What Productive People Know that Others Don’t
Productivity is Undeniably Spiritual
Sometimes, I let my mind wander. I let it go wherever it wants, without trying to control it. If I’m being honest about it, I don’t really initiate it, it just happens. When it does, it appears to the onlooker like I’m just staring off into space. But really, I’m digging.
I’m digging for some pearls of truth. I’m digging for a better understanding of myself, and for a better understanding of reality — and how I fit into it. I’m paying attention to the tumultuous sea of my desires, emotions, and thoughts. It continues to happen because my mind just does it. I continue to let it happen because I always find value in it.
Believe it or not, this wandering, this gazing off into space, helps me to be more productive. It took me a while to realize why, but lately I’ve stumbled upon something about the phenomenon of productivity that I feel motivated to share.
When it comes down to it, productivity is a spiritual endeavor. You can try all the hacks, tools, and tricks that you like, but none of it will make you more productive unless you do the spiritual work to make it meaningful.
What Do I Mean by “Spiritual”?
When I say that productivity is spiritual, all I mean is that whether or not you are productive over the long term has a lot to do with the deepest part of your sense of self.
It’s not some part of your brain that neurologists study. It’s not the neurons and gray matter that’s pretty much the same for everyone. It’s not objective and public in nature. It can’t really be studied in a lab.
It’s individual, private, intimate. It’s drenched in specific desires, emotions, and pieces of inseparable identity that are undeniably you.
You know that feeling you get when you embrace the person you love most after a long absence? Could you ever convey that to someone else with mere words — exactly as you feel it? Probably not.
How about your deepest burning desires, your sense of purpose, your secret longings? Again, no review of the current psychological literature will give you or others insight about just what that feels like to you.
But that’s the part of ourselves that matters more than anything in being a productive person. When you tap that deep longing for purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, you get a motivation that surpasses what any kind of life-hack or new morning routine alone provides.
In fact, any cute new hack or ritual is only going to help you be more productive if it reaches down and touches that part of you that fuels your deepest sense of purpose.
Productivity = Purpose + Patience
Productivity is only superficially about getting a lot of things done. At a deeper level, it’s about doing the most valuable things you can. This may involve only doing a few things, rather than a whole bunch. At times, this may feel like you’re less productive than you might want to be. But you need to be okay with that.
That’s what separates the sprinters from the marathoners in the world of productivity — a tolerance for slow times, speedbumps, and roadblocks. Those who get frustrated by the various impediments to the speedy checking off of to-do lists are just not mature enough yet. Productive people have patience. They are not forever on the lookout for tricks and hacks.
Why are productive people so patient? It’s because they’ve done the spiritual work. They have a sense of purpose that far outstrips any short-term metrics or momentum.
Take a Long AND Wide View on Goals
The most productive people take not only a long view on goals, but also a wide view. What this means is that they are patient about getting to where they’re going, but they are also inclusive in what constitutes the destination of their journey. They are willing to stop and ask themselves: did I actually want to get something slightly different than I initially thought?
Productive people are willing to revise their goals based on new information. They are willing to question their vision, rather than blindly raging toward some specific desire they formulated long ago.
I have said that productivity is spiritual, and this wide view of goals is part of that. Your sense of purpose, and your drive for fulfillment are not about specific things. So when you try to tie them to very specific careers, specific metrics, and specific accomplishments, you do yourself a tremendous disservice. You become obsessed with something that my no longer present you with any value — it merely becomes a fixation without value. I could thing of nothing less productive than blindly chasing an obsession.
Learn to Care
At the end of the day, I think we have to adjust what we mean by the term “productive”. Much like Solon said of happiness — that we should “count no man as happy until he is dead” — perhaps we shouldn’t count anyone as productive until they’ve lived their lives. Upon looking back, we can see if there has been real value added — if a purpose has been fulfilled. Otherwise, it was just so much busy work.
But you can know that you’re on the right track. If you care about what you’re doing — not as a means to an end, but as a genuinely necessary component of living your life well — it’s hard not to be productive. I think that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about passion. It’s really just caring deeply about what you do. And honestly, that’s a spiritual thing. No psychological theories can give that to you — it takes real spiritual work on your part.
Perhaps you too will let your mind wander. And if people accuse you of doing nothing but staring off into space — defy them to join you for a minute. They might just find something valuable there.
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