Many of us "in Tech" come from rich and diverse backgrounds. One of my closest colleagues was a world-renowned Pastry Chef prior to devoting her energy to Front-End Development. Another, a football star turned Product Designer.
I too have a similarly "different" background. Just under a decade ago, I found myself in Washington, D.C., hell-bent on becoming the next U.S. Ambassador to France. I now speak French fluently and can wax poetic about U.S. Constitutional Law. But ultimately, I’ve bid that dream adieu.
So how do these anecdotes – tales of dreams deferred, unlikely career pivots – relate to the state of productivity in our day and age? I think these anecdotes underscore a lesson that’s helped me orient the vast sea of news, information, and updates that bless (and effectively curses) the tech community: a lesson about the ruthless prioritization of the aspects of your work that provide the most value, personally and professionally.
I can’t speak for every field. But there’s something unusual about the sheer volume and frequency of “news” in the tech space. “Check out this new prototyping tool” is a headline seared into the retinas of most Product Designers. “Check out this new front-end library” is etched into the brains of Developers. The cognitive load of our collective work is real, and it runs the risk of overwhelming new practitioners who, already facing serious imposter syndrome, might not have the facilities to filter and prioritize accordingly.
There’s nothing we can do to halt the rate of innovation, and I’m certainly not suggesting we should.
After all, the daily barrage of tech content–tutorials, think-pieces, and articles–has been instrumental both in my formation as a Product Designer, but also in my becoming a more aware, productive member of society. But when I switched careers, I thought the most effective tactic for learning would be to keep an Evernote notebook of all the tools I wanted to try, articles I wanted to read. Inevitably, the notebook grew exponentially, as did my insecurity about whether I was learning “enough” or doing things “right.” I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one in this boat.
And then, it dawned on me. I realized that productivity isn’t the rote completion of tasks on a to-do list or the habitual bookmarking of links from DesignerNews or Sidebar. Rather, it’s the recognition, prioritization, and execution of the things in your life that provide the most value.
If we’re being honest, that realization didn’t come so easily. It was the result of some serious introspection; it was the result of confronting tough questions like “why did I switch careers” and “where do I currently excel and lag behind?” However difficult an exercise, it ultimately equipped me with a deeper understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and a filter I could use to tailor news, updates, and content accordingly.
Now, gone are the days of reflexively adding links to my evernote notebook. Instead, I curate a growing list of personal accomplishments, questions into which I’d like to probe deeper, and exercises I can do to further reinforce my understanding of the things that provide the most pleasure.
That, to me, is productivity.