What do we typically say when we don’t get something done? “I didn’t have enough time.” This is one of the greatest misnomers ever. We all have exactly 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day. There’s no such thing as time management; there’s only choice management. We complain about time when we don’t like our choices, but we always have choices.
The real key to increased productivity, to achieving more with less effort, and to having greater balance in your life, is to make better choices. This sounds pretty rational and fairly straightforward, but it’s neither. Why? The main reason is because you’re human and humans have needs. Some of those needs will support your productivity, and some will undermine it. If you can become conscious of the needs that undermine your choices, then you can increase your productivity dramatically and quickly.
The two human needs most harmful to your productivity are the need for approval and the need for significance.
The Need for Approval
When your choices are driven by the need for approval, you focus on being liked, do what’s expected and expend lots of effort trying to please others, regardless of whether those choices are aligned with your goals. Typically, the consequences of an approval orientation are resentment, exhaustion and victimhood. You also become susceptible to the emotional manipulation of others and your relationships become transactional. Ultimately, you end up pursuing others’ priorities at the expense of your own.
If you find yourself saying “yes” to others out of a sense of guilt or obligation; if you hear yourself saying “I have to…”; if you play the role of the martyr, then it’s very likely your productivity is being undermined by an approval orientation.
The Need for Significance
When your choices are driven by the need for significance, you focus on those things that make you look or feel most important. Significance encourages you to be at the center of everything, to always ‘be on,’ to micromanage and to disempower others. The consequences of a significance orientation are increased stress, busyness and exhaustion. You also become more easily offended, more competitive with others and tend to take things personally.
If you find yourself saying “yes” to others because “no one else can do it like you can”; if you feel threatened when others succeed; if you like to be the hero and the rescuer, then it’s very likely your productivity is being undermined by a significance orientation.
Having read this far, you’ve probably identified a tendency toward one or both of these needs for approval or significance. No need to beat yourself up; we’ve all been there and most never leave. Just recognizing the downside of these needs represents progress. If you’d like to leave them behind all together, there are three tactics that can help you.
Focus on Your Need for Growth and Contribution
Beyond the need to be liked or to feel important, are the needs you have to grow and contribute. And the good news is, these are the needs that keep on giving. The more you learn and grow, the more productive you will become. Similarly, the more you make a genuine contribution to others, the more choices you will have about where you contribute. Paradoxically, you will also get a great deal more significance and approval, without even trying.
Calculate the Cost of Saying ‘Yes’
It’s very likely that you’ve articulated personal aspirations, such as your purpose, goals, values and priorities. To leave significance and approval behind, your aspirations must be so compelling that you’re prepared to upset others in order to achieve them. Then, every time you get a request on your time, you can calculate the cost of saying “yes” to that request, relative to spending time on what you’ve already deemed most important. It’s easier to say no to another person’s priorities, when it means saying “yes” to being home for dinner, or to your health and vitality, or to focusing on your professional goals.
Choose Discomfort Over Resentment
As wonderful as you are, and no matter how hard you try, not everyone will like you. In any case, others’ negative emotions often have little to do with you anyway. More often than not, they will just be projecting their own fears and insecurities and you happen to be a convenient target. When someone makes an unreasonable or unimportant request of you, relative to your aspirations, look them in the eyes and say, “No thank you. I’m unable to prioritize your request.” If they get upset, it’s not you that’s upsetting them, it’s their expectations of you and those expectations belong to them. The alternative is to say “yes” out of a sense of obligation, but obligation always leads to resentment. If you want to increase your productivity and feel good about your choices, choose discomfort over resentment every time. The real key to increased productivity, to achieving more with less effort, and to having greater balance in your life, is to make better choices; something you can do only if you move beyond the need for approval and significance. I hope this article will help you in that endeavor.