Some people roll their eyes at the idea of applying productivity to their personal lives. That’s a work thing! The last thing I want is to go home and think more about goals and milestones and KPIs!

I get it. Think about the productivity books you’ve read. Or have on a list somewhere that you intend to read. They have a pretty business-y feel to them, don’t they? (I’m looking at you, 7 Habits and Getting Things Done—there’s a reason David Allen took his tie off for the 2015 edition.) It doesn’t help that for most of us, the conversations we have about productivity, efficiency and setting goals tend to happen at work.

Yet life is one indivisible whole—if our performance is suffering at home, our performance will suffer at work. Likewise, the more successful we can be in any area of our life, that will improve our performance in the other areas.

We need a working definition that doesn’t make us leave productivity at the office. Something that helps us realize that we can set goals and be productive at home without sucking the life out of, well, our life.


The Oxford English Dictionary reflects the Industrial Age notion of productivity: the rate of output per unit of input. It works if you’re making widgets in a factory, but it doesn’t help much with the two-thirds of your life you spend away from work.

Think of productivity like this:

Productivity is how fast you go from where you are to where you want to be.

That’s it.

Productivity is taking intentional action that will bring about change—the act of producing a desired outcome. A task is a single change you make in the universe. A project is a focused set of related changes that bring about a larger change. A goal is a broader collection of related changes that bring about a much larger change.

You have raw materials you want to forge into a widget. That’s an initial state and an end state. Productivity is about how long it takes you to get a widget out the door.

You want to transform your drab backyard into a relaxation oasis. Pay off $98,000 in credit card debt. Lose 25 pounds. Start a business.

Productivity is going from here to there because you want something to change.

In The Time Paradox, Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd address this false dichotomy of work-vs.-life productivity:

Don’t ask what tasks you have to do today or what obligations you must meet before you can take time to enjoy yourself. Continually ask the big questions: What do I really want out of my life? What am I doing to get what I want? What is the best way to get from here to there?

Life goes in your trusted system, too, not just work. The fun things, including rest, re-creation, and time to play, should go on your calendar first to make sure they happen.

Don’t let your life away from work fall through the cracks. Plan your whole, indivisible life and see the success you want in every area.

Question: Is more of your trusted system devoted to work or life? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.