It’s late Friday evening when I’m on a Zoom call with Jamie, an ambitious young entrepreneur I’ve been mentoring for the past year. He’s going on about his latest venture and the rapid growth his new company has seen in just a few short months. “That’s wonderful news,” I tell him. “But remember to pace yourself.”
“What’s energizing you the most right now?” I ask. He laughs and shakes his head. “At the moment? Not much.”
Instead, Jamie tells me about the late hours he’s kept trying to get as much done as possible. He describes the weekend emails and dozens of tasks that await him every morning. “I’m kind of drowning,” he says. It’s an honest but unfortunately familiar refrain. As a leader, our dream is hitting peak productivity. There’s no doubt that the most successful organizations are the ones who nurture productivity in the workplace. But what happens when we go an inch too far and take it to the extreme?
In Jamie’s case, burning the candle at both ends was accelerating his company’s growth, but it was also costing him something much more valuable: his passion. Sociologist and Fast Company contributor, Tracy Brower, argues that an obsession with productivity tends to narrow our view—an effect that can be demotivating. “A productivity-above-all lens tends to put our attention on the details and nitty-gritty parts of our task, rather than the big picture,” she writes. Not only that, Brower notes that this kind of hyperfocus can be detrimental because it adds pressure. “That can be extremely paralyzing.” Therefore, it’s important that leaders and workers hit a happy medium.
A desire to scale quickly is often the culprit behind an obsession with productivity. However, this relentless pursuit for revenue and growth only serves to kill the passion that helped build your business in the first place.
Passion fuels our creative energy and equips us to make something meaningful from what we do. Without it, we’re just spinning our wheels. Editor at RescueTime, Jory MacKay, writes that “creativity depends on an openness to new ideas, freedom to explore, and finding purpose in your work. But all those qualities disappear when you’re burnt out.”
And it’s not just our work that’s affected; our overall satisfaction with life is affected. Scholars and writers, from all professional spheres, have pointed out America’s obsession with productivity and the deleterious effects a lack of downtime can have on health and happiness. If you’re taking on too much and struggling to summon motivation, here are three tactics to help you reignite your passion, and regain your sense of peace and satisfaction.
Prioritize stimulating work
We all have to get through a certain amount of tedious tasks we have to complete, but it shouldn’t take up the bulk of your day. While taking on as many dull, repetitive projects as possible might make you feel more productive, in reality it’s sucking the creative energy out of you.
“When your mental resources are limited, you need to make sure they’re going to the right tasks,” says Brower. “Burnout decimates your motivation, making working on projects you’re uninterested in an agonizing process.”
In other words, the work we take on directly impacts our mood and drive. To combat this mental fatigue, Brower recommends filling your plate with things that add value and make you excited to go into work in the morning.
Know your limits
Over the course of my company’s trajectory, I’ve had frequent conversations with entrepreneurs like Jamie, who want to do it all. They’re eager and ambitious, often comparing their efforts to giants like Google or Amazon. But all this energy often makes them take on too much too soon. It’s clear that they did not know their limits. I get it: I was once them.
But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in building my business over the past 15 years has been straying far from “productivity culture.”
For me, being busy is not synonymous with success. By not overcommitting myself—or saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way—I can put my attention where it matters most: in the passion to carry my business forward.
“Focusing too much on productivity can be like setting the net too high—if something feels unreachable, it’s not even worth trying,” Brower explains. “That’s why, in many instances, you should put less pressure on yourself to keep your motivation higher.”
Knowing your limits takes time and concerted effort, but once you do, your drive will increase tenfold.
Choose meaning over productivity
“The pandemic has changed many people’s sense of purpose and self-identity,” writes Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg for Harvard Business Review. She explains that in development psychology “blandness or a lack of emotion is a defense mechanism in response to confusion, loss, and the emotional toil of adapting to a new set of circumstances.”
She’s not wrong. Trying to be productive with an empty emotional reservoir is an exercise in futility.
So then what’s the antidote? In my humble opinion, it comes down to cultivating a sense of meaning, in what we do. Inevitably, doing more for the sake of getting more done won’t help us reach our life goals.
As Steve Jobs famously shared in a 2005 address, “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
I couldn’t agree more. There will always be ups and downs in the business world, but maintaining a passion and feeling satisfaction in the knowledge your creation or work helps others (speaking from experience as a founder and technology entrepreneur) makes a dramatic difference on a personal level.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of Jotform, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, Jotform allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.