by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: What is your intention behind your desire to live a simpler life? a more productive life?
I recently borrowed from my library, Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life by Brooke McAlary. I’d probably seen it recommended on one of the minimalist blogs I read, and it had been on my to-read list for a while, so I was happy to get a copy through inter-library loan.
I’ve been reading books and listening to talks on productivity – both to get rid of the feeling of being busy while getting nothing done as well as to work into a program. One of my strengths has always been my love of learning and I find that I learn a topic so much better when I plan to teach the information.
So, seeing the email that Destination Simple was available for pick-up would be, I thought, a break from productivity techniques. Ha! I was so wrong!
What Productivity Is ... and Isn't
When I started reading about productivity, I thought it would be all about doing more and doing it faster. Not so. Productivity is about doing the right things, which, of course, depend on your personal goals. Trying to do everything is not productive, it’s busywork.
Being selective about how you want to devote your time, energy, and attention is being both effective and productive. Instead of focusing on what you’ve done during the day, you consider what you’ve accomplished.
If all day you worked at top speed, checked a ton of stuff off your to-do list, but crawled into bed with the frustrated sense that you got nothing done, you were busily unproductive.
Simple, Intentional Living
Advocates for simple living talk about being intentional in their decisions. I’d never really thought of being intentional as being productive (again, thinking that word meant doing more and doing it faster).
However, reading Brooke McAlary’s book (yes, I’m finally back to talking about that), made me realize that if you simplify your life and make more intentional decisions, you will be more productive by focusing your time, energy, and attention on the things that matter most.
Single-tasking – Brooke recommends focusing on one everyday activity and devoting your full attention to it for one-to-five-minutes. For example, brushing your teeth, handwashing the dishes, or making a cup of tea. Productivity experts will tell you that multi-tasking involves bouncing your attention between tasks as opposed to really doing multiple things at the same time.
Of course, you couldn’t single-task through entire days (listening to podcasts while at the gym probably makes your workout more enjoyable); however, intentionally single-tasking makes you more mindful of what you are doing.
Unplugging – Brooke recommends 15-to-30-minutes away from all screens each day. Productivity experts will tell you to avoid checking emails throughout the day, but instead at specific, scheduled times.
They’ll also tell you that you should unplug while focusing on top priority tasks. While you may be doing something while searching the Internet or immediately responding to all notifications, that doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing anything.
Emptying Your Mind – Productivity expert David Allen (and others) recommend doing a ‘brain dump’ where you list on paper all the stuff in your head. From a productivity perspective, getting things on paper gives your mind a sense of ‘doing’ something with all the information rattling around in your head. Instead of the constant stream of thoughts, “Oh, yeah, I need to remember to…,” putting it on paper gives your mind the sense that a task or thought won’t be forgotten.
Brooke suggests this as more of a stream-of-consciousness journaling exercise. In either case, you’re doing something with those thoughts about the past, future, and what you need to do.
Three Things – Each day, select and then do the three tasks that will give you the greatest sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. The three tasks don’t include maintenance activities (responding to emails, making the bed, cooking) that will keep you busy but not productive.
Your sense of accomplishment could be based on: working on a presentation, assisting a student or coworker learning to do ‘x,’ babysitting your grandchild, meeting with a friend, going on a sales call, leading your daughter’s soccer team practice, etc. Notice which three activities will give you the best return on your time investment for the day.
Accomplish Something Every Day
Now, these four tasks aren’t Brooke’s entire list of things that will help you live a simple life. By doing the exercises in her book (I’d highly recommend reading this brief 114-page book), you will make more intentional choices about your days.
Although “a slower, simpler life” may not seem productive, making intentional decisions to do what “gives you the time and space for more of what you enjoy” will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day.
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