What do kids know about productivity? Aren’t children, what with their sleepy heads and easily distractable attention spans, the epitome of UNproductivity? I guess it all depends on what productivity means to you.
Kids actually give us a few clues about how to be really, purposefully productive.
One important step to productivity is planning. If you wanna get stuff done, you gotta know what stuff you wanna get done. Simple, right? If you want to drive to Pittsburgh, but you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, chances are you’re not going to just hop in your car and start driving. You might go to Google Maps and print out some directions, a nice list of all of the things you need to do in order to arrive in Pittsburgh. There are all sorts of strategies and systems out there that offer their “best” way to plan. Lists are a good start. I have one big list of things I’d like to get done eventually. From that list, I make another list of things I’d like to get done next week. And every night before I go to bed, I make sure I have another simple list of what I want to get done the next day. Haven’t we all been doing something similar when we were kids? Didn’t you have a list of things you wanted to be when you grew up? (By the way, kids think it’s entirely possible to fit being a movie star, a cowboy, and President of the United States into one lifetime — and they’re right, just ask Ronald Reagan!) And most kids, when they go to bed at night, know exactly what they want to do the next day — “I’m gonna build a huge fort with my Legos tomorrow!”
2.) But Don’t Over-plan.
As true as it is that children have fixed in their mind the big thing they want to accomplish when they wake up, it is also true that they don’t over-plan the day. They don’t say, “I will wake up at 6:00 a.m. and play with my Legos until 8:00. Then I’ll color in my coloring book until 9:30, when I’ll have myself a snack before a quick ride around the block in my tricycle…” The secret that kids can teach us is that they have a definite idea of the MAIN thing they want to accomplish during a day (the thing that will make the most difference), but they leave a lot of air in their schedule for the unexpected things that come up. Like serendipitous opportunities, or the little moments that present themselves and make life worth living (such as a call from a long-lost friend, a quick stroll on a beautiful day, or an impromptu lunch with your significant other). These are the things that fly right by us when our knuckles are white and our nose is to the grindstone, as we try with all our might to be “productive.”
3.) Mind Your Passion.
It is easy to get caught up in the idea that “getting stuff done” is the same as being productive. But what happens when all this stuff we’ve done leads us down a road we never intended on going down? It’s easy to get caught up in the almighty to-do list, where the most important thing becomes crossing everything off the list instead of keeping in mind why you made the list in the first place. I think it’s a good idea to consider the concept advanced by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, which is the idea that when you die, your to-do list will STILL have items on it. Lots of ’em. The idea that we’ll actually ever cross everything off our to-do list is a lie. It’s an Adultitis trap that tricks us into ignoring the little things, the little Cracker Jack prizes, that make our lives fun, enjoyable, and truly fulfilling. As it has been said, it doesn’t do any good to climb the ladder of success if when you get to the top, you find that the ladder was leaning up against the wrong wall. Every once in a while, we need to step back from the stuff we do and ask, “Why?”
“Why am I working on this project?”
“Why am I doing this right now?”
“Why is this the best use of my time?”
Kids mind their passion. They do things that excite them, things that are interesting, and fun. Being a “grown-up” means we sometimes have to do things that aren’t always pleasant, but it doesn’t mean we have to chuck our passions out the window. It doesn’t do anyone any good to accomplish all kinds of stuff in the name of productivity, if the stuff you’ve accomplished doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
The BEST way to be truly productive is to be working on something that inspires the heck out of you in the first place.