The Big Idea
Doing less helps you accomplish more.
Questions I Answer
- How can I be more productive?
- Why it is that I feel so busy but unproductive?
- How can I figure out where to focus?
- How is productivity like mindfulness?
Actions to Take
- Stop thinking about the busyness, stop getting so focused on the number of tasks your accomplishing each day and focus on productivity. Focus on what matters most and just worry about those few things. It’s not about quantity, it’s all about quality.
- Ask yourself: What if I don’t succeed? What lessons could be learned? How will that help me improve for next time. Reframe your experiences and see them as an opportunity to grow
Key Topics in the Show
Focusing on what we’re doing best rather than worrying about whether we are doing enough
Willful focus vs. automatic focus
How to eliminate distractions, specifically technology and social media
Stop using busyness and distractions to cover uncertainty in our lives
Making choices about how you spend your time & making your yeses matter
Resources and Links
- Related Episodes
Welcome to season eight of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton. A podcast focused on using productivity not just to do more, but to achieve what’s most important to you. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on planning for success using proven productivity strategies. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.
And now here’s your host Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello everyone welcome to Productivity Paradox I’m your host Tanya Dalton and this is episode 95, which means we’re only five episodes away from hitting 100, which is a crazy milestone. I’m so excited about it I can hardly stand it, and this season is a season I am really, really excited about because we’re talking all about the different ways we can plan for success, because I think planning systems are a real key part of finding success.
Now, on last week’s podcast we discussed how time blocking and routines enable us to free our minds and focus on what’s really important, and this week I want to talk about shifting our mindset from busyness to productivity. You know, we all feel this need to be busy and to fill our days to the brim. We get so used to that hectic pace that when we have these moments of quiet it can almost feel unsettling. In fact, the idea of not being buys can make us feel like we’re failing, that we’re not doing enough, but we have to stop thinking of the quantity of our tasks and focus on the quality.
Which is better, to fill our day with 40 insignificant tasks that we can check off our list? Or five momentum building, goal setting tasks? Five important tasks will trump any number of insignificant ones any day of the week. So, we have to shift our way of thinking and instead of worrying about whether we’re doing enough, let’s start focusing on if we’re doing what’s best, and there’s a big difference.
One of the biggest issues with that idea of doing enough is how completely abstract it is. After all, when is enough, enough? It’s a never ending bucket to fill, but we feel obligated to keep on filling it don’t we? And that starts with our brains. We know that our brains are these complex organs, right? The human brain though, processes nearly 400 billion bits of information per second. 400 billion. And we’re actively aware of about 2,000 of those.
Ultimately we can only retain about 200 bits. How does our brain determine what really matters? More importantly, in the big picture how do we as individuals determine what matters to us? Our guiding north star. How do we shift our mindset from feeling like we need to fill it up so much with all these tasks and really focus in on what is most important? And we’ve talked about this idea of the north star and how it’s this force that helps align your goals with your mission and your purpose.
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Your north star is what can move you from being distracted by the constant barrage of information and to-do list, to focusing on what really matters in order to live a more productive, happier life.
There are so many distractions in today’s world. It’s no wonder that our brains don’t know what to focus on, and there’s a reason for that too. Our attention, our focus it functions in two different ways, willful and automatic. When we’re working intently on a specific task, that’s called our willful focus. That’s what helps us get into the zone and stay there when we’re working on meaningful projects.
Our brain produces top down signals that are often based on how much we value the task. Now, on the other end of the spectrum that’s our automatic focus. Automatic focus is more environmental. This kind of focus happens when we hear triggers like sounds of sirens, and that sends bottom up signals to our brains. These signals require our immediate focus. It’s why those alerts from our phone can cause us to look up and stop what we’re doing no matter what’s happening.
Now, the way that we process information occurs differently based on many factors. The type of information, our connection to it, and of course our environment, because even the brain has limitations. Our brains are amazing, but they have limitations too. Our minds just don’t have the capacity to process endless amounts of stimulation. So, we really need to be paying attention to our willful, and our automatic attention.
Our cognition or our thinking, that can be impaired by many things. Now, professor of neuroscience at MIT Earl Miller says, “The main thing that impairs our cognition is distraction.” And we’re more distracted than ever before, especially when it comes to technology. We know it can be difficult for our minds to fight against the digital distractions, we’ve talked about that before. In fact, that’s the reason why I chose to do a digital detox for the month of October in my Facebook group. Just being more cognizant of how much time we spend on technology can help us limit it so it can be used in better ways.
But I get it, disconnecting is hard sometimes. I know that myself, and what I have found is that we often don’t disconnect because of a fear of missing out, now, we’ve discussed FOMO in past seasons so I’ll be sure to link to some of those episodes in the show notes, but this is what I want you to think about, what are you really missing out on when you spend your time focusing on a device? The truth is, we’re missing out on a lot. When we spend our time with our faces glued to a screen we miss out on all the great things around us.
Did you know that the average person will spend five years and four months on social media in their lifetime? Five years and four months. It’s unbelievable, right? In comparison, we spend three years and five months eating. I don’t know about you, but there’s about a million things I’d rather do with that kind of time than scrolling or tapping. That’s a lot of time. We think that we don’t have the time to focus our energy on what we really want. Five years, four months on social media.
Really, when I heard that stat I was so surprised, but it makes sense because our brains are wired to focus on task that are most novel, pleasurable, or even
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threatening and that’s what makes it so hard to look away from that newsfeed. We’re social beings and so we feel like this is satisfying our need for connection, and we know that posting and getting that immediate feedback from others activates the reward system in our brain. Those likes and the comments, they compel us to want to post more, and so we get into this loop of posting simply for the rewards of those likes.
No judgment here, I do it too. I will post and then I check to see if I get any comments or any likes, we all do it to some degree. It’s really hard to get away from that. What we may not realize though, is that posting too frequently on social media can actually affect our thoughts and our emotional control as well. And unfortunately, it’s not just what we’re putting out there that can be problematic, it’s also what we’re taking in. The content we see can be … Well, toxic to our mindset. The old saying, “Seeing is believing,” that rings true here.
Research has found that what we see is what we believe. Even if we know that people are posting these highly curated snippets of their lives on social media, we begin to internalize these images and we start comparing ourselves. We worry that we’re not measuring up to the vacations in Bali, or the beautiful office spaces and yes, even to the well-organized laundry rooms. Is it just me, or does everyone on Pinterest have a laundry room the size of my garage? Seriously.
But here’s really the problem, we get caught up in these unrealistic ideas and we start asking ourselves if we’ve done enough? If we’ve made enough money for these things? If we’ve checked enough items off our to-do list? And that feeds into that need for busyness. Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” This means that if you’re anxious or unhappy it could be directly connected to what you’re consuming, and for many of us that’s our social media feed.
There’s lots of ways to counteract the effects of too much time on technology. We could try spending more time in nature, taking your dog for a walk, going for a run, or if you live in the beautiful mountains like I do, go for a hike. I find that for me, connecting with nature reminds me to be more present in the moment, and it helps us develop perspective about what’s really important.
You see, when we begin to value our time and see it as a depleting resource, it guides us into shifting our focus and we can ask ourselves, “How are we using the 1,440 minutes that we are gifted every single day?” You’re using every last one of them. You’re busy right? Busyness has become this sort of status symbol to our society. Not only that, but we often mistake busyness for productivity.
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that the belief that busyness is needed for people to be productive is so pervasive that there’s a name for it. They call it idleness aversion. Idleness aversion, I love that term because what it means is that, busyness is valued at such a high level that we actually had begun to fear restfulness, and taking time for ourselves. But we know resting our bodies and our minds are so important, because we need to do that in order to be able to focus on what is truly what’s most important, and give our attention to the things that really matter.
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I find that this constant need for busyness it isn’t so much about getting things done, it’s actually about a disguise for the real issue. The things we’re doing don’t stimulate us, or we’re not passionate about them. Think about for a second. I believe that we seek a lot of those mindless distractions to hide the fact that we’re not really engaged. Research has found that when we’re doing things that truly matter, passion projects, moving towards goals, those things that are meaningful. Doing those things takes so much of our mental energy we don’t have the time or the space to be distracted.
You see, we’ve begun to use distractions to cover uncertainty within our own lives. The distraction’s a way of turning our focus to something else. So, watching Netflix is less about how interesting the series is, and more about being away to think about something outside of ourselves. Now, there’s nothing wrong with escaping from time to time, but if escaping is something that we’re constantly doing, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we hiding from?”
When we let go of these types of distractions we’re letting go of our fears, our excuses, and our insecurities. That’s right, deep down and I mean really deep down we know these are actually the things that prevent us from doing what really matters. Fear of the unknown keeps us from doing so many things, but it’s human nature to feel this emotion. Whether trying something new, or pursuing something big, really big, audacious goals, that can breed some fear.
Fear helps to connect us with others who feel the same way. Now, I’m not suggesting that you fight this fear. Instead, I think you should try to embrace it. It’s the resistance that powers the fear and makes it bigger really than it should be. We fear what we don’t know, but fear only has power when we let it. So, ask yourself, “What if I don’t succeed? What lessons could be learned from that experience? How would that help me improve for next time?” It’s giving ourselves the freedom to explore, to experience whatever may come.
When we reframe experiences like this, and we look at them as an opportunity to grow, rather than as a chance for failure, we give ourselves the power that fear once held. You see, fear is just a roadblock. We all have roadblocks, these mental blocks that keep us from living the life we really want, from moving forward towards the things that we truly want, but I want you to ask yourself, which is stronger your excuses, or your purpose?
I want you to envision a future where you’re actually doing the things you say you can’t. What would your life look like? We can’t let our insecurities keep us from pursuing our purpose. We worry about not being enough. Being vulnerable in front of others is a part of that too and I get it, vulnerability is really hard for me. I’m an eight in the Enneagram Scale and boy, vulnerability and I are not friends, and it’s something I’m having to actually really actively work on in order to feel okay with being vulnerable.
Because we have this need for affirmation, and that emerges in our childhood, but if we don’t move past this we’re going to be in this constant state of worrying that we’re not enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not enough. And here’s the secret, you are enough. So, we have to combat these feelings,
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this insecurity that we experience. So, first we need to develop an awareness of who we are outside of what others think of us, and I know that’s hard because we get really caught up in the approval of other people, but when we feel connected to ourselves we move away from that need for seeking outside approval.
What other people think of us no longer matters when we know what we think about ourselves, and that’s where happiness lies. It’s when you feel content with who you are and what it is you want to pursue. Think about it, what makes you happy? I mean, really happy. Maybe it’s art, or music, or your children, maybe it’s working with your hands. Whatever it is, I want you to dig deep and I want you to really think about what that is.
We know that we can’t control what life brings our way. Circumstances are just that, and certainly some of them are more favorable than others, but 40% of our happiness is dictated by our conscious and intentional choices. 40%. That’s a really big chunk of our happiness that we really can control. So, how can we bring more happiness to our lives by living intentionally? Well, intentionality is the act of being deliberate our purposeful. It’s action. Being deliberate with our priorities. It’s making our yes’s matter.
Think about this, every time you say yes, you say no to something else. You’ve heard me say that before, right? I want to really drill that down and I want you to think of it this way. Every time you say yes to someone else, you’re saying no to yourself. Have you ever thought of it that way? When you start to think of how many times you’re saying no to yourself, how many times you’re saying no to the things that really matter to you whether it’s a passion project, or a goal, or a hobby, or whatever it is I want you to think about it, would you say no that often to a friend?
We often put ourselves at the bottom of our people pleasing list, and it’s not uncommon, but it’s okay to say yes to you. It’s okay to say yes to the things we really want to do. We have to stop saying no so many times to ourselves. No to time with our loved ones. No to your purpose. No to your passion project. Every time you say yes, you’re saying no to something else, and I really feel like it helps when we reframe, and we realize we’re saying no an awful lot to the things that are really important to us.
Making choices about how we spend our time and what we value, that’s a key part of our intentionality. So, how can we be more intentional with our time and the ways that we spend it? Well, the first step to doing this is to reframe what it means to be productive. Being productive is not doing more, that’s busyness. Productivity is doing what matters most. So, when you’re asked to do something I want you to question it, and question how the task aligns with your mission statement and your core values, and the heart of what it is you really want to do.
It’s okay to question it. It’s okay when someone asks you to do something to say, “You know what, I need to take some time and I need to think about it before I say yes.” Because every time you say yes, you’re saying … Well, you know how that goes, right? To begin making changes you really just have to begin. I’ve said this before, just start. And I truly believe it. I believe that phrase so strongly that I made a notepad with those very words at the top.
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When we begin, it’s just about taking the first step. Each step after is made so much easier by the momentum you build. Just start. And starting might mean setting aside time to work on your business plan, putting your thoughts on paper so you can free up your mind to focus on doing other things, or maybe it looks like painting in a corner of your home. Don’t wait until you can afford a studio space, don’t wait until you have the fancy equipment because the truth is, it really does start with you.
Who else is going to move you towards a happier, more productive life? That’s what you can do for you. That’s what saying yes to you can really do for you. Now, you might not have as much time as you’d like to dedicate to your passions so I urge you, instead of thinking about time spent, think about time well spent. Time well spent is what will lead to a productive, beautiful life, and isn’t that really what we all deserve?
I really want to encourage you to stop thinking about the busyness, stop getting so focused on the number of tasks your accomplishing each day and focus on productivity. Focus on what matters most and just worry about those few things. It’s not about quantity, it’s all about quality. This discussion on productivity is going to continue all season long, because we are talking about planning for success and really, it is at its heart about figuring out what is most important to you. And that’s how you can create plans that really move you forward.
So, next week I have a really great episode planned. I have Chris Bailey the author of Hyperfocus on the show and we have done a great interview. I think you’re going to be really excited about what he has to say. Want to talk more about productivity or connect with other people who like talking about productivity as much as you and I do? Feel free to request to join my Facebook group. Now, I’m really picky and I do have a series of questions for people to answer, because I am really intent on making that space troll free, and it’s a space where you can feel safe to talk about the things that you’re struggling with, some of your successes, it’s a great place on the internet. I would love to see you in there. Just go to inkWELLpress.com/ group to get information on how to join. Alright, until next time have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s valuable checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.