"This is progress in America. You always move forward and there are no limits to how far you can go or how fast you can get there. Don’t pause, don’t reflect. You win or lose. You’ll fall behind and fail if you stop moving. Fast at any cost is the mantra of a stressed and distressed American society today." – Dr. Stephanie Brown, Society’s Self-Destructive Addition to Faster Living, New York Post
Living a balanced life implies being calm, in control, and stable. But it’s hard to be any of these things when we’re constantly on the move, striving to live up to the standards defined by our “hustle culture.”
We’re pushed to do more and be more. Land another promotion. Earn another degree. Increase our income, grow our circle of friends, give our kids a pain-free childhood, maximize our influence on important social issues. For fuck’s sake! It’s why thousands of business mentors and life coaches line the streets, throwing productivity tools our way so we can get more done in less time with less money. They stand ready to capitalize on this way of life, promising to take us to that next level of relationship, career, and financial success. We’re rewarded for driving ourselves to the limit, for never stopping, for never relenting, for living big and fast and perfect. It’s why we see the pace of life increasing before our eyes.
In a 2007 study commissioned by the British Council, researchers found that urban populations walk 10% faster than they did in 1990 and upwards of 30% faster in monster cities like Singapore. While it may seem counterintuitive, walking faster, the very act of which increases your heart rate and strengthens your heart muscle, is correlated with heart disease (“What walking speeds say about us,” 2007).
People are walking faster to get more done, and in trying to get more done, they are not eating as well, exercising less, and not socializing with friends and family. It’s leading them to be stressed and distressed. And, while faster-paced cities like Singapore have higher happiness levels and an overall feeling of well-being, this is mainly due to cultural factors such as social support, reduced corruption in business and government, and generosity (“Singapore ranked 2nd-happiest,” 2019). In many countries (including America) where we barely take time for lunch and treat charity as a business strategy, the speed of life becomes unbalanced such that we succumb to stress-related diseases and psychological overload. Because of this, the benefits of a brisk walk (which include an improvement in heart and lung function, reduced risk of stroke and diabetes, decreased weight, and even reduced risk of depression) are outweighed by the adverse effects of relentless stress.
Technology is the suggested culprit: "We're just moving faster and faster and getting back to people as quickly as we can - and that's minutes and not hours. That's driving us to think everything has to happen now," said Professor Richard Wiseman, head of this study. This is problematic because when everything has to happen now, making progress on important, longer-term goals feels impossible.
One moment, you’re working on a project. The next, a phone call comes in. You get distracted and read an email. Then, forgetting what you were initially working on, you start a completely different task. Someone stops by your office to chat until you end up at lunch—a lunch you’re likely working through. Your afternoon is riddled with meetings, which are interwoven with more interruptions. Every time you sit down to work on something of value, an urgent email comes in, the phone rings, a meeting reminder chimes, or there’s a knock on your door. And, that’s not even accounting for personal distractions.
Social media, text messages, and breaking news demand your attention with clickbait headlines too enticing to pass up. By the end of the day, you’re exhausted from nonstop interruptions and continual effort, but feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything. For all the running around, you have nothing to show for the things that matter—important work projects, family, hobbies, side-hustles. They’ve all atrophied from lack of attention.
It’s enough to make you scour the Internet for life-hacks; tricks to optimize your time and expand your energy. In the search for destroying distractions and becoming a productivity monster, I did. Each hack seemed to contain some bit of wisdom, either because it was a novel concept or because it was used by the rich and famous. We are attracted to the idea of massive success and are eager to try anything or follow anyone in order to find the time and money to do what we want. Thus, if Elon Musk advocates meditation, our desire to be a self-made millionaire compels us to tangle our legs into lotus position for an hour every morning. If Dwayne Johnson wakes up at 3 a.m. to crush weights for four hours, we feel momentarily motivated to do the same. Each life-hack presented to us is like a glittering morsel of potential that, once consumed, holds the promise of a life of achievement and happiness.
But for every successful person who meditates, there's one who doesn't. And, for every Instagram celebrity waking up at the ass crack of dawn, there's one who stays up late and sleeps in. This makes each hack less of a solution and more of a shiny lure, sparkling in a dreary ocean of grit and hard work. Unfortunately, like a lure, if we bite, we find ourselves getting dragged around, wasting time trying to make yet another productivity tactic work for us.
The problem is, while waking up early, meditating, or working out can all be important aspects to an overall system, blindly biting hook, line, and sinker into every life-hack without considering the ramifications can result in, at best, minor improvements and, at worst, a massive distraction to your goals. It’s why every success tactic you’ve found leaves you right back where you started: working late, exhausted, and wondering what happened to your day.
The fact of the matter is, these life-hacks may have worked for someone at one time in their life. But most successful people have already been grinding, climbing, and putting in a tremendous amount of effort to get where they were going. The life-hack may have taken them to the summit, but it didn't help them scale the first 99% of the mountain.
Life-hacks aren't the answer then. They are optimizations to a system that's already working. They are the tiny aerodynamic adjustments to a space shuttle that’s already built and ready for orbit. With the right productivity system in place, a good life-hack will further refine that system, making you more productive as a whole. Without that system, every life-hack is a distraction from your goals and a temporary avoidance to a long-term productivity problem.
It’s easy to think of productivity as some guy sipping coffee, phone at his ear, balancing a computer in his lap while reading the news on his commute to work. You know, the ultimate multitasker. Maybe you know someone like this. They’re that friend who can never hang out because they’re working late. Or the few times you do see them outside the office they’re buried in an email on their phone. Or, maybe you are this person? You’ve trained yourself to triage emails while on a conference call over dinner (been there). In search of that elusive feeling of accomplishment, you try to maximize every moment of your day with multitasking efficiency, only to find yourself exhausted and with nothing to show for your efforts.
That’s because productivity isn’t about burning the candle at both ends. Productivity, rather, is about burning the candle just bright enough, just hot enough, that you light everything around you while still having more candle to burn tomorrow. It’s about sustained output on essential tasks. Tasks that matter. Tasks that make a positive difference in your life. Tasks that help you make more money, get stronger, be healthier, reduce stress, and (excuse the cliché) live your best life. Productivity is about managing your time effectively to get the important things done without losing sight of other aspects of your life, becoming unbalanced, or sacrificing your humanity for someone else’s end goal.
If you can make real progress on a goal to achieve a personal dream while maintaining balance at work, you can call yourself productive. If you can take a step forward toward the vision you have for your life while keeping a thriving family, you can call yourself productive. If you can complete an important milestone in your business while staying healthy, you call yourself productive. Because those uniquely human experiences—enjoying dinner with your family, relaxing with a hobby, or enjoying a night out with your friends—don’t reduce your productivity. They enhance it.
None of this happens using life-hacks. But it doesn’t happen by accident either. Productivity happens with a disciplined approach to goal setting and planning. It happens by following a system. Unlike a life-hack that might work once, the right productivity system will continually increase the amount of work you can get done on any given day. Unlike a happy accident, the right productivity system will help you consistently produce results. And, unlike the hustle-and-grind culture that demands we do more with less, the right productivity system will help you get important work done, feel accomplished, and still make it home for dinner.
We’re here to build that system for you now. We’ll design it around your life’s purpose and focus it on creating and tracking and managing goals that allow you to live your life’s vision.
What this system won’t include are hacks for relentlessly multitasking like the guy described above. Nor will it include strategies for mindlessly jamming more shit into your day. These ideas of productivity are myths that hold us back. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones.