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Posted by Vanto Group | May 22, 2024 5:10:23 PM EDT


Rethinking Productivity: Winning Without the Pressure of ‘Getting It All Done’

In the age of “there’s an app for that,” increased productivity promises to be just a click or swipe away. And we’re clicking at a furious rate. Statista reports 8.98 billion downloads of productivity apps in 2024 alone, demonstrating the enormous demand to boost our ability to accomplish more in less time. Yet, in practice, adding another tool typically increases the stream of notifications urging immediate action, interrupting the task at hand, and triggering the release of stress hormones. 

If the app-based approach doesn’t allow us to ‘get it all done,’ maybe a solution can be found in the world of ‘life hacks’ and morning routines. We read profiles of successful CEOs and entrepreneurs who optimize every moment of their day, from their morning meditation to evening reflection. These aspirational individuals seem to ‘have it all,’ so they must have the right habits and rituals to accomplish it all, right? Yet, when we emulate their routines—from joining the 5 am club to keeping a gratitude journal—it doesn’t seem to make a dent in our ever-growing-to-do list. 

Could it be that ‘getting it all done’ is not, in fact, an indicator of productivity, let alone a useful way to predict performance, fulfillment, or success?   


The Relentless Drive to Get it All Done

Somewhere along the way, we bought into the idea that if we work harder, faster, longer, and smarter, we’ll not only “do more,” we’ll also “be more” and “achieve more.” Perhaps we received early recognition for our ability to multitask, juggle projects, or work long hours. We may even have received a promotion or two operating within this paradigm. 

In the long run, though, this way of working is not only unsustainable but also counterproductive. Research has shown that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40% (Meyer, 2015). When we’re constantly trying to do everything, we spread ourselves too thin and fail to give our attention to the work that will move the needle on our most significant goals.

The truth is, we will never ‘get it all done.’ No matter how efficiently we work, our inboxes and to-do lists will keep growing. The belief that we can and should complete every task, every request, and every project keeps us on a treadmill of busyness without meaningful progress.

Moreover, the constant pressure to ‘get it all done’ can lead to overwhelm and burnout. The result? Decreased motivation, creativity, and satisfaction. Our misguided drive to ‘get it all done’ ultimately inhibits progress toward our most important outcomes.

We need to reframe productivity. What is it about if it’s not about ‘getting it all done?’ The answer is partly conventional wisdom and partly painful truth. 


Prioritization: The Painful Truth Behind the Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom and prestigious research tell us that prioritization is the key to productivity. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that people who prioritized their tasks based on importance were able to increase their productivity by 25% (Saunders, 2018). But is it really that simple?

Oliver Burkeman, author of “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals,” reveals the painful truth: “The lie we tell ourselves is that prioritization is just working out what’s important and what’s not important. It’s a lie. There are more things that are important to us than the time we have to do it all.” 

Prioritization isn’t just about identifying what’s important; it’s about accepting the discomfort of letting go of things that matter to us but won’t fit into our limited time. It’s a process that forces us to confront the reality that we can’t have it all, no matter how much we optimize our schedules.

So, how do we navigate this painful truth? The first step is to clarify and then choose which among our most important goals and objectives we’re going to focus on. These are the consciously chosen outcomes that will have significant positive impact on our personal lives and professional results. Next, we must ruthlessly evaluate each task on our to-do lists against these objectives, asking ourselves, “Does this task directly contribute to achieving my chosen goals?”

But prioritization isn’t a one-and-done deal. As goals and circumstances change, so may our priorities. Setting aside time to regularly review and adjust what we’re scheduled to work on ensures we’re always focusing on the tasks that will bring us closer to our chosen objectives, even if it means letting go of things we care about.

Mastering the art of prioritization allows us to cut through the noise, reduce overwhelm, and channel our energy into the work that will impact our success and fulfillment. But it also requires us to face the discomfort of acknowledging that we can’t do it all, no matter how much we want to. Embracing this painful truth is the key to winning without pressure to ‘get it all done.’


Making Time for What Matters Most

Given that we can’t “get it all done,” and we can’t even get everything that is important done, how do we ensure that our limited time is spent on what matters most? The key is intentionally making time for our chosen priorities in our schedules.

A study by productivity app RescueTime reveals a startling reality: the average knowledge worker spends only 2 hours and 48 minutes daily on productive tasks (RescueTime, 2019). In other words, most of our workday is consumed by activities that don’t directly contribute to our goals. To make meaningful progress, we need to block out time in our calendars for focused work on our priorities and treat these blocks as sacred, non-negotiable appointments.

How do we determine how much time to block off? Time-tracking software can provide insights into how long recurring tasks and projects take us to complete. Armed with this knowledge, we can schedule more accurate work windows and avoid the stress of over-booking ourselves. 

It’s also helpful to schedule slivers of buffer time for unexpected interruptions and self-care breaks to recharge. By including some flexibility in our schedules, surprises won’t derail our entire day.

Like prioritization, scheduling time for important outcomes is an ongoing process. As our priorities shift or get completed, we need to regularly reassess and adjust our schedules to align with our goals. And yes, even the brief blocks of time required for this reassessment need to be scheduled!

Proactively managing our time to focus on our consciously chosen scheduled priorities creates momentum toward meaningful results, reduces stress, and enhances our overall sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. This is productivity redefined—not as a measure of how much we can cram into our days, but as a reflection of how intentionally we spend our time on the outcomes that matter most to us.


Embracing a New Way of Thinking About Productivity

In a world that glorifies busyness and “getting it all done,” embracing a new way of thinking about productivity takes courage. It means facing the truth that we need to let go of some of the things we care about so that we can get laser-focused on fulfilling our chosen outcomes. Doing so opens us up to a more fulfilling way of living and working—one that allows us to win without the pressure of an imagined version of life where it’s possible to “do it all.” 

Reframing productivity in this way offers many benefits, such as:

  • Greater peace of mind, sharper focus, and increased day-to-day contentment sparked by being clear about what we are and are not working on.
  • Improved decisions and creative problem-solving fueled by pursuing our chosen outcomes free from the pressure to 'get it all done.' 
  • Higher-quality results and a real sense of achievement gained by engaging in focused work made possible by strategically prioritizing and minimizing distractions.
  • Revitalized well-being supported by choosing to make room in our schedules for activities and relationships that recharge us outside of work.
  • New opportunities for growth and positive change illuminated by the practice of consciously choosing our priorities.

These benefits extend beyond our personal performance, fulfillment, and success.

By winning at consciously choosing what we are and are not going to do in the time we have available in our lives, we can inspire others to do the same. And in so doing, contribute to a shift in societal thinking, challenging the glorification of “hustle culture” and the pressure to “do it all" and “have it all.”

Rethinking productivity is a game-changer. It is an invitation to step off the treadmill of busyness and step into a brave and intentional way of working and living—one where we measure success not by the sheer volume of what ‘gets done,’ but by the impact we make and the joy we experience— one consciously chosen priority at a time.



Statista, (2024). Productivity Worldwide, [Chart], Statista Market Insights.
Saunders, E. G. (2018). How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important. Harvard Business Review.
RescueTime. (2019). RescueTime's 2019 Productivity Report.
Burkeman, Oliver. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.