I've been thinking a lot about productivity lately. It's a hot topic of conversation in our writing group: how to stay motivated, how to meet the goals you set for yourself, and how to get—and keep—momentum.
There are a gazillion articles explaining how you can be more productive. I feel a bit sheepish adding my two cents because honestly, sometimes I feel like these conversations about productivity are just another way for us to feel sh*tty about ourselves.
So I'm going to focus on something slightly different here. It's part of a deeper transformation I went through earlier this year, and I've been reflecting on how it has changed my approach to work.
I'm not going to talk about the usual productivity killers: multitasking, meetings, chatting with colleagues, answering email and social media. These ones are obvious. We all know it when we fall into that productivity quagmire. It doesn't mean that we have the willpower to stop ourselves, but at least we know we're shooting ourselves in the foot.
This is different. It's sneakier. But it has just as much of an impact as those obvious productivity killers, if not more.
I'm talking about mindset: the way we choose our goals and motivate ourselves to meet them.
This has been a big shift for me this year. I'm going to take you through five ways I was sabotaging my productivity without even realizing it, and how I turned things around.
1. I was chasing the wrong goal
I've pressed the reset button plenty of times in my career. This usually happened when I realized I was doing something I didn't enjoy or working somewhere that didn't quite fit. I thought I learned this lesson a long time ago, but I still find myself doing it again and again.
This year I think I may have finally cracked the code. Or at least I've found a more efficient way to realize I'm in the wrong place: I ask myself how I feel about my goals.
If the answer is exhausted, drained, or unmotivated, then I have some work to do. I need to set some new goals.
Let me clarify here: everyone's going to feel drained or unmotivated at some point. But if your GOALS aren't lighting you on fire, then what the hell are you even doing?
I was such a pro at putting my head down and grinding it out. I got things done. I got a LOT of things done. But working that way doesn't leave any room to figure out how you feel about anything.
I used to take pride in my ability to ignore my feelings and get 'er done. But let me tell you: that sh*t is EXHAUSTING. And it can make you really sick.
Looking this problem in the eye can be terrifying. It can upend your whole life. But if you have the guts to do it, you'll always be able to find your way to the work, and the life, that matters to you.
2. I wasn't measuring or reviewing
My misguided goal-setting was accompanied by some seriously crappy evaluation.
I wasn't taking any time to figure out how long it would take me to accomplish something, how much effort I needed to spend to get a result, or the conditions necessary for me to work effectively.
Once I started doing this? Game.Changer.
I started assessing what I got done in a week, paying attention to the times of day I'm motivated and energized, and tracking the amount of time it took me to finish tasks.
The result: major efficiency boost.
3. I meangirled myself
Until recently I was my own worst enemy. I was the meanest, bitchiest girl on the block when it came to how I talked to myself. This is not a secret: anyone who knows me will tell you that I've always been super hard on myself.
I used to think that berating myself and undermining my confidence was a great tactic to achieve my goals—all the evidence pointed to it being pretty darn effective. It got me here, didn't it?
But guess what: being kind to myself and taking it easy on the criticism has made me more productive than I ever was when I was being mean.
I was certain—and I mean certain—that as soon as I started being gentle and kind to myself that I would lose all my motivation and spend entire days eating hot buttered popcorn in my sweatpants. Goodbye, badass boss lady. Hello, lazy troll.
And then...it happened.
It did: I started being gentle with myself and promptly spent a couple of weeks with ZERO motivation. I was too tired to care that I'd lost my motivation, and I assumed that I'd just phone it in for the rest of my career.
But in reality I was unmotivated because I was exhausted from pushing myself so hard all the time. And then my motivation came back, full force. Except this time I had a cheerleader on my shoulder instead of a mean girl.
I won't lie: sometimes I want to punch my cheerleader in the face for being so chirpy and positive. But I'm a lot happier and more productive than I was when I criticized myself non-stop.
4. I focused on the losses, not the wins
I spent a lot of time comparing myself to where I thought I should be, comparing myself to others and to my own unmet goals. And then I'd beat myself up for not accomplishing enough. (See above)
But something different happened when I started my business. Maybe it was because everything was so foreign to me and I didn't have many peers to compare myself against. Maybe it was because my expectations were low.
Instead of focusing on what I hadn't done, I started paying attention to how far I'd come. I started measuring my progress from where I started instead of where I still needed to go.
And let me tell you: that is a MAJOR confidence booster. And more confidence means better productivity.
5. I skipped the party
I used to treat compliments, accolades, and milestones as distractions. There was something weirdly uncomfortable about celebrating my success, even when I'd worked hard on something for a long time.
But now I'm like a walking party piñata.
This never would have changed without the work I did on my self-talk. It makes sense that these things are related: that meangirl doesn't want you to have anything good in your life.
Most people I know (women especially) have a hard time celebrating their successes and acknowledging their accomplishments. But really: what is the freaking point if you can't enjoy it?
I know this is hard. I get it. So here's an entry-level way to start celebrating: gratitude. Take time every day to write down why you're grateful, and soon your inner meangirl will turn into a chirpy cheerleader you sometimes want to punch in the face.
I can't overstate this enough: if I can do this, you can do it too. I was THE WORST for a long, long time. I dragged myself through football fields of broken glass for minor failures. And I refused to forgive myself for not meeting my own ridiculous standards. And yes, I got a lot of sh*t done—but it was really difficult, incredibly painful, and sometimes unfulfilling.
I think it's weird and hilarious that I've turned into the kind of person who recommends gratitude journals. But I'm telling you: I'm so much happier and calmer than I used to be. And so much more productive.
So stop sabotaging yourself. Stop being a martyr. It's overrated.
How do you sabotage yourself? What can you do to change it? Tell me in the comments!