Occasionally, I fall into the trap of wasting WAY too much time reading productivity related articles. But I figure it must not actually be that uncommon. I wonder if on average productivity blogs, books and interviews result in an increase in net productivity for their audience. For example, “did reading this blog for two hours save me more than two hours of time down the road?” Hopefully, for my sake, the answer is YES!!!!
Reading Cal Newport’s excellent blog, Study Hacks, I cam across an article that seemed to address this dilemma. The Art of the Finish was actually an interview Newport did on another blog, maintained by one Scott Young, but definitely put the productivity worship that people can fall into, (myself included,) in it’s proper place. The basic idea is that being productive can often become a goal in itself rather than the completion of a specific task or project. In essence, when you are busy, productive, and yet getting nothing done. When you get there, you’ve officially entered 9th circle of hell territory.
But this “goal focus” as Newport terms it is also paired well with a “process focus”.
As Young writes in his own post, titled How Not to Want Things and Still Be Happy, being process oriented should also be a strong part of accomplishing our goals. I would agree with the idea that there is a good balance to be achieved between having a goal, or desirable outcome, and enjoying making it happen. Basically, as he sees it, a process focus is really just learning to put your goal in the background once you have it and focus on the work to be done at that time.
My interpretation of the two ideas together is that once you set a goal, and a means of making it happen, you can shift your focus to the actual doing. I guess an analogy would be a model airplane: once you know what you want it to look like, don’t worry if you’re still only half done after 4 hours of gluing and painting- just enjoy the activity of finding where each piece goes next, how it should fit, and trying not to superglue your fingers together. Oh, and enjoying seeing the plane come together, too! Such as, ‘whoa, now I’ve got a fuselage.’ Then, ‘Nice, I finally got the landing gear looking right!’ All the way to the end.
I should say, that in my experience as a kid, my model plane’s rarely looked like I originally envisioned them. But often they were good enough and I was proud enough of my work that I was still satisfied, if not a bit anxious to try to make the next one look better. But to me, this is the ideal blend of ‘process’ and ‘goal’ that I think has always been most effective in my life. It’s the times when I’m either too disoriented to have a goal in mind, or too focused on the goal to find the fun and excitement in what I’m doing that things seem to not live up to their potential.