Happiness Pillar 2: Productivity

November 15, 2021



What has Productivity got to do with Happiness?

Ok, it’s not the first thing that springs to mind when you think about happiness, so why here at Mindshine do we rate sensible old productivity as important enough to sit in our Seven Pillars of Happiness? And before you start, no, it’s not just because we are German!  Happiness has been found in a slew of studies recently to make people more productive, up to 13 percent more productive according to one study from Oxford University, but how can we argue a case the other way around? Does being productive make us happier, and if so, can we help you to become more productive, and in doing so increase your day-to-day levels of happiness? Yes, and yes. Read on to find out how…

Productivity fuels achievement and motivation 

Perhaps the most obvious way in which being productive generates happiness, is that it makes us feel good. Who hasn’t felt the little rush of joy that comes with ticking something off the to-do list? Having tasks hanging over us can be a horrible feeling, and getting going can be a challenge, but once we launch into doing mode, and start to get things done, there’s a feeling of strength and achievement that comes with action and makes us feel good inside. This isn’t just because we’re conscientious and love getting things done. In order to chivvy us along when there’s stuff to be done, our brains enlist the help of our own internal drug-dealer dishing out rewards for good behavior in the form of feel-good neuro chemicals. In this case, whenever our brains notice some sort of achievement, large or small, they hook us up with a shot of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected to feelings of pleasure, motivation and learning. This makes us feel good, and reinforces our desire to go back and do it again for another shot. Essentially hooking us on whatever behaviour we used to get the reward. It’s essentially using the same mechanisms which have us jonesing for a cigarette, or another go on that game on our phone, but when viewed as a way of getting more done, and actually enjoying the process, it’s the kind of addiction we’re totally ok with!

Productivity moves you toward Purpose

Hold on though. Don’t go filling your diary just yet. With this productivity stuff, just like a Sir-Mix-A-Lot video, there's a big but. Don’t confuse productivity for business. Nowadays almost no conversation is complete without a whole load of humble-bragging about how “incredibly busy” we are. Run off our feet! No time for anything! This is not productivity. This is having too much to do. What we’re looking for in productivity is doing lots of stuff, but with purpose. When studies have been done on what makes us happy over the years, one thing crops up again and again, living a life of purpose. When we feel that we have a reason for getting up in the morning, and even better, that reason aligns with the core values that we hold dear, we feel a greater sense of wellbeing. It doesn’t really matter what we do, as long as it allows us to feel like we’re doing something worthwhile. We feel needed, useful, part of something. When we’re being productive, we’re moving things forward.

Productivity fuels growth

When we’re being productive and getting loads done with purpose, we grow. We move forward with our goals. And alongside feeling more positive emotions than negative ones, this is the other marker by which happiness is measured. Satisfaction with how our life is going and our progress towards our goals brings us measurable happiness, and productivity moves us in this direction. 

Productivity means more time 

Finally, productivity allows us to achieve what we need to get done in less time, leaving us with more time, the one thing even billionaires can’t buy. And what can you do with all that extra time? Whatever makes you happy. Work on your hobby, or turn it into a side hustle, go for a run, do some yoga, knock off early and play with your kids, see your friends, take holidays. All good happiness-generating stuff. 

How To Become More Productive

By this stage, hopefully you’re fully converted by the idea of productivity and wondering how you can get more of it in your life. Well, wonder no more. Here are our quick and easy tips on becoming more productive. 

  • Set priorities/Time management - We’re all super busy. We all have way more to do every day than we can comfortable get though. So instead of stressing about it, or beating yourself up about what’s not getting done, try planning your day based on how much time you actually have, rather than based on what you’d like to get done. We have a great free exercise in the app called “Plan Your Day Backwards” which will talk you through the steps involved. 
  • Lists and micro tasks - Once you’ve got your list of stuff that’s do-able in the time you’re going to work, break all of those tasks down into much smaller units of efforts (we call them micro actions) and then tick each one off as you get it done. This not only makes beginning each bit of work far less intimidating, but if massively increases the hits of dopamine you’re getting doled out to you because you get a free one with every bit of achievement your brain notices, no matter how small. 
  • STOP multitasking - We all think we’re multitasking ninjas nowadays, and working from home is only making things worse. Who hasn’t found themselves reading articles while listening to podcasts while writing emails while cooking the kids dinner while shopping on Ebay? But guess what the research says? Doing more than one thing at a time is hugely detrimental to our productivity. According to a study at the University of London our IQ drops by ten points when we’re trying to multitask, the equivalent of losing a night’s sleep. 
  • Pomodoro - Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 80s, this productivity technique, named after the tomato shaped mechanical timer in his kitchen, is designed to break up your work time into chunks of concentration followed by brief periods of rest. In the traditional version you do 25 mins of focussed work, followed by a 3-5 minute break, with a longer Half hour break after every fourth work cycle. Feel free to change the times to suit your working needs, but brief enforced breaks have been shown to be very effective in increasing attention and allowing you to get more done. 

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, focus on the journey, not the destination. When we set goals, and allow our happiness to become dependent on whether or not we’re achieving them, we restrict our capacity for joy. As James Clear pointed out so nicely in his bestselling book Atomic Habits, when we take enjoyment from the process of doing, rather than getting the thing done, you’ve got yourself a happiness generating machine:

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

Like the article? Don't forget to share!

Links to other blogs

The Mindshine Newsletter

Sign up for the Mindshine newsletter to get the latest updates and podcasts, direct to your mailbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Share the article

Articles that might also interest you: 

Mindshine - Happiness Coach

The best tools from Psychology, Neuroscience and Mindfulness in one app. Constantly adapting to you.