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How to Balance Productivity & Life Fulfillment

Balance productivity and life fulfillment by going with the flow and living in the moment.

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From wonder into wonder existence opens.

Lao Tzu

I love structure and routines. I’m an INTP-T personality and my Adlerian personality priorities are superiority & controlling. What does that mean? I’m a perfectionist who likes to analyze, overachieve, and maintain control. Boring, right?

I’m inconsistently reminding myself that there is beauty in chaos and that I must surrender the illusion of having it all together so I can be human, tap into my creativity, and embrace my primal power. Live, breathe, laugh, cry.

Well, my planner wasn’t helping me with that. In fact, blind loyalty to my planner increased my stress and reduced productivity. The first two weeks of sticking to my planner were great—I had clear goals, my day was scheduled out, and I got a sweet rush of dopamine every time I checked an item off the task list.

So what went wrong? First off, I got so addicted to that dopamine hit that when life got in my way, I became absurdly irate. I wanted to shove it aside, tell it to take a hike, and focus on the task at hand.

That doesn’t work so well with a toddler. My daughter is 3, my son is 11, and both of them are home with me 24/7 during the pandemic. They’re both bored, frustrated, and undeniably anxious with all the recent change and uncertainty.

The NCHS estimates that between April 23 and July 16 of 2020, indicators of anxiety and depression in age groups 18-29 increased by 6%. While there is no data on adolescents, it’s obvious that our kids are experiencing a lot of unease during COVID-19 disruption. We all are.

One of the tactics we adopt to regain some semblance of normalcy is to control anything we possibly can. I used my planner as a source of personal power and control, and my daughter used her inconceivably catastrophic emotional meltdowns to control me.

I resisted, but it ultimately worked. I failed to understand that my reaction to her win was damaging for both of us. I sent the message to her that my tasks were more important, and received the message for myself that my day was ruined if I didn’t accomplish those tasks.

“Patience is the antidote to the restless poison of the Ego. Without it we all become ego-maniacal bulls in china shops, destroying our future happiness as we blindly rush in where angels fear to tread. In these out-of-control moments, we bulldoze through the best possible outcomes for our lives, only to return to the scene of the crime later to cry over spilt milk.”

― Anthon St. Maarten, Divine Living: The Essential Guide To Your True Destiny

Before I go off on a tangent and lose you, let me state that I do believe the use of planners can be very beneficial, if used correctly. Let’s first address how we use them incorrectly.

Planning as a Source of Rigidity

Blind loyalty is toxic—it drives corruption, fosters reckless endowment, and induces mindless obedience. But, we’re talking about a little blank book, so what am I going on about?

Here’s the thing, when we are married to our planner, we are likely to be rather attached to the plan. We aren’t flexible or willing to shift our focus if need be. We’re simply sticking to a rigid schedule because it’s written down—or because someone told us to.

This doesn’t allow us to live in the moment. However, we may be convincing ourselves that we are. I do it to myself all the time. I tell little ol’ me this little story that having structure and high productivity makes me not only high achieving, but happy, and little ol’ me laps it up. It’s simply not true.

Planning as a Source of Procrastination

Have you ever compared the amount of time you spend planning to the amount of time you spend accomplishing?

According to “Time Management Facts and Figures” on Dovico, up to 80% of the average working day is spent on activities with little or no value. Say what? We’re only being “productive” 20% of the day? I wonder how much of that time is spent planning for a project rather than taking actionable steps to accomplishing it.

The truth is, a lot of us suffer from over-planning. We are constantly in planning-mode but have nothing to show for it. We fail to take action on many of our intended endeavors and unintentionally abandon them.

This is partly caused by overzealous aspiration, or “shiny-object syndrome.” We get so excited over all of these new ideas that we let ourselves get carried away from one fantastical idea to the next, never actually buckling down to do the work.

But procrastination also stems from subconscious apprehension. Maybe we’re nervous about launching a new business plan or torturing ourselves with imposter syndrome when it’s time to sit down and write that book.

So instead of doing the thing, we incessantly plan for it. This gives us a false sense of accomplishment because we certainly are busy, aren’t we? But when a given amount of time passes and no real progress is made, we just let it go.

Planning as a Source of Overwhelm

Fear of imperfection, fear of failure, and fear of things going wrong are colossal sources of overwhelm. But where does our desire to over-plan come from? Often times, it’s those fears.

Where there is fear of imperfection, there is also fear of criticism, feelings of inadequacy and hypervigilence. In other words, lots of stress and anxiety leaving us little time to relax and enjoy life.

Being in a state of constant stress and anxiety impacts us on a biological level, manifesting in physical symptoms and illnesses that can not only impact our productivity, but our quality of life.

Even when we know these fears are irrational, they are not easy to banish. It requires dedication to slowing down, letting go of control, and practicing mindfulness. Who ever said that was easy?

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu

Planning vs Flowing

There is a quote floating around out there that I absolutely loathe:

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.”
― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens

Ehrm, no. That is not what we mean when we talk about going with the flow. There is a difference between settling for less and living a life of purposeful fulfillment.

Here’s a better one:

“Planning is helpful. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll seldom get it. But, no matter how well you plan, you will fare better if you expect the unexpected. The unexpected, by nature, comes unseen, unthought, unenvisioned. All you can do is plan to go unplanned, prepare to be unprepared, make going with the flow part of your agenda, for the most successful among us envision, plan, and prepare, but cast all aside as needed, while those who are unable to go with the flow often suffer, if they survive.”
― David W. Jones, Moses and Mickey Mouse: How to Find Holy Ground in the Magic Kingdom and Other Unusual Places

Now we’re talking. Going with the flow doesn’t mean floating aimlessly through life, it means accepting life as it arises. Instead of being irritated that my daughter wants my attention when it’s time for my scheduled workout, I can choose gratitude―gratitude for this amazing human being wanting to spend time with me, gratitude for the ability to drop what I am doing and give her my love, gratitude for these precious moments that are gone in the blink of an eye.

I made myself cry there, and that is exactly the point. I’m feeling, experiencing, and being. I’m not just existing from one lifeless task to another.

Learning to Live in the Moment

I’m not going to lie, I am experiencing a bit of imposter syndrome in writing the above subheading. Sure, I know what I’m talking about. Do I consistently practice what I preach? Hardly.

But that’s the beauty of imperfection—I’m allowed to be both a work in progress and a bestower of heart-centered advice. So are you. You have permission to be unplanned and messy but still feel worthy and accomplished. You don’t have to choose.

You don’t have to abandon your planner, either. Aim for a healthy balance and find out what works for you. Seek accountability for goals and take small, actionable steps. Also, take note of how you are spending your time. Do your priorities align with the important things in life?

“Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”

Chuang Tzu
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