Can Productivity Lead to Increased Happiness?

productivity and happiness

Has technology given you more free time or less? Are you feeling overwhelmed by too much multitasking, information overload and an overcrowded schedule? Do you feel guilty when you’re not doing something productive?

It seems like most of us live our lives based on the clock. We wake up at a certain time, work on a schedule and scrutinize our performance on how long it takes us to accomplish things. If we get more done in less time, our productivity feels like a source of happiness. But when something takes longer than we anticipated, we can feel disappointed with our performance.

The illusion of being done!

I think we can all agree that the clock is not the problem. The problem is that we tend to base our worth on our level of productivity. We’ve been programmed to believe there is a finish line out there somewhere and once we reach it we will finally be done. And what does being done represent? Well, emotionally, it usually represents greater happiness and a chance to relax, right?

Being done is only an illusion because we can always find more to do. In fact, we usually want more to do because a balanced amount of productivity feels good. We all like getting things done so there is absolutely nothing wrong with productivity. There is only a problem our happiness it built around productivity.

The time equals money, which equals happiness trap

In a work by the hour society it is easy to see how the saying time equals money came about. At a set hourly wage, the more hours you work the more money you will make. We can also relate to the fact that a certain amount of money is required to meet our material needs with a reasonable degree of comfort.

Somehow though, the perceived value of money eclipsed the real value of time. Let’s splash a little reality on that idea right now. Time is the most valuable commodity there is. Its value cannot be measured in dollars and cents because time is the fundamental unit of life. Money is just a unit of trade that we have assigned a certain value.

When we exchange our time for money we are actually trading a portion of our life for the things that money can buy. Once we go beyond the basic creature comforts, we are trading our life for bells and whistles that have no actual intrinsic value. That is not happiness, it’s slavery. This is where the real value of productivity comes in.

Realistic productivity can actually buy you time

The trick here is to see productivity as a way to compress the time required to meet our goals without using it as an excuse for endlessly doing more. More is not the answer. If we view time as the most valuable commodity, then our goal should be to do enough, not more.

This doesn’t mean filling every waking moment with some activity or appointment. It means raising our level of efficiency to the point where we have more time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  If I can earn a comfortable living in four hours a day instead of eight, then I have successfully bought myself an extra four more hours for actual living.

I think it’s important that we reject the idea of living our lives based on some arbitrary monetary value. Rather than searching for happiness in productivity or an ever increasing income, we would do well to learn to find satisfaction in the present moment.

5 ways to regain control of your time

1. Maintain a balanced view. Having goals means that there are bound to be times when we make certain sacrifices with regard to our time. But balance means that we will take steps to make sure that those sacrifices don’t define our lives. Make sure to offset those times by also allowing time for meaningful periods of full participation in the life you already have.

2. Keep your perspective. Sometimes we need to drop pursuits or activities that are no longer serving us. It is important to have the courage to pull the plug on a goal that is no longer aligned with your true self. What matters most is that you stay authentic and don’t waste big chunks of your life chasing things that don’t really matter.

3. Weigh the benefits and the cost. Are the sacrifices you’re making now a part of a larger purpose? Our long term goals should enable us to create more free time to do what we want in the future, not create more stress. If the stress outweighs the benefits, it’s likely that your goal is not a healthy one.

4. Just say no. How often do you say yes to a commitment when you really want to say no? A lot of our freedom is thrown away if we are unable to claim ownership of our time. Be humble enough to recognize that you can only do so much. There’s no point in trying to help a hundred other people if it means running your own life into the ground.

5. Follow your natural rhythms. When possible, avoid the temptation to force yourself into productivity mode when you need to relax. Otherwise, you will end up working against yourself. Try to pay attention to your natural rhythms. When you feel like being productive, go for it. But when you feel the need for some down time, don’t hold yourself back. Doing nothing is not a crime, sometimes it is essential.

Is increasing your productivity increasing your happiness?

If you’re getting more done, but not making more time for the things you want to do, something is wrong. The point of getting things done is not to have more time to get more things done. It’s to have more time for the things you truly enjoy.

If we can learn how to be more content with our level of productivity it will be easier to have a balanced view of time. Then our productivity will contribute to our happiness instead of stealing it from us. Cultivating a balanced and meaningful view of productivity can help you re-claim your time and increase your happiness.

Remember, time is not money. Time is life so spend it wisely.

How do you assess the value of your time?
Where does productivity fit into the picture?
The lines are open!

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  1. David Stevens October 13, 2011 Reply

    Yes Jonathan, Time is Life.
    It’s like the effective V efficient equation…..one can be very efficient but how effective ? Deadlines still rule however you still need to allocate time for living. Different things make us Happy, if it’s a deadline then I say ”fine” but happiness goes deeper than that…..
    be good to yourself

    • Jonathan October 17, 2011 Reply

      Greetings David, this wonderful balancing act we call life, so many amazing ways to go about it.

  2. Ken Wert October 15, 2011 Reply

    Nicely done, Jonathan.

    There are aspects of life that simply cannot be measured by dollars and cents: love and relationships, our honesty, integrity and character.

    Some aspects of life are certainly measured in dollars. We provide a certain measurable value to the market. Hopefully that value is recognized and we are decently compensated for that value.

    Still, we too-often measure the other parts of our lives in dollars and cents when we let our professional time leak too much and too often into our personal time, stealing moments from spouses and children and friends and the development of our spiritual or moral lives.

    Then we short-change those invaluable parts of living by artificially placing a price tag on them, the equal value we get compensated for our time at work.

    Thanks for the reminder to use a wholly different measure of value for those parts of life that are the most profound of all!

    • Jonathan October 17, 2011 Reply

      Hi Ken, I always enjoy it when you share your perspective. Nice points!

  3. Rob October 16, 2011 Reply

    I have quite possibly the most absurd overall setup for time management out of anybody I know.

    I actually run a full-time company with a couple of partners, and have a small business on the side. And my time management “plan” is as follows.

    I have a regular workload to achieve, and I set weekly goals. I then work when I want and from where I want, ensuring these goals are met. I don’t care how long it takes or when they’re really done (with the exception of deadlines.) I just have my goals, and I achieve them. Silly, right?

    • Jonathan October 17, 2011 Reply

      Hi Rob, if it works then I don’t think we can call it absurd. I always appreciate it when someone finds a system that works for them personally, especially when it flies in the face of what everyone else advises. Well done.

      • Rob October 24, 2011 Reply

        Yeah, I mean, if it works it can’t be wrong, but at the same time I sometimes totally forget that time really is more valuable than money.

        There’s always more money, but time is running out, and all that.

  4. marc October 16, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan!

    Money is just a catalyst of how we live our life. If we are happy, we will be more happy with money. If we are unhappy, we will become more unhappy with money.

    So, a balanced view about how we use our time and keeping our perspective are necessary to stay happy.

    We work to live and we should not live to work.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Jonathan October 17, 2011 Reply

      Great point Marc, it’s very true that money can give us the freedom to more fully express who we are (whatever that may be).

  5. Grady October 19, 2011 Reply

    “Remember, time is not money. Time is life so spend it wisely.”

    I know I’ve heard this before. I can see how this perception that time is money seems to have taken over our lives. Most people are chasing after the bigger, better job with a higher paycheck all the while forgetting that they are spending time to earn that paycheck only to reach that job and wish they had more time to spend with family or other things.

    We all need to learn to spend our time more wisely. Most of the things we think “have” to be done today really don’t have to be done as soon as we think they do. Take time to enjoy life.

    My brother, just introduced me to your site and I’m glad I found it.

    • Jonathan October 19, 2011 Reply

      Hi Grady and welcome to Advanced Life Skills. You are so right that Most of the things we think “have” to be done today really don’t have to be done as soon as we think they do. In fact, many times they don’t really need to be done at all.

  6. David October 21, 2011 Reply

    Yes Jonathan, Time is Life.
    It’s like the effective V efficient equation…..one can be very efficient but how effective ? Deadlines still rule however you still need to allocate time for living. Different things make us Happy, if it’s a deadline then I say ”fine” but happiness goes deeper than that…..
    be good to yourself

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