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Want to Increase Your Personal Productivity? Start by Changing the Conversation

The productivity conversation is at an all-time high. 

People want to know how to do more in less time.

More of us than ever before are Googling “how to be productive” and subscribing to the latest app that claims to boost productivity. There’s the Pomodoro Technique, Single-tasking, the Kanban approach, the Organize Tomorrow Today habit, and so on – methods that each offers the “golden ticket” to transforming you into a work-crushing, non-stop-hustling productivity superstar…all by maximizing your time. After all, time means money, right?

Yes, we, as a society – and the millennial generation in particular – are on a quest (whether we chose it or not) to optimize every. aspect. of. life. 

We’re trying to pack more in by eliminating “low-value” tasks. And we’re trying to get more done/read/consumed/accomplished by turning to technology to help.

Stop for a moment and think about what this has resulted in:

  • We have meal ordering apps and dinner kit deliveries
  • We have personalized news feeds and 15-second stories
  • We have emails to replace letters, and messaging apps to replace emails
  • We have pre-populated forms and credit card numbers stored online
  • We have online maps like Waze to shave minutes off our driving time
  • We have order-ahead cafe apps and tap-payment capabilities
  • We have dozens (and dozens) of apps on our devices, each focused on optimizing a different slice of life, be it personal or business.

The desire – and pressure – to optimize, digitize, and do more with less is real. Because if you’re not optimizing, how are you even surviving?

And all this compression of time is leading to one thing: burn out.

It’s been pretty widely documented that our generation is the burnout generation, with more time spent on screens, more notifications to swipe, and more people being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues than ever before. The global pandemic we’re living in has only intensified this.

It’s Time to Change the Conversation on Productivity

The truth is: our current way of approaching productivity isn’t going so well.

In order to achieve productivity over the long term, we need to dramatically change our very understanding of the concept and find a more sustainable solution.

So, what if “increasing your productivity” was actually replaced by ideas that reject much of what we value or hold true about the concept itself? What if being more productive simply meant doing less?

If you’re ready to change how you approach productivity, here are some ways to start.

How to Embrace a Healthier Type of Productivity


  1. Make “no” your new favorite word
    Ok, sometimes you can’t say no to a client or your boss without facing repercussions. But sometimes you CAN say no. Practice saying no to additional requests and asks (in all areas of your life) that take focus away from your core goals or that dilute your energy. What can you say no to today?
  1. Let go of the idea that long hours mean mega productivity
    John Pencavel, a Standford University professor, found in one study that productivity declines rapidly after working 50 hours per week, and after 55 hours of work, any additional hours are pointless. People who work 70 hours a week, end up getting the same amount done as people who work 55 hours per week. This idea is not new – but are you following the advice? It’s time to work smarter, not longer. It’s also time to place more value on downtime and be diligent about putting away phones and computers, especially since work has bled into life due to an uptick in side hustles and remote work.
  1. Keep your expectations of productivity realistic
    On the other extreme of the 70-hour workweek is the 4-hour workday. While some people have been able to accomplish great things by working just 20 hours per week, it’s a good idea to taper your expectations of this and examine what’s possible. If you don’t, your unrealistic expectations can make you feel like you’re failing – creating a different kind of unhealthy relationship with productivity.
  1. Banish those pesky micro-distractions (and needless notifications)
    It’s hugely beneficial (and cathartic) to do a regular purge of everything that’s creating needless distractions in your day. That means turning off push notifications, unsubscribing from email lists, and moving social media apps from your home screen to harder-to-access folders. Eliminating the “noise” will immediately eliminate some of the overwhelm.
  1. Reevaluate the productivity apps and tools you use
    Are all the tools on your devices actually helping you, or are you spending more time managing them? Take stock of the apps you use and reflect on whether each, as Marie Kondo would say, is bringing you joy, or just more stress. “Productivity tools for the sake of productivity tools” is counterproductive. And just because we live in a world that values digital progress, doesn’t mean all digital tools progress.
  1. Don’t be afraid of automation
    People (especially busy business owners), tend to shy away from the idea of automation. And it makes sense. In the past, you practically needed a PhD in automation to set up workflows, manage integrations, and do the behind-the-scenes coding. But in recent years, that’s all changed. Take Charli, for instance. It applies automation to file organization, helping you get and find stuff faster. Simply send stuff to Charli and let Charli figure out where to put it based on the document type and any context give. Once you’ve handed it off to Charli you no longer need to worry. Smart, modern automation lets you “fire and forget” so you can move on with your day.
  1. Don’t settle for one-size-fits-all productivity “hacks”
    Just like there are many ways to approach a problem, there are many ways to organize your work. Productivity hacks that offer a one-size-fits-all formula to success are often too good to be true or expect the user to adapt to an unnatural working style. Instead, look for tools, again like Charli, that is built to adapt to you (not the other way around). When you find your groove and you’re supported by the right tools, you’ll be able to work smarter not harder, and “crack the code” to your own, personalized means of productivity.

In summary, the never-ending quest to optimize life isn’t sustainable. Our drive to be uber-productive is fundamentally broken and it’s leading to burnout. It’s time for us to rethink productivity, our values around it, and how we “do productivity” in both our work and personal lives.

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