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The Productivity Trap

About a year ago as the world opened back up and travel started again I quickly found myself at home less and less. Whether it be charity adventures, TV work, mountaineering challenges or travelling I think I’m out of the country more than I’m in it these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, life’s short and my body isn’t going to allow me to do this forever so the fact I can combine my passions and work with travelling the world is a blessing I never even considered a possibility. However it does throw up some interesting challenges and one that I’ve been trying to work out over the last 6 months or so is staying ‘productive’ when my life is anything but structured. For me productivity used to be quite literally how much I could do in a day - emails, training, writing, calls, rehab etc. Believe me there are many of you out there dealing with a lot more hectic ‘in trays’ than me; I’m not ‘under pressure’ at work, I don’t manage hundreds of people and I don’t have kids to contend with but even when I’m at home I still can’t seem to find the time in the day to get everything on ‘the list’ done. Sometimes if I have a few days in a row then I can get somewhere near the bottom of said in tray but inevitably it keeps replenishing itself, the never ending cycle of ‘things’ to do. On the rare occasion that I do hit ground zero I the realise that the important stuff, the bits that could change the dial further down the line and really make a difference to my life never even make it on to the list. Starting the new book; pushing on with the podcast; establishing that business idea that’s been an ‘idea’ for too long - all of those things get lost in the never ending cycle of surface level jobs that often aren’t actually that important but you tell yourself they are because completing them satiates the constant need to feel ‘productive’.

Being away again, often in situations where I literally can’t access my emails, phone signal or a gym, put me in a position where I had to ruthlessly sort through my ‘in-tray’ and ask myself how could I remain productive despite doing less. I realised that with a finite amount of time available it becomes not how much I’m doing but what I’m doing that matters. I also noticed that I wasn’t going to have to cut out the important things because I actually wasn’t doing them at all! Every day I was getting lost in the noise of the never ending to do list and completely neglecting those dial moving activities. I had to clear the decks, front load the things that matter long term and take advantage of the dead time on my travels to dive into those tasks.

I chose a life with no structure and after coming from the thoroughly structured life of professional sport i think I’m still adjusting to it and working out what works for me. Every day I have to battle the urges to ‘seem’ productive and try to slot the important work in wherever I can. The writing journey started again on the side of a mountain in Nepal and will be released in the form of blog posts soon. Right now I’m on the plane home from Italy taking advantage of some dead time and when I get home I’ll be spending the next two weeks front loading the podcast until season 2 is out there for you to enjoy. I’m fully aware that every day will be a struggle to stay on the important stuff but if this life is going to work my new definition of productive is going to have to stick…

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