Productivity articles and other forms of self-inflicted stress

are productivity tips making your working life more stressful than it needs to be?Sometimes it feels as though the minute we start creating, the world gets in the way. But have you ever wondered how much self-inflicted stress you’re soaking up? How many productivity articles or fancy new ideas might be tripping you up?

What we do to ourselves sometimes in the name of career, entrepreneurship and work is counter-intuitive to getting the job done. There’s that desire to make money or a mark (or often both) and it’s beneath a whole weight of what we must do.

Have you ever noticed that clickbait articles have things about the one thing you must do to succeed? And how ridiculous that is?

I mean, if it was one thing, we’d all be successful. Or that technique would be so worn out, we’d be onto the next one thing.

Yet the demand for attention sucks the joy out of the creative process. It takes that feeling of momentum and runs it into the ground.

Here are the things that make me the most stressed in any given situation. And why we all need to be mindful of their effects on our ability to create.

I spent so much time reading how to be productive, I failed to produce anything

No productivity article ever states a famous person spends their morning reading productivity articles. It’s all about Pomodoro method or eating grapefruit or getting up when they wake up super early.

Yet dining on the productivity article as opposed to being actually productive is in vogue.

The problem with productivity and our interest with it is that we want to be more productive to be more successful. Then we define success by the incorrect measurements.

We define success as fame achieved or money made. Or cutting through list after list of things to do.

But the game is weighted against you.

No matter how hard you try and trick yourself into being more productive, there is no replacement for actually getting stuff done. And no matter how hard you try to get things done, there will always be more to do. If there is more than you can physically get done in the time allowed, no amount of productivity article will bend time.

It seems the secret to productivity articles is to abandon them completely after a certain point. And that certain point is after:

  • Remembering to take breaks to refresh your creative thinking
  • Exercising and thinking about your diet to keep the mind healthy and nimble
  • Setting yourself with a system or routine thatworks to cover you during peak times as well as times when things go a little haywire
  • Realising you can’t get everything done for everyone all the time
  • Blocking out productivity articles

When we lean towards finding a new way to squeeze more out of a day, make sure it’s that the process currently employed could do with a revamp. Not that the level of work required is too high for the time allowed.

The “you’d be great at that!” catch cry

Give me a dollar for the amount of times people have told me I should follow their idea down the “you’d be great at that!” rabbit hole. I’ll give you a person so rich that they don’t need to be in business any more.

It’s a lovely, well meaning gesture to back a friend or colleague when they are considering a change. It’s also a wonderful thing to praise someone’s ability. It’s an ego-stroking form of distraction that is quite seductive.

But there are a lot of helpful pieces of advice that end up added to the TO DO list or task board with little or no forethought.

Years ago, I worked with a startup that had two founders that couldn’t help but listen to everyone who had a shiny idea. Unsurprisingly, gaining traction with that startup was an uphill battle. They failed to build a wall around their product. New idea after quaint concept crept in.

Each time it looked like something was going to move ahead, the next “ooooh shiny!” idea was getting spotlight. Making progress was like wearing skis to walk through waist high pudding.

They failed to protect their idea from well-meaning advice. Probably because they weren’t so sure of themselves. Probably because some of that advice was amazing. Most likely because they were so scared to back themselves enough to make a decision. I never quite worked out what it was.

That distraction can add up over time. And it can sink you.

Time, effort required, the conditions, whether there is a genuine customer need and the big picture are important. Every opportunity has an opportunity cost. Especially if the opportunity is never fully realised.

Make sure you understand what you want from your endeavours. It not only helps you make progress, it helps you incorporate what you need and say a polite no thank you to what you don’t.

Taking advice from places you don’t want to go

There’s no shame in looking at someone and thinking “no, I don’t want to be in their situation”. 

At all. Ever. Let alone in business.

What works for you won’t always work for someone else and vice versa. If it doesn’t feel right for you and you don’t want to do what another person thinks you should, think twice about it.

If the person offering the advice is in a position and operates in the way you don’t feel comfortable, don’t even consider it.

You’ve got to know what you want and what your goals are to fend off these kinds of detours. Get a tattoo if you have to. Just make sure the roadmap for your idea is what you follow.

Inviting passion as your bedfellow

You don’t have to love what you do to be great at it. Similarly, passion for a topic doesn’t mean you wield the expertise, training and ability to get the job done.

I find the problems stems from the “employers want passionate employees” misnomer. Actually, no they don’t. They want people they can depend on and rely on who get the job done. You can be dependable without fireworks.

The passion trap is usually sprung to ensure people work long hours without remuneration.

“If you want this, you’ll go the extra mile” is the passion catch-cry. So people trade off time with their families and their free time and their lives to prove passion. They aren’t paid for the work. And they pay a price elsewhere for it. Usually their interpersonal relationships, stress levels, physical health and even mental health.

American teachers are often sold the idea of doing their work for their passion for children. Usually about the time they realise how little is in their pay packet. It’s a form of organised and glitter-coated guilt.

None of us needs that in our lives.

When you work for yourself, that so called passion is the reason clients can pay you late. It’s the reason why you can ignore your family. And it’s the reason why so many of us are suffering from burn out and stress. It’s unrealistic and downright dangerous. And it won’t help you in the long run.

Passion is a manipulation technique in a work context. And it will trip you up if you let it. So don’t let it. Derive satisfaction from what you do. But get rid of the romantic fantasy.

Reducing your stress overall

If you can see a common theme in this stress reduction advice, it’s because there is one. Humans create a lot of stress for ourselves by over-thinking. We place too much on our plate or too much emphasis on things that don’t matter. And we tend to ignore the things that do.

You’re in control of your life to a certain extent. You can make decisions about cutting out the things that cause the most stress. And you can make a decision about how to respond to the things you can’t change.

Taking this life too seriously and believing you have to do or be all things to all people puts you in a bad position. Don’t be the person that has 57 half done things hanging over your head. Or feel guilt about your inability to do the work of 2 people in one day.

We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.

That good time means balance in life. Not leaning so hard on our careers we fail to take care of ourselves and our relationships. And not buying in on productivity articles and the mythology of what success truly is.

Don’t you agree?

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