a family, or an organization of thousands.

I belong to the Productivity Generation. For those of us who in the seventies and eighties were absorbing the media’s definition of what a successful person (in my case, woman) is, I present to you two hilarious but sadly true examples of the heroes we were to emulate:

Do more, achieve more. And of course, do it all masterfully, while appearing relaxed and sexy, the Calgon and Enjoli women remind us.

That’s the memo most of us received from society and media before we were in first grade. I had the good fortune of not internalizing that expectation when I was young  because I was born and raised in Iran till age 11 and life had a very different cadence in Iran. But it didn’t take long after we immigrated to the United States for me to understand that in this new world, successful people are always busy and if I want to be a member of this coveted group I need to justify my hours and days by always doing something. That was called being productive and it was the 11th commandment.

Thou shalt be productive.

If you don’t think it’s true, show me your calendar. What I’m likely to see are columns representing days, weeks and months that are jam packed with appointments of one kind or another. For so many people who are simultaneously responsible for managing a home, parenting and a job or career, it’s even worse because half the “things” they need to do are held in their heads and not written down on a calendar.  

What does being productive actually mean? Webster will give you a more eloquent definition but any way you slice it, we’ve been conditioned to believe that productivity boils down to our ability to be efficient and get shit done.  

Where so many of us went astray is, over time, we made our ability to get shit done equal to our worth. Also, we’re not getting the right shit done effectively and impactfully.

Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same.

Most of us know about FOMO and FOPO, but in my world, my clients don’t care so much about missing out (FOMO) or other people’s opinion (FOPO). What gets in the way of their goal, which is often the same one as Jason’s goal, to be successful at work while making regular deposits in all of their Life Buckets ( ) is FOSO!  

Fear of Slacking Off!

Any open spaces on their calendar triggers deep feelings of insecurity and self doubt. “I am not doing enough,” often cunningly morphs into two primary thoughts from which  feelings of fear, anxiety, doubt cascade.

Those two thoughts are, “I am not enough,” and “I am falling behind.”

It doesn’t matter that these beliefs are often untrue. They are powerful enough to push us back on the hamster wheel of the old Productivity game.

I don’t have a bone to pick with the concept of being productive. That’s not what this blog is about. I am making the assumption that anyone who is in my community and therefore reading this, is already a very productive human!

I’m inviting you to look at productivity in a new way – one that will trigger your FOSO, but ultimately make your days, months and life so much more impactful.

What if the filter through which you decide what takes precious space on your calendar and gets a Hell Yes from you is no longer about checking off every task on your To Do list, but rather being impactful by doubling down on the duties, desires and responsibilities that are personally meaningful to you and leave your footprint on the world around you? 

How would the entire landscape of your life change if instead of asking, “Am I being productive?” you ask, “Am I being impactful?”

To be clear this exercise won’t work if you haven’t already spent time identifying the life buckets that matter most to you. ( ). However, once you have that clarity, it will make sense to do less and create more. 

More impact. More meaning. More purpose. More relationships that matter. More health. More fun. More prosperity.  

Look around at the people and companies who are truly prosperous. They’re not hustling. They are creating products and services that make a difference in people’s lives. The higher a leader’s position in the organization, the more open and spacious her schedule. Warren Buffet famously says, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”  What is left unsaid is saying no and leaving space in our day, month and year makes room for saying Hell Yes to what truly and uniquely creates meaning and impact.

My client Jason’s goal is one we all desire. We all want to experience our hours, days and lives feeling integrated, whole, and yes, productive. Our worth has nothing to do with our productivity, so let’s remove that from the table. But our sense of life purpose and meaning is absolutely tied to the impact we feel we are making on others and the world at large.

We cannot identify the wheat of impactful work from the chaff of an overflowing to-do list if there are no white spaces on our calendar for thinking, reflecting, and planning purposefully.

We call these white spaces, slack, and the most successful and impactful people in the world have always known it’s power. Scientific data supports the fact that during reflection – openings when we step out of doing to just being – we are not thinking logically and analyzing data; we are using the part of our brain that combines our imagination, creativity, and boundless resourcefulness. This part of our brain has so much more capacity to innovate than the “To Do List” part of our brain can attempt to create while we rush like automatons from one task to another. When we create slack in our day, we are making space for our body, mind and soul to come together in a miraculous partnership and identify what will create the most value, joy and impact in our one unique and precious life.

It wasn’t easy for Jason to experiment with this new system. The ingrained beliefs and thoughts of his past kept popping up and making him anxious. But Jason was committed to this experiment for 6 months and that’s all the time it took for him to see the extraordinary and positive results in all areas of his life. 

His business did not become a billion dollar company within 6 months but it also did not suffer and go to hell as he feared it might if he created more slack in his life. Over time, not only did he achieve his financial and business goals, but more importantly, he transformed into a far more relaxed, thoughtful and impactful leader, husband and parent. Jason often tells me that the precious feeling of being in the flow of his life can’t be bought with the billion dollars that was his long time goal. He’s happy to have both.

Jason has found Josh Kaufman’s warning in his book, The Personal MBA to be true; “So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.”

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  • Carolyn Mahboubi

    Master Certified Life and Leadership Coach

    Carolyn Mahboubi is a Master Certified Life and Leadership Coach. She has helped countless individuals, from high-achieving CEOs to world-renowned entrepreneurs, take the next step to achieve their goals. Explore their unique stories. Carolyn is also the creator of The Life Vault, a self-paced online course to creating a life with purpose and intention. Connect with Carolyn: LinkedIn | Instagram