First Published: October 10, 2022 | Last Updated:

The gist: For my birthday (10/10), I'm sharing 10 things I've learned in the past 10 years about productivity, balance, and work.

Guess what?!

Today’s my birthday! I’m taking it easy, watching movies in bed, and mayyybe going to Barnes & Noble to get myself a book to read on the balcony.


1010 has always been my favorite number.

And I’m sure I COULD write a list of 1,010 things about productivity and working brighter.

But I’ll spare you that and just give you 10. 😉

#1: Work is less important than we’re taught

We’re taught that (paid) work is core to our life’s purpose, when it’s really just one of many factors. This dissonance is why “working too much” is one of the top regrets people cite on their deathbed (according to Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter).

Sure, it’s how we can afford to live in a capitalist society, which makes it important for that.

And it’s great if you can find some meaning and fulfillment in your work.

But jobs are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

#2: Rest and play are more important than work

We’re taught to put so much effort into work and our careers that there’s not much, if anything, left of ourselves for other things.

Things like playful and restful activities.

But they’re how we keep ourselves going.

How we keep ourselves happy.

How we keep ourselves truly alive.

Plus, they both make you better at your work and productivity in the long run anyway, when those things do matter. As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says in Rest, “you cannot work well without resting well.”

#3: When done well, the planning is the doing.

There’s a lot of talk in productivity and personal development spaces about “procrastiplanning.” For awhile, it had me convinced that any planning and preparation were just a way of procrastinating.

But then I learned how to plan better (thank you, Getting Things Done).

And I realized that when you go about it the right way:

  • Every 5 minutes you spend planning can take 3-5x as much time off of the actual doing
  • The difference between planning and doing starts to get blurry

When you plan well, spending time on planning a project moves it along just as much as “working on” the project.

They’re one and the same.

#4: You want to know how to use as many tools as possible.

So many self-improvement methods are billed as “the” way, but none of them are. None of them will work for everyone, none of them will work all the time, and few of them will make THAT much of a difference on their own.

Instead, you need to find the ones that work for you.

And that usually involves trying and learning about a lot of others that don’t.

In Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll talks about how all of these productivity strategies, apps, and techniques are just individual tools.

And you know the quote about when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? You want a diverse selection of tools in your toolbox, along with the knowledge to figure out when to use each.

#5: “Work ethic” doesn’t determine your morality.

Being devoted to your paid job isn’t some signal of morality or excellence.

Sure, humans are somewhat hardwired to get fulfillment from hard work. But it’s not always the kind of activity we’re conditioned to think of as “work,” let alone anything that’s easy to get paid for.

That means for a lot of us, devotion or loyalty to our job actually takes away from the activities they really enjoy working at.

I don’t think I fully, completely realized that until I experienced the joy of watching a plant grow from seed or getting better at a dance routine with each rehearsal as an adult.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

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#6: Taking things slower is almost always worth it.

For awhile, I was so averse to the idea of handwriting when I could type instead. As fun as it was to collect emotional support notebooks, writing in them felt like a waste of time.

But eventually, I realized the slowness was the point.

It builds in more time for you to really think and mull over your words and ideas. It forces you to pause in a day full of action. It builds in reflection.

And sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

#7: Looking productive and being productive are very different states of being.

Constant connectedness has exploded the rise of performative productivity, where people are so focused on looking productive that they don’t actually get much done.

Sometimes you have to “unplug from the hive mind” to get done what you really need to.

(The same is true of looking successful and being successful, with the first being based on others’ expectations and the latter being based on your own.)

#8: You don’t have to leave your comfort zone to do cool things.

I used to buy into the idea that “nothing good happens inside your comfort zone.”

But as I’ve moved away from the intense hustle mindset to one of more empathy for and acceptance of the way my body and brain work, that’s changed.

Because you know what else happens outside of my comfort zone?

Sensory overwhelm. Autistic shutdowns. Panic attacks. Burnout. Chronic illness flare-ups.

Ultimately, comfort zones are about boundaries and limits. Leaving them completely when you’ve got disabilities of any kind going on has consequences.

So I flipped the script, and decided that when something I want to do is outside my comfort zone, I’ll grow and stretch my comfort zone until it’s not, instead of leaving my safe space.

#9: Burnout isn’t a personal failure, it’s a societal one.

I never understood why things seemed so much easier for so many of the people around me.

My coworkers worked the same amount as me, but somehow had energy for workouts and social events and things other than sitting on the couch after work.

They could make it through the week without being so tired by Friday that they’d go home and fall asleep before dinner.

They didn’t seem to need to “force themselves” to do things.

I thought I was just a failure.

But those people were ablebodied and neurotypical, in a society that has made life a lot easier for those types of people.

It’s a societal failure to not support everyone the way they need to be.

Not an individual failure for not having enough “grit” or “resilience” to keep up with the more privileged people around me.

#10: You actually do want balance.

In my Hustle Culture days, I bought into the idea that you don’t actually want balance.

That I should find a job I was so passionate about, it didn’t feel like work…and therefore I could do it all the time. That I didn’t need hobbies unrelated to my career. That I didn’t need play or rest.

But…see item #2.

Work takes energy, and energy takes fuel, in the form of rest and play and other self-care things.

Balance is less about your job vs. everything else in your life, and more about work/energy draining activities vs. rest, play, and energy giving activities.

Because working without anything else for too long leads to running on an empty take. And you can only run on fumes for so long.

In the long run, not even trying for balance only makes things harder than they need to be for you. And when you're disabled, it has drastic health consequences as well.

Are you ready to start working brighter?

Productivity isn't black and white, it's personal as hell. And there's no single lifehack or framework to solve your problems. 

Sign up to get weekly tips and stories to help you create your OWN definition of productivity working better and brighter.