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You Don’t Need to Be Busy to Be Productive. You Need to Be Reflective

business woman reflecting at her desk with hands folded behind her head

Photo credit: (Chinnapong)

Q: You’ve written that pursuing productivity for productivity’s sake does not lead to satisfaction. In fact, it is diametrically opposed to it. What do you mean?

When you are getting things done just to get things done and checking things off the list, most of those things move other people’s agendas forward. That’s what happens when you just put your head down and keep working.

But when you have done the work to analyze who you are, where you are, how you got here, and where you want to go, you start to have a very clear idea of what needs to be done.

I think, especially in modern-day society, this idea of being scheduled is a sexy notion. It’s not. Socrates once said beware of the barrenness of a busy life. I think there is so much punch in that: You may be doing a lot but there’s nothing there because it is separated from who you are as a person.

The self-reflection piece is quintessential to true productivity that moves the needle for you. You don’t have to do a ton of heavy-lifting. The heavy lifting should be done on self-awareness and self-reflection. Then you just execute against that.

Q: What’s the difference between a productivity model made for men and one that works for women?

First, I can’t stand the word “productivity.” If you look at the word, it’s product-centered. It’s not human-centered. It’s certainly not women-centered. Americans are so productivity and goal-obsessed. I find it so hard to believe that two French women would be sitting in a Parisian café talking about goals! They would be talking about life.

However, women are relatively new in the workplace. So, what happened is we largely jumped into a system built by men for men. And often, we spend a lot of energy trying to fit in. My whole thing is we have to stop doing that.

The goal should not be to fit in. The goal should be to create infrastructure and ways of doing things that directly match our sensibilities as individuals and collectively as women. So, we have to create spaces where do fit in (and women’s needs are accounted for) and automatically female productivity will be off the charts.

Q: If you had 60 seconds to teach women how to think about productivity in a way that works—especially for the many who are newly searching for a sense of purpose—what would you say?

What is 100 percent incumbent on you, on me, on all of us is to find at least 20 minutes a day to be able to completely shut out the mental chaos in your world. My contention is that every answer you need is within you. The problem is we get farther and farther separated from that, the more chaos there is.

I do meditation. You need to find what works for you. Maybe it’s a hot bath, maybe a device-free walk. But you need 20 minutes to desensitize yourself from the outside world completely. And I guarantee, solutions will start to emerge.

Erin Falconer

Erin Falconer is the author of How to Get Sh*t Done. To learn more about her book, visit The Conference for Women’s online bookstore.