Always Have To-Do List Guilt? Try Changing How You Define a 'Productive' Day
March 18, 2019
We’ve all been there: You set out to have a productive day, and then—bam!
A can’t-ignore-it meeting invite pops up on your calendar.
Or you sleep through your alarm.
Or you just don’t have the energy to take on all of the ambitious tasks you set out to do when you wrote that freaking list.
The next thing you know, it’s 7 p.m. and you’re slipping into a stress spiral. Cue lots of self-blame and “Why can’t I manage my time?” anxiety.
But maybe time management isn’t the problem—maybe, it’s that we’re defining productivity all wrong.
If skipping the gym in favor of a long bath is what you really needed, and you did it, then that counts toward a productive day. At least, that’s what Google’s in-house productivity trainer Laura Mae Martin preaches.
According to Martin, she who teaches Googlers how to be more efficient Googlers, productivity really comes down to intent. She calls it “mindful productivity,” and she shared her mantra in an interview with Quartz: Productivity is about “knowing what you want to do, intending to do it, and doing what you wanted to do.”
We think that’s great advice—especially for those of us who tend to let check marks (or, lack thereof) on a to-do list decide if we've had a "good" or "bad" day. But how can you put it into practice? Let’s dig into it.
Think About What’s Really Going to Make You Feel Good
The first piece of Martin’s productivity definition revolves around knowing what you want to do.
Some days, that might involve running that errand you’ve been putting off and still finding time for dinner with a friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. On other days, you might need to not do the thing you said you were going to do (go to the gym after work), and instead take a breather (AKA drink some wine on your couch wearing sweats).
While one scenario is more aligned with our traditional notion of productivity, Martin’s point is that the second scenario is also important. Some days we need rest, others we need action. It all balances out in the end. Just be honest with yourself about where your priorities are throughout the day because they’re always shifting.
If It’s Important, Put It On Your Calendar
The second part of Martin’s version of productivity is all about setting intentions. She told Quartz that when one of the executives she works with at Google lists spending time with their kids as a priority, she tells them, “If that’s one of your goals, it should be on your calendar.”
Whether it’s doing daily breathing exercises, stretching, or just taking your dog to the dog park, scheduling these “personal” tasks alongside your 10 a.m staff meeting and 4 p.m. conference call will encourage you to take the things you want to do just as seriously as the tasks you have to do.
Remember: Both count toward your productivity goals!
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The final piece of Mae Martin’s productivity rule: Do what you wanted to do. It seems straightforward, but we all know it can be challenging sometimes. Life gets in the way and suddenly you’re out of time.
That’s why the first two steps to redefining how we think of productivity are so important. If you’re being honest with yourself about what you really need to accomplish in a day, including your self-care practices, and then set clear intention to do those things, you’re far more likely to have a productive day—and, most importantly, a day that feels good.
Read next: 4 Ways to Reclaim Ownership of Your Time
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