Productivity Problems? Get Honest With Yourself

I recently received an email from an attorney who expressed great frustration with her inability to become as productive as she’d like. Her email was a lengthy explanation of her situation and contained a fairly complete analysis of the different factors impeding her progress in this area. Her main culprit, she said, was her email inbox. She complained bitterly about how long it took to go through this mail and respond to the few threads she thought merited a response. She just couldn’t understand why it was the way it was – or what she had to do to fix it. Her problem, in a nutshell, she described as a “lack of information.”

I feel so strongly for this woman! This is a universal problem for solos of all stripes. And it’s an emotional one – we feel robbed of our time and energy when we realize we’re spending all of both on items that don’t fulfill us or move our dreams forward.  Certainly, in a time when people are declaring “email bankruptcy,” we can all appreciate her antipathy towards her inbox – heck, most of us probably share it!

But as much as I feel for anyone in this situation, I also know there’s a problem in the way this woman sees the problem. How do I know this? Because I see her emails – they’re more properly described as letters, I think – frequently over 15 paragraphs long, incredibly well written, amazingly helpful to the person who initiated the thread to which the woman’s responding. There’s a ton of value in her emails!

So what’s the problem? It’s not the kind of value she wants to create. The problem, in short, is one of self-honesty: she sees her problem as other-imposed. I see it as self-directed. She doesn’t have to respond with missives. She doesn’t have to respond at all. She chooses to, because it gives her something in return. Now, realize, please – there is absolutely no value judgment here. The choices themselves are neutral in value – the value is in how well the choice matches up with your intentions.

If I choose to lose weight, but I keep eating cake and ice cream, there’s no match-up here. This is a problem.  If I choose instead to eat properly but never exercise, there’s a slightly better match-up but it’s not optimal. When I choose to make all my actions support that goal of losing weight, I’ve reached the optimal state of productivity.

The problem? None of us are ever going to reach that optimal state 24/7/365. We’re all going to stumble a bit. Frankly, I think the occasional stumble is important – it makes life interesting, more valuable, and more “educational”! (I know I learn the most from my failures, not my successes.) We each have to choose where, on that spectrum, we want to fall. What suits me may not suit you. And vice versa. And that’s the way it should be.

So bottom line: you have to get honest with yourself about (A) your intentions, (B) your actions, and (C) how well (B) supports (A), if you want to achieve real productivity.  How to do this – the tricks and tips – can and do fill endless volumes. I’m not sure the mechanics are as important, though, as truly understanding that one simple equation: how well does B support A?  Only a thoroughly honest answer is going to help you there.

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