Discussions on productivity just sound like another form of the litany “ACHIEVE! ACHIEVE!” to me. This voice only grew louder and meaner as I found myself unable to continue in the corporate and academic world and was left wondering – “So then, now what?”
So what if I get 78 on 100, or 85 on 100 in a subject at school and not 92? “She is so intelligent but… “, that is what each teacher told my mom at the parent’s-teacher-meeting each year for ten years. “Can do better”, “Can do better”, every teacher wrote these same three words in the comment section of my report card. And I was left wondering silently, “So? So what if I did not get those few marks more? How does that matter?” I never got an answer. This standard feedback slowly translated into the litany inside “Achieve! Achieve!”, a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with myself. Each time my inner voice demanded “Achieve! Achieve!”, my being with quiet innocence asked, “Why?” – and an answer was not forthcoming.
“Work is love made visible”, says Khalil Gibran. That rings true in my being. However, to do that, one first needs to connect with the love within, which can then get expressed in the work we do. Stoking people, invoking them to produce more, without connecting to how they feel about the work internally is rather pointless.
If one does not know, what is the unique form of love that pulsates within one’s self, which can be shared with the world as work, then what can one do? In the absence of that knowledge, one must first reject the litany of “Achieve! Achieve” resounding within out of dissatisfaction with one’s self, coming from well-meaning near and dear ones, and perceived of the world. One must connect to one’s inner being, connect with the unique flavor of love, beauty and universal energy within first. During this search, talk of productivity can be quite, well, counter-productive.
Once one is able to connect with one’s inner joy, to any measure, that joy naturally starts expressing itself as action. We then work simply because we are so very much enjoying doing that activity. Productivity then naturally flows. No strategies are required.
Knowing the Why
Strategies for tuning work flows, communication, planning and other such engineering attempts within teams and our own brain to boost productivity does have its place in the scheme of things. Even so, I commonly find – boss is giving a speech, trying to stoke productivity from his team after having read Stephen Covey and the like - and employees with blank faces staring back. Those blank faces clearly indicate that those employees are not connected with their inner being and why they are where they are, and the employer has no clue why his employees are there.
There are so many reasons why a person may be engaged in an activity, and reason change over time too. It serves well for the individual to know for herself, why she is engaged in an activity, to periodically ask herself that question again, specially when things feel amiss. Often our true motivators to do something might not be apparent to our own self. Some self-observation is required to find why we are doing what we are doing.
When I was enrolled as a Computer Science PhD student I thought it was because I wanted to see the research world. For some time this was indeed the case. However, even after being disenchanted with what I saw, I pressed on. There were new reasons. Reason 1: ego. Some university had to accept me. Then, reason 2: I wanted to prolong my stay in the US a bit more and be with its wide open expanse and its trees. Also, reason 3: a lingering hope. I genuinely appreciated the energy and sharp brain of my adviser. Maybe I would see the spark I had sensed when I read about research in my high school days? However, the kind of research I saw was not in alignment with my true why – connecting to the universe. I sure was not interested in the degree per se. I was not looking to be a professor and have a career in academia. Finally, reason 4 for continuing: If not this PhD, then what. None of the reasons why I was there could have aided productivity. I became aware of the real whys, why I was continuing – and how I was not honoring my "true why". I had to leave.
Knowing Your Team Members Why
Just as it serves well for the individual to find her true why for a task, it would benefit the employer, leader, boss tremendously to invest energy into trying to find her employees and team members’ whys – why are they really here. There is just so much productivity that can be achieved if the only give and take between company and customer, and company and employee is money.
Knowing your team members’ why requires reading her face, her eyes. It requires talking to her while totally setting aside the concern of what you can get from her – at least for a few minutes. Depending on the culture of the land, the true answer may not come on asking the first few times. She might just give the answer that she thinks is desired. “I love data analysis!” The true answer may not come also because she herself does not know, or because she does not trust you enough to her reveal her true motivator. Knowing if you are getting the true answer or not requires connecting to the person, not the “resource”. Knowing the true why may not happen over one interview. And the reason changes over time too. Hence, it serves well for an employer to connect with her team member periodically on a formal basis too, for such delving in. That is, apart from trying to connect to a fellow human, on an ongoing basis, as you work together.
When you know a person’s true why, the relationship is truer. The exchange becomes more than give service, take money (or experience or status or whatever). In this setting, a natural boost in productivity will occur, and when there are team meetings, productivity pep talks, productivity strategies being discussed, blank faces will not be staring back at you.
Finding The “Work Is Love” Within
Some people know from early on which kind of work is “love made visible” for them. Maybe you do not know what it is for you. For the longest time I did not know. I had no clue what work to do. I found myself unable to do conventional computer science work. Now I sense that I am nearing the answer.
To find what you naturally like to do, which can be of worth to the world, can be a process of elimination for some people. It has been for me. This can be extremely harrowing and can batter one’s self esteem. You try one thing and find that is not the answer. You try another. That too is not the answer. And the only way you can know if something is or is not the answer is by doing it. And each time your self esteem dips a bit further. Self-doubt and the sense of failure tighten their grip. Nevertheless if this is the only option you have, then it is the only option you have. This search requires patience and faith. Even then, while being harrowing, this search can be exhilarating too.
Each doing and undoing leaves some clue in its wake. “Feeling” data points accumulate, the feeling that each activity, each engagement aroused in you. This “feelings database” that you create in your heart makes for exotic intuitive data analysis, if you let the pattern and answer reveal itself.
And then one day, lo and behold, productivity naturally flows. How? By love. Why? For love.