I’m not ashamed to say that I’m obsessed with life hacks and productivity. I swear by Google Calendar, use Notion for organizing my to-dos and thoughts, and feel pretty disappointed when I wake up past my goal of 8:30am.
I have conversations with friends about how to be ‘more productive’. Some things, i.e. meditation and hitting the gym consistently, work wonders for my productivity. Others, like intermittent fasting and blocking time, haven’t been as effective. Regardless, it fires me up to think there’s someone out there working harder than I am and achieving more, while I’m sitting idle.
In this post, I want to explain my approach to being productive, how it’s changed over the years, and why I strongly believe there is such a thing as being ‘over-productive’ — it can be toxic, and my generation is most susceptible to it.
It’s always a race
I went to a high school with regional programs (i.e. IB), so competition was ingrained early. It wasn’t a question of whether you got honours, but rather how well you did relative to the rest of the class. Classmates were heavily involved — leading clubs and extra-curriculars outside of school, playing on competitive sports teams, the list goes on.
I fell into that, and it stuck with me — all my friends were shooting for (and getting into) the top programs for their respective interests. Fast-forward 4 years and those same former classmates are in med school, working software engineering jobs in Silicon Valley, or grinding at top consulting or banking firms. Simply put, it’s not special to be an over-achiever, the question is to what extent you can take it.
College was a similar story, but instead of getting top executive positions in school clubs, it migrated to getting top internships at coveted companies. Friend groups began to shift apart, and I increasingly tried to associate myself with people who were always on the look-out for new opportunities, hustled hard when given the chance, and often sacrificed health (mental & physical) to get there.
Conversations were (and still are) very predictable. “What are you up to for the summer?”, “Did you sign full time?”, “How are grad school apps going?”, and countless other questions that solely related to your position as a student and success towards (supposedly) objective career goals.
The working world
Things changed when I started working full-time at Clearbit. The majority of the company was in their late 20s or early 30s; anyone who was caught in the rat race of being ‘furthest ahead’ burned out by 25 and had since found a proper balance, while those that were late bloomers found their footing and were well content with their life — both career related and not.
I was shocked to be in this environment, and to be honest, a little lost. There’s hustle porn galore in The Valley, but I increasingly started to realize that your job was only a fraction of your life. I.e. your friend group, the city you’re living in, and what you do / think about outside of work is what shaped you as a person.
The sheltered environment of college and highly concentrated interest groups make for a rough transition to the ‘real world’. Example? I work in tech, read tech, and talk about tech a lot. This is fine in college, and a large part of my friend group is very engaged in tech. Entering the work world, even people I looked up to a ton, with regards to their tech knowledge + career, never wanted to talk about it outside of work. My job is not what defines me as a person, no matter how much I threw myself at it.
The idea of being ‘as productive as possible’ marks the transition of college/young professional life into what could arguably be regarded as ‘full adulting’. I’m guilty of all the cliches; I tried intermittent fasting, I still meditate fairly frequently, and I’ve used grayscale on my phone, Moment, and deleted apps like Instagram and Facebook to maximize productivity.
I can confidently say this isn’t living; life loses its zest when all your activities are reduced to a slot in Google Calendar or related to how it positively or adversely affects your productivity / career progression (trackable by a spreadsheet). So with that in mind, I’ve tried making a conscious effort to dive deeper into my hobbies and interests, making decisions that don’t optimize for productivity, but instead for experience.
Example — I could stay in on a Friday night, grab a coffee and my laptop, and meticulously work on building a company. I could also ditch the laptop, hit the bars to hear live music with my friends, many of whom I may never see (ever, or for a prolonged period of time) after a few weeks when we part ways.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to taking goals & objectives off your day-to-day, and instead being intentional about enjoying life. Not to say that being driven is a bad thing, or that goals should go out the window. But the minute that they drive every decision I make and result in me missing out on experiences I otherwise would not have had, is where I have to draw the line.