Being Productive Was So Much Easier Decades Ago

Thirty years ago, when I first entered the professional working world, staying on task was so much easier. I kept a single piece of paper on my desk and jotted down a few important notes during the day, so I had reminders of what needed to be done. My workload was always manageable and I never really felt overwhelmed.

Tim Berners-Lee used this NeXT workstation as the first Web server on the World Wide Web. It is shown here as displayed in 2005 at Microcosm, the public science museum at CERN where Berners-Lee was working in 1991 when he invented the World Wide Web. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

And I have tried them all.

I’ve adopted the methods — everything from Getting Things Done to time blocking to Kanban. I have tried every online task management tool and app I can find, like, Asana, Trello, Remember the Milk, and Zoho. I have created spreadsheets in Google Drive, built elaborate workflows in Smartsheet, and used an Evernote template to make myself a grandiose to-do list.

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I desperately want to feel productive.

I pore over articles that promise to help me be the master of my workday. The lessons others teach seem so smart and logical. I read, and read, and read some more… and dream of a smooth workflow. I think about what it must be like to end each day with a sense of accomplishment. I fantasize about goal setting, prioritizing, and dancing into work each morning with a huge smile and a clear sense of purpose.

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I work reactively when I would really rather work proactively.

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My list always gets longer, never shorter.

I look at my list, and I know it’s not the best way to work. I have read enough articles about time management to know this. But I question whether it is even possible to adopt a workable organizational method in this day and age. Are the people who write gleaming articles about being successful at managing their time really doing that well at it? I admit I am suspicious.

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I am decidedly NOT a workaholic.

I value my personal time and love my 40-hour workweek. Earlier in my career, I worked in television news, where I put in some seriously long hours. It was fine when I was young, but now that I am older, I don’t want that anymore. I want to enjoy a nice dinner and conversation with my husband and perhaps go for a bike ride together afterward. I want to spend weekends doing all of the things we love to do, like traveling and camping. I want to have the freedom to take a nap when I am tired. I have all of that now, and it is quite wonderful.

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I know there is more at play than not working extra hours.

Some traits work against me, for example. For one, my mind needs more time to think things through now that I am older. I also tend to overthink things and create more work for myself than is really necessary. And I am so eager to please others that I let them dictate my day.

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