They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, so there you have it. Lately, a series of events have forced me to realize that being busy isn’t the same as being productive. The harder realization has been this:

  • My work is not my life.
  • My life is not my work.
  • Who I am has greater value than what I do.
  • My performance does not determine my worth.

It’s funny how one “ah-ha” moment can turn into an avalanche of change. It’s like when you discover a new word that you never heard of before and then suddenly you start seeing it everywhere, and you wonder how you missed it before.

It started a few months ago when I read The Now Habit at Work. I guess you could describe it as a self-help book, but I really expected it to be a book about productivity. Instead, the author starts out diagnosing my problems, and while he called me out on my procrastination, he really told me why I was dysfunctional– because I am a fraud.

Yep, you read that right. I’m not a workaholic at all, I’m just not who everyone thinks I am. I’m not as smart as you think, and I’m not as capable as I once was, and I’m afraid that everyone is about to discover my ineptitude. I should be fired.

See, the truth is, I’m my own worst enemy. If you know me at all, I’ve probably already convinced you by now that I’m a bit of an overachiever, a people-pleaser, and a perfectionist. And the world places a high value on these things, especially because I’m a woman. That’s not the tragedy though. The sad part of the story is that since 9 years old (I remember vividly the very day that this kicked in), I believed that I had to do something to earn love from my parents. I was trained to believe that performance equalled love. And that belief influenced every relationship after.

So while I’ve worked hard to do more, do better, and make everyone happy, in my head, I’m not doing enough, not doing it right, and ultimately not feeling loved.

Now keep in mind that I wasn’t conscious of this before reading The Now Habit, it just was. Then a few weeks ago, a second confirmation came in the form of a random channel selection that brought me to Dr. Brene Brown on PBS. It’s worth noting I do not watch public television, so my stumble on channel 2 was a mistake that I was trying to correct before I heard a few words on perfectionism. So I stopped and listened. And. was. sucked. in. For the next hour and half I stood in my kitchen and watched this program on her book The Gifts of Imperfection. And when Soupy came home, I started rattling off everything I had just learned about myself.

Brown gave me permission to be flawed. In fact, she encouraged it– when you are a perfectionist, you limit yourself because you’re too afraid to do something you might not be perfect at doing.

For the second time in my life, in a span of a few months, I was reminded that I don’t have to do something in order to earn the love of others. “There is no prerequisite for worthiness.”

The Now Habit even has a chapter on me titled “Procrastinators Use Ineffective Self-Talk.” So here comes Brown connecting all of those things I’m telling myself– that I’m a fraud, I’m not good enough or smart enough, yada yada– to that place of shame I’m stuck in.

And she had a better definition of shame than I did:

Shame is really understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, makes me unworthy of connection?

And the other thing that’s striking about her research is that the only difference between people who feel love and accepted and the people who don’t is that the former believe they are worthy.

Belief. That’s all. They have the courage to be imperfect, and they have connection because of their authenticity.

It takes some courage to be vulnerable, to find comfort in the imperfection. To let go of work as the source of your identity, and find connection and belonging because you are worthy of it. There’s a theme unraveling in my life right now, and the pattern will probably get clearer the more that I write about these random insights that are threading together. It’s a little unnerving, but I’m convinced that something within me has been unlocked. One thing’s for certain: I’m closer to the destination than I’ve ever been.

A “Bit” Overwhelmed

When I first started reading Bit Literacy, I’ll admit to having low expectations. I don’t know why, but I’m skeptical that anyone can really give advice about information management without really experiencing it exactly the way I do.

Lately (and by lately, I mean over the last five years — the last two overwhelmingly so), I have been so inundated with streams of data that it’s affected my overall productivity. I think it’s even contributed to what my doctor says is Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. When he suggested prescribing a daily pill, I decided it was time for me to get a handle on this. But how? I’ve lost control of the multiple inboxes, social media streams, RSS feeds, oh, and the actual non-digital conversations that are infiltrating my consciousness.

But I suspended my skepticism about the book mostly because it was a free download in iBooks, and what better book to test the new iPad app, right? I hope you see the irony in this.

Some of what author Mark Hurst says makes sense. His description of “busy man” syndrome speaks to a core problem I’ve long struggled with, that busy-ness equates to importance. In effect, we do this to ourselves by not setting boundaries between work and life. Suddenly our identity, our value is what we do, no longer who we are. As we become busier and busier, we adopt a lifestyle that is no longer sustainable.

Hurst, to his credit, doesn’t try to talk you into eliminating the sources of “bits.” Instead, he favors a policy of managing the data, which is to say, act on and erase.

So I adopted one of the strategies he suggests: inbox zero. This means emptying all email inboxes daily, and instead of storing email as your to-do list, use another system to prioritize tasks. Cluttering your inbox just doesn’t work. It’s a psychological thing. I can honestly say I agree with him, and Google has gone a long way in making this work through their task list integration. It’s not perfect, but it allows me to move email to a task list, prioritize, and add to my calendar rather than seeing it pile up in the black hole that was my inbox.

Hurst compares email to Chinese take-out. You can keep in the fridge for a few while, but soon enough, it’s going to get pretty funky. I’ve also started using Voo2Do to manage multiple to-do lists.

Hurst also recommends a “media diet.” You must constantly re-evaluate the information you’re consuming, recognizing that your time is a limited resource. It requires questioning what’s useful to you and getting rid of what’s not. I’ve had to do this. I’m a big fan of tennis, so I subscribed to tons of tennis news feeds. But I never had time to read them, and they would just stack up in my RSS reader, reminding me that I was a loser for getting so behind. Hurst gives you permission to eliminate the stuff you don’t have time for. “The bit-literate user is forever on a media diet and has to be in the habit of saying ‘no’… Every possible source is a ‘no’ unless it’s proven otherwise in a disciplined tryout.”

I’ve been trying some of the tools I’ve learned in Bit Literacy and combining them with similar book that I’ll talk about in a future post, The Now Habit at Work.

The 4-Hour Workweek

Re-reading this book but in a new context. The first time I read it, I was looking for an exit strategy. This time around, I’m looking at from a time management perspective: how to achieve more in less time and how to balance life with work.

“‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.” You can’t put things off waiting for the perfect conditions. I need to remember this and not put off doing what I want to do. I have a lot of things sucking up my time that don’t benefit me at all– most of it is information overload.

Two things I’ve long struggled with:

1. Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

2. Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

“Being busy is a form of laziness– lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant. Being selective– doing less– is the path of the productive.” -pg. 73

Pareto’s Law aka the 80/20 Principle: 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. -pg. 68

“Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I gave you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials.” -pg. 75

I’m going to start applying this idea and create false deadlines for projects just to get them out the door. This may compromise quality, but it will actually allow me to get the essentials complete and then fine-tune. Requires some testing.