As we enter into this new decade, I wanted to reflect on something that I’ve been thinking a lot about this year – productivity. Now, I’d like to preface this piece by saying that I’m not going to give you 5 tips to be more productive, nor am I going to give you 3 tools to increase your productivity. Our incredible team of Sohuis contributors have loads of content dedicated towards everything relating to helping you become a productivity ninja.

In this post, I wanted to take a broader look at productivity and share some personal experiences with you that I’ve learned this year that could help you think differently about how you’re going to show up for yourself in 2020 and beyond. 

First and foremost, I wanted to share that I’ve learned that productivity is not the same as busy. And man – do we glorify being busy.

The other day I was cleaning out my bookshelf and I came across one of my old calendars/notebooks. This wasn’t any old calendar/notebook though, this was my calendar from the very first year Thomas and I launched our agency. That thing was so worn out, the pages were barely attached. It’s red, with one of those old school ties you wrap around it to close it, with a slot in the middle to insert a pencil. I kept that notebook for so many reasons, the primary being that it’s literally a time capsule from my first year as an entrepreneur (my naiveté leaps from the pages). It’s also the last year that I reluctantly gave up using a paper calendar, that’s a story for another day. Every single square is jam-packed with notes, meetings, calls, to-do’s, my entire life for a year lives in this historical text, and I will never throw that old notebook away. 

As I was reading through my days of 2013 (this way predates children), the only thing I could think about was time. I thought about how, during those days, I genuinely believed that I didn’t have enough of it, I could always use more of it, and I didn’t see it for what it truly is, currency. Truthfully, this was because I hadn’t developed a sense of how valuable my time was, which I would figure out as I evolved over the years.

I gave away my time like free balloons at a balloon festival and holy crap – was I tired. 

Tired in a different way that I am tired today (where my mamas at?), tired because I was so incredibly inefficient and unproductive. My days were so full, I literally had an event of some sort from sun up to sun down. Client calls, demos, networking events, parties, community events, pitch competitions – client work, you name it. I was so insanely busy, but I wasn’t necessarily productive, and I sure as shit wasn’t efficient.

Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t do great work – we did. But now that I’m on the other side of entrepreneurship having folded our agency and started a new company armed with my learnings and lessons, I now understand that time was, and is, my most valuable currency. 

This little story brings me to what I wanted to talk about now – productivity. It’s easy to understand the relationship between these two commodities, time and productivity. Without productivity, we waste time, and in theory, additional time gives us the ability to do more things. 

And in 2019, I feel like I finally learned the art of truly balancing productivity and time. Coincidentally, as my daughter gets older and becomes involved in more activities, it’s even more critical that I maintain this balance as much as possible. 

So as you embark on this next decade and season of change, whether you’re a small business owner or aspiring entrepreneur, here are a few things I figured out this year that I will continue to do in 2020 and beyond to increase my productivity and maximize my time:

I learned to unapologetically shut down and turn off my work when my mind and soul need it.

Also related, I hardly ever (ever) work more than 6 hours a day. For those of you slaving away working 15 hour days, I can feel your distain. Don’t worry, I did that for a loooong time too, (too long). Obviously this may not work for everybody with where they are in their careers, but it’s important to note that I have made a conscious choice to seek opportunities, clients and roles that allow me the flexibility to do this. I have turned down well-paying positions because it meant I wouldn’t have the flexibility of time, and I’ve learned over the years, since the days of my old red notebook, that I do not function well as a human being if I cannot take a break and reclaim my time. This has lead me down a unique and interesting professional path, but necessary for me, to maintain my mental health, happiness and relationship with my work. 

Think I’m crazy for working less hours and not slaving away at my business like I did before? Take a look at what Microsoft has done in Japan. Microsoft tested a 4-day work week during the month of August and gave all of their employees Fridays off (while paying them their full salary), and you know what they discovered – a productivity increase of 40%. 

Humans are not designed to be machines with focused outputs for extended periods of time. In fact, a recent study showed that the traditional 8-hour work day is a completely irrelevant and antiquated way of working. Our brains actually crave 1 hour of work time and 15-minutes of rest. When is the last time you could feel yourself getting tired at work, but you pushed through to make your quota, or you worked through your lunch break because it made you feel more productive? 

I explicitly seek professional opportunities that allow me to work from home majority of the time for this exact reason. I don’t work from home so I can answer emails in my pajamas (although that’s pretty awesome). I work from home so that I can take a quick 15-minute break and fold some laundry, or run an errand, to give my brain some time to recharge and relax. 

For almost 2 decades I worked 12-15+ hour days, so trust me when I say I’ve been there. And I’m aware that not everyone can make similar choices that I have. I’m also aware that I have missed opportunities or passed up certain things in exchange for this time – which is something I accepted long ago. 

So, if you are in the position to reclaim your time, or you’re working towards a place where you can work in a similar fashion, know that your productivity is not based on the amount of time you dedicate – it’s about how you structure the time that you do spend. 

The other thing I learned this year is that slaving away at your business is unhealthy. 

Yes, it’s true that entrepreneurs have a hard time disconnecting from their businesses. But when you become a slave to your business, your business ends up running you, where it should be the other way around. As entrepreneurs, the core of our identities gets associated with our company, and during that process, it’s so easy to absorb your entire self into your work. 

I learned during the time of our agency that we were walking a tricky tight rope of muddying the waters between personal and business, and Thomas and I made a distinct choice to physically shut the doors to our home office and turn off our computers around 3pm on Friday afternoon. Everyone thought we were crazy.

In fact, someone once told me that if I wasn’t working on my business 24/7, I wasn’t a “real” entrepreneur. 

To that I said, “ugh, yea…but I like sleep, and travel, and spending time with the ones I care about. And If I can’t be present and enjoy these simple pleasures of life, what does it matter how successful I am?” If success comes at the price of alienating yourself from everyone you know (your kids, your family, your friends, whoever is important to you) – then, was it really worth it? 

I share this with you because I want you to know that it’s okay to set your business down for a minute.

It’s okay, healthy and encouraged to take breaks and stop for 5-minutes to smell the roses and admire how far you’ve come. I recently partnered with The Boss Project and spoke at a virtual conference on how to maximize your marketing for the holidays, and my session was on how to realistically commit to your goals in 2020 and beyond. In that session, I stressed that everyone forgets that success is the culmination of a million little steps – it’s the tiny steps that add up to the large leaps. And while everyone else only sees the large leaps, you are living alongside your tiny steps. 

So as you think about entering into the New Year with your ambitious goals and aspirations, I implore you to make a personal agreement with yourself that you will focus on productivity over busyness, and you will work to reclaim your time, giving yourself, your soul, and your mind a few breaks along the way. Don’t worry, we’ll all get there in the end, it’s important to enjoy the scenery along the way.  

More about this post can be found here.