You read that right: productivity is killing you.
Well, not literally. If it were literally killing you, we’d have to look at the apps that you’re using to track your tasks and see why they’re taking such a toll.
Figuratively, though, your desire to constantly be productive is, in fact, killing you. It’s no surprise, either – rather than producing better results, working long hours can actually backfire as a waste of time. We need to rethink the way we consider our productivity. Rather than as a means of constantly working because our overlords demand it, it’s time to see productivity as a way to be more efficient with our time.
Let me put it another way. There’s this phenomenon called Parkinson’s Law, where the amount of work that you have fits the time allotted to it. So if I’m lesson planning, and promise to get it done within 3 hours, you can bet that it’ll take me 3 hours – even if it’s only an hour of work. I’ll somehow procrastinate, maybe through perfectionism or from genuinely finding new things to do. Either way, it won’t be a good use of my time.
If you focus instead on the task at hand, and not on how long you’re going to spend on getting it done, you’ll start to be more efficient with your time, spend less time working, and get to doing what you love much, much faster. Otherwise, you’ll be swaying too far into the dangerous territory of over-optimising your time. Keep reading to find out what that is, why it’s so bad for us, and how to lead a happier life.
Over-optimising is killing you
- Made a revision timetable (good)
- Wrote to-do lists (good)
- Listed the topics that needed studying (also good)
- Planned to the exact minute when I’d be looking at each topic (uh-oh)
Those first three bullet points are good nuggets of wisdom, but they’re probably also pretty straightforward. It’s not exactly groundbreaking for me to reveal that revision timetables can be useful.
But that final bullet point wasn’t healthy – not in the slightest. I’d be dictating my entire life every day – including weekends in the run-up to exam season. I’d start working at X time and finish at Y time, with breaks mapped out too.
That’s what you call overdoing it.
Fortunately, I could stop when my exams had stopped. I wasn’t obsessed with planning out my time, but it would be so easy to fall into that mind frame – optimising your time for the rest of your life.
What’s the point in life without a little spontaneity? If you’re planning to meal prep one evening from 7pm-8:32pm, and a friend calls asking to meet – are you going to say no because you’ve already allotted that time to doing something else? Don’t do that; you’ll be miserable. Take it easy for once.
Over-planning is killing you
Likewise, I think it’s about time I retreaded some old ground that I’ve since changed my opinions on. Up until recently, I would plan out, in my Bullet Journal, what I’d be eating every day all month. This was incredibly useful for meal prepping and wouldn’t waste time cooking every evening, or making 3 medium-sized shops every week. Once I’d worked out what I’d eat and when, I could plot out when to go for a Big Shop and exactly what to get.
Did I let it stop me from mixing up my plans from time-to-time, say if a friend asked to get dinner together?
Of course not! Though, it did feel hugely inflexible. I decided to migrate the list to OneNote so that I could erase something if I changed my mind, without making a mess of my BuJo.
But the longer I stuck to these routines, the easier I found it to memorise a rough sort of guide to what I’d be eating every week. I no longer felt the need to write out my monthly plan. Now, I decide what I’m eating for the week ahead before going shopping, and after taking a look in my freezer and cupboards. It’s a load off my mind, and I feel a lot freer than before to actually mix up my food plans mid-week if I want.
I’d designed the meal plans out of a want to be productive. What I discovered was that there was no need, that it was stopping me from doing what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it.
Productivity is good; I stand by that. Trying to be productive all day long? Not so much.
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