The kind of productivity I crave

The kind of productivity I crave

I crave the kind of productivity that makes me feel content at the end of the day.

I crave a balance between focused work and time to be human; to meet friends, cook a meal and read a book.

When I work, I want to …

  • Be in the moment and focus on what I’m doing right now
  • Experience flow

I do not want to…

  • Exhaust myself
  • Guilt trip myself for not working harder or faster
  • Put so much pressure on myself that all I want to do is numb out on Facebook or Youtube
  • Beat myself up when I don’t get things done
  • Set ambitious goals that would require less sleep and no time with friends to meet the deadline

I think most of us get productivity wrong. We punish ourselves for not working through endless to-do lists and tell ourselves that downtime will be our reward – once we’ve met all the conditions of our to-do list. Which is never.

Productivity doesn’t work that way. We can’t be productive all the time. We are not robots.

Think back to a year ago. What were you doing? Do you remember? It’s crazy how much we forget – the majority of the last 365 days are already forgotten, we just can’t help it. In a way there really only is the present – what’s here and immediately ahead of us. And that, too, will likely be forgotten in a year or five.

So what does that mean?

When I look back I often wish that I hadn’t been so hard on myself. That I wouldn’t have stressed myself out so much. When I think back to this day last year I hope I didn’t just cross things off a to-do list but spent some time with a friend or danced around my room.

Productivity needs to fuel our lives instead of exhausting us. It should help us work on the goals that deeply matter to us, but not at the expense of our humanity and the little moments of joy and connection.

If our to-do list stresses us out so that we can’t help but flee to a bag of chips and binge-watch youtube video then something is off.

Simplify your to-do list, because being focused calms us down. Change the way you think about the things you “need” to get done and put everything into perspective. Find a way of working that supports your dreams rather than drains your energy.

Because you can work on building a good life for yourself and savor the life you’ve built so far.

When Setting Goals Stresses You Out

cherry blossom spring flowers pink

Goals usually fizzle out. By the end of the year, we don’t even remember them. What were your goals for 2017?

I’ve never really had set goals and when I did, I didn’t know what to do with them once they were written down.

The problem with goals is not just that we don’t achieve them, they often give us another thing to feel guilty about. When you declare that you want to “focus on your health more” or “finally get into a habit of writing daily” those things don’t just happen.

Some things do – like moving house or finishing a degree. Those things happen more or less on autopilot without us needing willpower to “stick to our goals”. We get them done, we move on.

So given that our goals often gather dust and stress us out, should you set some?

If you want to give goals a try, here are a few guidelines for setting them. These will make them “workonable” rather than just an occasion to use your favorite pens.

Tell-me-what-to-do Goals

I do think that it is helpful to have something to steer your focus and attention, and goals can do that for you. Obviously, we want to translate goals like “focus on my health” into something that tells us exactly what to do like “go to these three gym classes every week”.

Take out any uncertainty, make it measurable and clear when you’ve done what you said you would do.

One Goal Only

Annoyingly, we’re not very good at multi-goaling. Whenever I try to work out and write more at the same time, I’ll end up only doing one and feeling guilty about the other. Or not doing anything because I feel guilty about not meeting both goals.

Having one goal is for the courageous because focusing is painful. But it will make the journey easier and really satisfying. As a compromise, you can also focus on one goal as a monthly challenge like my friend John does.

Choosing The Right Goal

Sometimes we choose goals based on what we think makes the most sense. Which sounds very logical, but is a terrible strategy, because it doesn’t give you an emotional connection to your goal.

Rationality isn’t your friend when goal setting.

What we need instead is intrinsic motivation, meaning that we should choose goals we actually want to work on. I know, shocking. But say I feel like I should focus on my studies more when in reality I want to focus on my writing, then I’d say go for the writing habit.

Commit to the thing you’re inspired by at the moment and you’ll find it much easier to actually do things to make progress. You might say that choosing the rational goal is the adult thing to do, but I’d argue that choosing the thing you’re most likely going to put in hours for makes more sense than choosing, struggling with and abandoning a sensible goal.

As a side note, you will work on the serious goal (studying) when it becomes urgent enough anyway. Most of us don’t neglect our duties even when we’re distracted by inspiration.

Got it, so how do find the right goal for me?

There are trillions of ways. I enjoyed Susannah Conway’s free workbook “Unravel Your Year” and Danielle Laporte’s blog series “Free & Clear”.

But if you want to keep it really simple, get yourself a piece of paper and answer this little writing prompt:

“What would I like to have more of this year?”

Set a timer and write for ten minutes, don’t edit, don’t censor yourself. When you’re done, read through your writing. Is there a goal peeking through that makes you feel giddy?

Remember: You can go goal-less

Some really productive people don’t set goals. If a goal-less life sounds fascinating to you, here are some articles you might find useful:

Accomplishments Without GoalsWhen Goals Are Important and When They Are Not

These people are very intentional with their time, but they don’t have goals. Remember that you can merrily live without goals.

I hope your brain is not exploding right now. Have goals or don’t – do what feels right, as always.

Intentions For A New Year. But First, Celebrate What You’ve Done

forest lake nature landscape

In the thrill of starting a new year and the dutiful goal setting that can come with it, it’s easy to reach for things that are entirely absent in our lives right now:

  • Going to the gym three times a week when you’ve worked out 4 times in the last three months
  • Writing every day when you have written three poems in 2017

Big beautiful resolutions are fun and they make us dream of possibility. And while we’re all excited by what’s ahead, let’s not forget how far we’ve come.

I bet you’ve achieved a few things in 2017 that have gone unnoticed.

What have you been doing that’s working well for you?

Maybe you’ve started meditating five minutes on weekdays and you rarely forget to do it. Or you’re going for organic meat more often than not. You’ve shopped second-hand for the first time and found a great sweater.

Those are changes worthy of celebration! But did you? It’s so easy to think, “Well, that wasn’t that big of a deal. I bought more organic meat, but that’s not enough. I should make it my goal to buy organic meat 100% of the time.”

Your next step might be to go bigger, but remember that there is no universal law that says you have to.

Oftentimes big 100% goals like the organic meat one are more difficult. You might start buying organic all the time and freeze when you look at the bill. A barbecue might come around and the cost of feeding ten people might overwhelm you. Out of shame of not sticking to your resolution, you might avoid the organic meat section in the future.

In the pursuit of perfection, the beautiful tiny changes you’ve achieved so far might disappear when the lofty goal fails (because you likely have many goals, which makes it harder to keep your willpower and focus and fire on each of them).

Have your dreams and your goals.

And take a moment to jot down the changes you’re rocking already, since 2017 and even before. Honour how far you’ve come and make a point to continue doing the small things that are already working.

Here’s an exercise I love to use for that.

Pour yourself some tea and let’s carry some old habits into the new year.

Which of your friends would like this?

 

Minimalism: Which of your friends would like this?

I own two boxes of stuff I need to get rid of. They silently sit in my closet, which is why I forgot about them for a long time.

Recently though I felt that it was silly to be holding onto this stuff – that’s what I was doing by ignoring it. I didn’t want any of it, but the items were either too random to donate or they were meant to be sold, which requires some effort.

The more you declutter the harder it becomes to let go of stuff because the stuff you own has already survived several “Do I need this?” rounds of questioning.

It’s easy to get rid of things like a second beater or the plastic mascot you got somewhere for free.

It’s harder to get rid of things that are beautiful or perfectly useful, just not for you.

The story of the vintage lipstick cases

So I had two beautiful vintage lipstick cases that had been gifted to me. Throwing these away would have felt close to a crime!

But I never bothered to put my lip balm into them so they had been lying around neglected for years. If you think about it, that’s its own form of waste.

So when I found the lipstick cases in my box I asked myself: “Which of my friends could use this? Who does this remind me of?” et voilá, a friend came to mind immediately. The lipstick case would fit right into her bohemian style, so I decided to ask her if she wanted it.

She did! The best part was that the next time we met she told me that she used it to store her bobby pins in her purse. Brilliant! I am now doing the same and my lonely leftover lipstick case finally gets the wear it deserves.

The rules for declutter-gift-giving

I have gifted anything from belts to shoes to tea boxes, earrings, scarves, bras, beauty products, and more. It is great fun to be able to give your friend a surprise gift just because an item made you think of them.

When I have a new friend come over to my apartment (or even the friend of a friend) I like to offer them tea and a glimpse into my donation box. It’s so easy to get rid of things when you see someone else get excited about something you don’t care about anymore!

I’d suggest two “rules” for giving away your stuff, though:

1. Do not try to offload your guilty conscience onto your friends by dumping all your crap onto them. 

Only offer them things that you genuinely think they might need.

The key word here is “offer” – ask your friend if they want to have the item vs. gifting it to them immediately – they might not want to have it, after all!

2. Make sure to tell your friends that you don’t mind them decluttering this item in the future. 

I find that the worst things to declutter are gifts. They make you feel so guilty. That’s why I try to give without any strings attached. I never want anyone to keep something I gave them just because they feel guilty.

Being able to share things I no longer need and seeing my friends get value out of them is one of the best side effects of minimalism.

So the next time you find it hard to part ways with a perfectly good item in your home, ask yourself if one of your friends might like it.


My two boxes of stuff are still living in my home. I have decided to sell their contents at the next flea market I can find, so they’ll be gone in one fell swoop. The things that don’t sell will be brought to the refugee donation drop off or thrown away.

It feels good to have a plan to get the last bits of clutter out.

This post was written before I played the minimalism game. 

Why simplify your life?

blue-sky-island-lake-180

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve always imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” – Henry David Thoreau

Simplifying makes your life easier (surprise!).

Not just because you are suddenly able to find matching socks because you decluttered your closet.

Your life becomes easier because somehow, simplifying your stuff often leads to simplifying how you spend your time, too.

When you simplify your life with minimalism, you constantly ask yourself “Do I want this in my life? Do I really need this or am I just assuming that I do?”.

This doesn’t just change the amount of junk in your drawer, it also starts a process of change inside you.

All over sudden life might not seem so complicated after all.

For example, if your secret dream was to be a writer, you might realize that to be a writer you have to write. I know, shocking. But it’s not uncommon to think that in order to go after your dream you have to, say, get a degree in creative writing before you can do anything.

You might realize it can be much simpler.

The women I work with have a (creative) dream they are pursuing or procrastinating on.

All of them feel overwhelmed by the demands of their daily lives, whether they are mothers or professors or illustrators or a combination of ten things.

The point is, they have a lot on their plates.

So the prescription I sneak into our coaching is always to simplify their lives. Some of my women literally go through their homes and get rid of things, others make space on their calendars.

And things start to shift. They feel lighter and less exhausted. I still find this fascinating!

Here’s what one of my clients has to say about this process:

I cannot thank you enough for your insight, time, abilities to cut through the mire… I am feeling such lightness within, I can’t even describe it.
This morning, at my home desk, I have begun picking through the stacks of stuff, cleaning, getting rid…  it feels amazing.

The cool thing is, we’re only at session three!

As for me, I have been on a “minimalist journey” for the last five years. I’ve thrown away hundreds of items and I still go through phases of purging. Granted, I enjoy sorting through my stuff, but the real reason why I am so drawn to the idea of owning less is that it helps me make space for the things that matter.

Not just the physical items, but the less tangible things like making time to meet with friends or read a good book.

Minimalism is not about the things you own, it’s about how you’d like to spend your time.

Life does feel simpler when you own fewer possessions.

Not all of that is due to the new space on your shelves. A lot of it comes from the emotional and mental space you create that can now be filled with the things that matter to you – or just be left empty.

What do you want? A garden, time for good books and walks with your husband? To make movies and own six cats?

When you make room for minimalism you make room for those dreams, too.