In my free guide ‘Getting Unstuck’ I write about 4 mental tricks and traps that can keep you stuck and get in the way of you creating the life you want. Here’s another one that can trip you up: Productivity

What does productivity mean? In general, to me it means you are doing things to work toward a specific goal, for the achievement of something. There can be all kinds of goals, but in my experience I have always perceived the term to be associated with external, socially defined goals of success — anything to do with working toward getting more money, status, prestige etc. or keeping your personal affairs looking good and socially acceptable — cleaning, working out, keeping up with the Jones’s type stuff.

Here’s why, in my experience, I think it’s a trap.

1. I don’t really care.

Most of these activities, when I get really quiet and honest with myself, I admit I don’t really care about. In and of themselves they don’t have any value to me and I don’t enjoy doing them. Society has told me that by doing them, by accomplishing the goals laid out for me, I will be happy. But this is not true. Happiness does not come from more money or status or making sure your life looks good on the outside.

2. We organize and evaluate the “success” of our days based on how many of these activities we get done.

Yikes. We tend to just blindly do these things because then we’ll be “productive” and we’ve picked up in society that people who are more productive are somehow better. So we keep up the ‘doing’ and all these activities end up being how we spend our WHOLE LIVES. Yup, you’ll be on your death bed and you did ALL THE THINGS you were told to do. Gold Star….Actually, in reality you will never even get the Gold Star. You will die with a to-do list. It’s that prolific.

3. Feeling “good enough” ends up being tied up in how productive you are.

Related to number 2. Because we’ve been taught that productivity and being busy is a virtue, especially when it comes to our business/career, we think the busier we are the better we are. Some see how busy they are as something to brag about. Their ego is involved. This is sad to me. Because your worth is not your productivity. And you’re missing out on your life by being so busy.

4. You’re using “keeping busy” to distract you from what’s really going on.

When something bad happens to someone we tell them to “keep busy.” Why? Because we hope it will distract them from the pain. It may serve to do that, but in reality it won’t make the pain go away. It will linger there waiting for them until they stop “being busy” and confront and process the pain. And so they don’t want to stop. Ever. There are people who say they need to always be doing something or they go nuts/get stir crazy/it’s not good for them. It’s possible this is just who they are and it’s coming from a healthy desire to do the things they do, but it’s also possible they are really saying “I don’t want to look at my stuff and my issues that are uncomfortable so I need to run from them by keeping busy.” When this is the case, there’s no clarity for your life. You’re being controlled by your pain.

So, how do we not fall prey to the productivity trap? I’ve applied and like to practice the following.

1. Try to stop some of your mindless doing.

I think that deep down you might have a sense that there has to be more to life than doing all the things. You don’t need to do all these things to be happy. For everything you do, you can ask, do I really need to do it? Is it something I like doing? I will admit that there may be some things you don’t like to do, but still need to do, so we’re striving for balance here.

2. Re-define productivity in terms of happiness.

What if we made the goal happiness? What if being productive meant I am doing things that make me happy? What if we evaluate the success of our day in terms of happiness? This actually seems to me like a much easier and logical way to spend our time than trying to constantly achieve all the goals and living up to all the expectations society has set for us.

3. Become more willing to confront your feelings.

Try to be more reflective about why staying busy is so important to you. Get curious. What’s behind the need to stay so busy? What don’t you want to feel? Try to become more aware of what’s really going on.

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