What comes to mind when you hear the word “productive”? Do your thoughts jump immediately to those “always-on” types, the people who seem to be working from sunup to sundown? Those coworkers who start the day at the gym, jam in a 10-hour day, and spend their evenings answering client emails?
According to Erin Wortham, people engagement manager at Insights Learning & Development, that’s only part of the picture. While productivity does involve accomplishing our tasks and goals, there’s more to it than that.
“[Productivity] is also about making realistic commitments, monitoring your progress along the way, and building in time for rest and renewal,” Wortham explains. “If you don’t create space [to recharge], it can become a vicious cycle.”
While many of us look enviously upon those around us who seem to be grinding nonstop, Wortham warns that always being on is the quickest way to burnout.
“If you’re always switched on and you don’t have that space for rest and renewal, you can give a lot away, but you may not be doing the best for yourself,” Wortham says.
Commit to Your Personal Productivity
To help people be more productive while still taking care of themselves and avoiding burnout, Wortham suggests that everyone take the time to create what she calls a “productivity manifesto.”
Wortham describes a productivity manifesto as a collection of “ideas for action.” She continues:
“If you were going to give yourself advice you wanted to live by to support your productivity — whatever that means to you — that would be in your manifesto. It’s about committing to those things and getting them written down. [The manifesto] is a practical way to collect all the ideas you may have about being more productive and commit to them.”
The idea of “commitment” comes up a lot in Wortham’s discussion of productivity manifestos, and there’s good reason for that. Often, our best ideas are the ones that slip right through our fingers.
“For example, I do my best thinking when I’m in traffic on the way to or from work,” Wortham explains. “So, maybe I think, ‘My focus for today is going to be making wise commitments and recognizing when I should say ‘no.” But I have that idea in traffic, and then I get into my day and it escapes me.”
But with a productivity manifesto, Wortham could write down her idea as soon as she arrived at work. Then, she could refer to it throughout the day and consistently reaffirm her focus on wise commitments. That way, Wortham’s productivity-boosting idea wouldn’t get lost in the great void of the workday.
How to Make a Productivity Manifesto
“Productivity is a weird one,” Wortham says. “It means so many different things to so many different people. Productivity is personal. When I’m feeling the most productive is probably going to be different from [when] my peers or clients [are feeling most productive].”
This is why Wortham counsels anyone interested in creating their own productivity manifesto to start by reflecting on what productivity means for them.
“Figure out when you are the most productive,” Wortham says. “What does it feel like? What are some of the things you need to change about your environment to be more productive?”
The next step, Wortham says, is “keeping tabs” on your ideas about productivity.
“Those ideas you have, jot them down,” she says. “That way, you can start to see some patterns. You can see where you’ve felt your best and most productive, and you can give yourself some advice for the next go-around.”
Wortham calls this the “meat” of the manifesto. A productivity manifesto’s power and usefulness exists in the collection of ideas one uses to remind themselves of what productivity means and looks like for them.
And given that productivity is so unique, Wortham stresses the importance of withholding judgment as you jot down your ideas.
“Some may feel really productive when they learn a new skill; others may feel productive when they’re having fun,” she says. “The biggest thing is to not have any judgment: go with what feels right to you, because what feels right to you may not feel right to somebody else.”
And how does one use a productivity manifesto in practice?
Say you’re not feeling very productive, but you don’t know what to do about it. Turn to your productivity manifesto. What advice does it have for you? What patterns can it point out that will help you re-energize yourself?
“If I’m not feeling productive, I know what I need to fuel myself,” Wortham says. “Sometimes, that just means going down the hall to chat with a colleague and bring my sense of fun back to work — then, I can go dig into that spreadsheet. I’ve found that balance.”
Ultimately, productivity is all about making space for yourself and being intentional about all that you do. Manage your energy, give yourself time to breath and recharge, and you’ll find that you’ve become the truly productive one — not that coworker of yours who never seems to go home.
That guy needs a productivity manifesto of his own.