Regain Your Time.com Blog

April 13, 2009

The Relationship Between Happiness & Productivity

There are a few magazines I read with regularity, and one of my favorites is Real Simple.  If you are a guy, I hope I haven’t just lost you!  Bear with me, if you will.  Real Simple magazine surveyed 2600 women and men on their keys to happiness.  My wonderful husband, Shawn, is a statistician so I must acknowledge here that yes, 2,600 is a very small sample and yes, I’m sure the survey was quite unscientific.  Nevertheless, I think some of the results are illuminating and seem perfectly plausible to me.

One of the results was that 72% of people report that happiness, for them, lies in making progress toward their goals, even if they never achieve them.  This is easy to believe because other studies of happiness report the same thing.  In The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt writes that people report being happier before they’ve achieved their goals, and happier before getting things they thought they wanted, than they are after.  It seems that the lesson here is that it is indeed true that it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

Part of the Empowered Productivity System teaches people to translate goals into projects, and projects into single-step activities that are actionable.  Because it seems that merely having goals is helpful, but not enough.  Actively making progress on them is one of the keys to happiness.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  For example, “get fit” is a great goal to have.  But if you put it on your to-do list like that, it’s likely never to happen, because as it is, it’s not actionable.  A great way to tell if something is actionable is to to ask yourself, if I had some time right now, could I get that done?

So first, it must be translated into a project, and a project must have a definable beginning and end.  You must be able to tell when it starts and when it will be over.  So one project related to our “get fit” goal might be, “exercise a minimum of 3 times per week for 6 months.”  Once this project has been completed, exercising will likely be a habit that will be continued.  This project, however, it also not actionable without some further definition.  So the first step (or the Next Action of the project, as David Allen writes in Getting Things Done) might be, visit http://www.mylocalgym.com for membership rates and class schedule.  Or, an alternate Next Action might be to visit the local running store and get fitted for shoes, or make an appointment with a friend to walk a mile on Tuesday….you get the idea.  Goal becomes project, project becomes actionable next step.  This contributes both to your happiness, and to your productivity.

There was one more interesting result from the Real Simple happiness survey that I’ll share with you tomorrow.  If you enjoy these posts, please use the RSS feed link in your browser or on the right side of this page, or follow me on Twitter @mnthomas, so that you can get updates as they happen.  Thanks for reading!

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