There’s quite a lot of chatter about what celebrities and tech gurus do early in the morning to be more productive and kick ass during the day. From meditations to sport to answering emails, to tackling the most important tasks of the day first.
These things are all meant to make you a more productive homo sapiens, as if that mattered. Yes, you can be a productive modern animal who checks off items from a to do list and calls it a day when the list is empty. Like a good little mindless pet of the productivity-oriented machinery, you track your stats and marvel at how productive you are.
All the while feeling like shit at the end of the day. You’ve checked all the boxes, haven’t you? Have you meditated? Did you do your Yoga exercises? What about drinking that healthy green tea? Check, check and check.
So what gives?
Believe or not, there’s no direct correlation between productivity and happiness. I submit though that there is a direct correlation between being unhappy and being unproductive.
It happens when you do things that don’t matter to you. When you accept distractions into your schedule and especially when you allow other people to control your schedule, with pointless meetings and tasks that bring you no satisfaction even after you complete them.
I’m by no means a celebrity or tech guru, so maybe take the following with a grain of salt. You shouldn’t listen to what everyone is saying anyway, and instead figure out what works for you.
How I start my day
I have a living, breathing alarm called Scooby. He’s a big dog with a big heart and even bigger morning needs. I can always rely on him to wake me up at around 7am. A quick walk around the nearby park with him is my morning exercise. Followed by coffee and reading. For about an hour. Really any book I get my hands on, from Dan Brown to Stephen Hawking. This is my white space — no emails, no computers, no phones.
My work day starts. I open my to do list and decide then and there what I want to do that day. I don’t plan my day weeks or months in advance. Not even the day before. There’s something to starting my day with an empty list and ending with an empty list that gives me comfort and joy.
I rarely prioritize this list. If it ended up on the list, it’s probably important, so why rank importance? Instead, I choose to start the work day with things that I can finish the fastest. I call these my quick wins because finishing them will earn me momentum. There’s nothing like having momentum to give me the desire to start the next thing on my list.
At the end of the day, I will invariably end up with an empty list. More often than not, I still have energy and want to do more things. So I might create some tasks then or pick something from my backlog. I am however free to not do that and instead read a book, play a game, go for a run or ride my bike.
I don’t have to fill my days to the rim and I don’t want to either. I’m happy just to do the important things, the things that matter to me and that I consider great work. And I do my best to avoid everything else. I quickly found out that I cannot be productive or happy doing things I do not enjoy.
I try to push back on all the meetings.
I try to delegate tasks I don’t like to colleagues that might do.
I fail a lot of the times and this leads to burnout. It’s never that I hate my job or what I do. It’s the things I don’t enjoy about my job that bring morale down and kill momentum. This is what brings about burnout for me.
I don’t think I can avoid everything I don’t enjoy, but if I can shift the balance more towards the things I do, then I know I will have optimized for happiness.