Rethinking Productivity: Less Hustle, More Harmony, More Energy

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” ~Lao Tzu

I can hear the voices now:

“You should be disappointed in yourself” (for not taking the SATs in seventh grade).

“Don’t be lazy like [fill in a not-so-studious sibling/cousin]!”

“You need to work harder or else you’ll fall behind.”

“Always be analyzing, analyzing, analyzing!”

“We need to improve our operational efficiency or ELSE.” Or else what?

My mind became a boiling stew of negative self-talk, heavy thoughts, and beliefs that didn’t serve me. Throughout my entire life, from an immigrant Asian family to corporate leaders fixated on metrics, the voices have been consistent:

You’re not doing enough.

From a young age, I’ve been indoctrinated (without consent) into the school of thought that “you better work hard or you’ll get left behind.” I got sucked into the hustle and grind culture and became fixated on productivity.

But it never felt enough. The promotions, the raises, the accolades, the praise—they never satisfied the part of me that felt like I was never enough. There was the constant, compulsive need to do MORE.

As the productivity gurus say, you need to master time management. But while striving to manage time, I realized this:

Time was really managing me.

Any time I freed up from being more efficient, I’d fill up with more busyness. I constantly spent my energy on the past or the future. Never in the present moment.

Eventually, I burned out. Life became miserable. It sucked the joy out of life.

During my lowest point, one evening, I sat at a local park and stared into the abyss. Questioning the meaning of existence and why I wasn’t enjoying life anymore.

In a miraculous moment, a two-year-old toddler waddled toward me with boundless joy and hugged me. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

The toddler’s mother apologized to me. With a softened heart, I reassured her, “Please don’t apologize. I needed that.”

The greatest teacher I could have had at that moment was a two-year-old who barely knew his right hand from his left. The lesson? My achievements don’t define my self-worth. Self-acceptance isn’t determined by how much I’ve accomplished. Love is unconditional.

And that began the journey of rethinking my life. And rethinking productivity.

It wasn’t until I began examining my inner world more consciously that I was able to rewire my programming and shift the paradigm completely.

Through individual therapy work, meditation, and letting go of old beliefs, I learned the very thing so innate to each and every one of us:

We are enough.

Nothing more to do. Nothing more to be. Just enough. Always enough.

The next truth I gained along the journey was that I could still be “productive” and enjoy my life.

In the rough landscape of hustle culture, we often find ourselves racing against the clock, trying to squeeze an extra drop of efficiency out of every second. As a result, it sucks the soul out of our lives.

If this were a cooking show, we’d be moving around the kitchen at a frantic pace strictly following the ultimate recipe: “success.

Yet somehow, through all our hustling and bustling, we lose sight of the most important ingredient: energy.

Energy is everything.

It’s how we show up in the world. How we show up for each other. How a two-year-old toddler joyfully embraces a stranger. 

Without our vital energy, we can’t be our best selves and do our best work. We can’t create that culinary masterpiece that evokes joy in the world.

While it’s something kids have naturally, we adults need to relearn what this feels like.

As reality has it, the relentless push toward productivity often leads us to a paradoxical outcome: burnout; a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion; and working from a depleted place (no energy) that creates work that feels… lifeless. 

Following the cooking metaphor, let’s consider a more harmonious approach to getting things done.

Sprinkling Life Energy into the Productivity Stew

If you had more energy in your mind, body, and spirit, how could that change the dynamic of your work? Whether that be launching a new side hustle, finally writing that book swimming in your head, or striving toward that next promotion at work, how could more energy serve you?

Like savoring each sip of an aged pinot noir, we can fully experience the gift of the present moment. And through this embodied place, we create from a place of inspiration filled to the brim with energy.

Here’s how we can sprinkle this goodness into our day-to-day.

Pause for a Breath

Before diving into the deep end, take a moment to just breathe. A deep breath can be like a mini vacation for your brain, and it’s much cheaper than a flight to the Bahamas.

Focus on the Entrée and Prepare Fewer Side Dishes

By zeroing in on what truly matters, we can devote our full attention to fewer, more meaningful tasks. Consciously doing less can create more impact. Surprise!

Balance, The Secret Ingredient

In the recipe for success, “doing nothing” (aka rest)  is the unsung hero, rejuvenating our minds and preventing us from becoming crispy around the edges.

Self-Compassion, The Essential Seasoning

It’s okay if we don’t create our best work at first. It’s okay to not meet our own personal expectations when we’re trying something new. Sprinkle a little self-compassion and patience into the mix and remember that every chef has burnt a dish or two.

Find Joy in the Cooking Process

Life can be messy. We’re human after all. Embracing the mess in the kitchen leads to creativity and, sometimes, the most delightful surprises. Did you know chocolate chip cookies were created by mistake?!

We need to understand that our life journey is not linear. When we make mistakes, it might feel like we’ve failed or gotten off track. We might feel incredibly confused. But it’s the experience of moving through this confusion that leads us to clarity.

So be open to making mistakes. Be open to making a mess, and try to have fun while doing it. This might lead you closer to your goals than you’d expect—or open up new possibilities you didn’t even know to imagine.

Stirring in Small Changes

Remember, it takes time to develop new habits. Adapting this new recipe of productivity doesn’t mean a menu overhaul overnight. Start with small, incremental steps—perhaps a morning ritual that includes a moment of gratitude, a new activity that allows you to disconnect and recharge, or a three-minute dance party with yourself. Anything that brings you back to presence.

Change simmers slowly but once established, it can create sustainable results: a sense of peace, fulfillment, and harmony—and it’s well worth the effort.

The Balanced Plate of Productivity and Well-Being 

By incorporating moments of mindfulness, rest, and self-care, we create a more sustainable approach to work and life. And as a byproduct, we’re gifted with longevity.

By letting go of the fixation of time management and producing results, we paradoxically earn more quality time in our lives to do the things we love and truly care about. Because we have more energy for them.

After over twelve years of working in the corporate world, I’ve decided to step away from the nine-to-five job and enter the world of entrepreneurship. As you might know, starting your own business is like walking into uncharted territory. It can be both exciting and scary, simultaneously. And unlike a corporate job, which defines the parameters of how productive you are, as an entrepreneur, you create your own.

This paradigm shift has led me to embrace the tips I’ve mentioned here in this article. Not only has rethinking productivity saved my sanity, I’m actually enjoying the work I do for the first time in a long time. I feel more alive. Fueled with more energy. And I’m having more fun. Now that’s a recipe worth keeping.

If you’re ever finding yourself lost and confused in this world so fixated on productivity, do what a two-year-old toddler does and see the wondrous world with curiosity, wonder, and awe. And remember you are worthy regardless of what you achieve.

About Tai Le

Tai Le is a writer and the founder of the Power Punch Project, a newsletter curating unconventional ways to boost productivity. “A Tropical Oasis Nestled in Your Inbox.” You can sign up for the free newsletter here: powerpunchproject.com.

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