The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal pointed out there are some areas of life that can only be understood as twin truths.
You cannot fully grasp the truth of the matter without understanding both sides of the coin. And each side appears to be the opposite of its companion.
When it comes to productivity, we encounter these twin truths:
1. We do best when we make a plan, set deadlines, and follow a pattern of commitment and accountability to reach specific goals.
2. We make the fastest progress when we simply walk in the direction of our goals, knowing we will only discover the way forward one turn at a time.
How could these both be true?
They are twin truths. You cannot understand the whole truth without examining both halves.
Without specific goals, commitment, and measurement of your progress, you will inevitably drift from one project to another without making any meaningful progress. The human mind is attracted to novelty.
We are easily distracted by a new idea which on the surface seems to have more potential than an older idea that we had been working on for several days or several weeks. The old idea has lost its luster of novel excitement. It became a task, possibly a boring one at that.
This is why we need a clear vision. A deadline to activate our focus. Something to celebrate upon completion.
And yet life is unpredictable. The future takes many twists and turns you never would have expected. Opportunities arise to leapfrog our previous plans.
“Luck” becomes commonplace once you have set a goal and have a clear direction and plan. You discover an open door you had not even known to look for just a short time before.
There are advantages to following the path of least resistance. That’s when you walk through the doors that open, rather than waiting for the one you had planned on passing through.
As long as you are walking in the right direction, the most important thing you can do is to keep your eyes wide open. Respond to what emerges. Let go of your need to control, and instead move with the flow of life as it unfolds in its unpredictable ways.
I encourage my clients to use both strategies. Do not ignore either side of the coin or you will never become a master of productivity.
Carve out time to slow down and create a plan. Break down your plan into small chunks. Make sure each of those small chunks has a deadline associated with it. Measure your progress toward the ultimate goal.
Then work toward your vision, but with an open mind. Accept the unexpected twists and turns that will certainly reveal themselves as soon as your plan begins.
Do not abandon your plans, but adjust them without frustration. Pay attention as life reveals where its energy is already flowing.
Do not attempt to control the twists and turns. Merely allow them to inform your plans after careful consideration to avoid making the mistake of seeking novelty over execution and disciplined focus.
This is the art and science of productivity.
There’s the scientific truth that we need reminders and concrete goals to get things done. Then there’s the art of watching, waiting, listening, and feeling the currents carrying us forward so we don’t make the mistake of swimming against them.