Productivity vs Workflow; Why do I feel like a failure?


“Some words have a meaning to them that we don’t often think about but yet still affects us, which has applications to persuasion, social influence and bias in our judgments and decisions,” said David J Hauser, social psychologist.

The power of words is undeniable. Choose the wrong one and instead of motivating your team to go out and conquer the day, you suggest they be successful.

Conquer, a verb, from the 1500s meaning to win or be victorious, has powerful hard “c” sounds. Whereas successful, an adjective from the late 1800s referring to financial prosperity, has softer “s” sounds. Meaning and sound affect how we hear words. Which is more motivating? Which is more motivating to you?

I am a word nerd and spend a lot of time thinking about words and their affects. Why does “conquer” has such power to it and “be successful” suggests you will do well but not break any new ground? In a typical business conversation both may be appropriate choices. So how do you choose?

One of the hardest thing writers, business professionals, and leaders have to do is find the word that will bring with it the right emotion. It is emotion that drives us to action.

I have recently realized that my inability to get as much done as expected might be more because of my response to instructions and less because I’m a time-waster. (Although, let’s be honest, I [waste a ton of time.)

Ever since GTD and Inbox zero came on the scene, we have all been bowing to the god of Productivity. This should be good, right? Being productive means we’re getting things done, we’re working hard, people are noticing. But the drive to use every minute of the day to complete tasks is relentless.

It takes five syllables to say “Productivity.” It’s a tough word, subjective and judgmental. It basically makes me feel like a failure before I even sit down at my desk.

Who began using this term to describe how many items on our ToDo list we have to check off each day, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I never want to go to dinner with this person. Would they judge the ratio of how much I ordered vs how much I ate and how quickly?

At Story Mode Beth and I teach people to love creativity-inducing limitations. But time blocking my calendar and Pomadoro timing myself feels restrictive, like sitting in a high school class waiting for the bell to ring.

No matter how productive I am, it will never be enough. I have failed before I even get started because I’ll never hit 100%- my ToDo list will never be empty.

You’ve probably heard the term, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product: the standard measure of the value added through the production of goods and services.

When we say “the production of goods and services” we’re talking about how productive the economy was, how much stuff was created and how many hours it took. This means there are good numbers and bad numbers, we have succeeded or we have failed to create the expected “value.”

Taking words that are appropriate for economists isn’t always the best choice when it comes to motivating ourselves and deciding how we spend our time at work.

If something is measurable, bullet journals around the world will track it and you will be judged.

Dear Reader, I humbly suggest we ditch “productivity,” and instead, think in terms of “Workflow.”

Work: before it meant “labor as a measurable commodity” in the 1300s, it referred to “artistic labor” in the 1200s, as in a “work of art.” Flow: is defined as a sense of “any strong, progressive movement comparable to the flow of a river” and is from the 1640s.

Workflow is a process, a way of doing things rather than a measure of how many things you are doing. “Workflow” makes me think of a yoga sun salutation, a series of movements that you perform at your own pace, with deep breathing and calming thoughts. Using this positive,you can do it, kind of word makes one more inclined to give it a try.

Workflow gives me hope.

You may be familiar with my obsession with Roam Research, which has taken me down the note-taking rabbit hole. The “Roamans” specializing in note-taking never use the word productivity. For them the amount of notes isn’t what is important; it’s the quality of those notes. They aren’t measuring by counting anything. Instead, the measurement is around how useful that note will be for your writing and thinking.

Although I have my Luddite fantasies, I admit to getting hooked on the Apple iWatch. It can feel like a coach blowing his whistle in your ear with all the moving around it wants you to do. The watch is very prescriptive in many ways but it is also highly personalized. Right now, I have five different watch faces I can cycle through depending on my mood.

Workflow is the same way-highly personalized. I know I have to get my shit done but I get to decide how I will spend my time each day and how I will measure my success.

My version of productivity is taking advantage of my best work tools: inspiration, procrastination, mulling. These are things I can fit into my flow even though they may not produce anything for days. It’s my process. It makes me feel good.

Workflow is fluid, smooth, languid, mindful, and the way I will henceforth think about my time at work.


Share this!