Be unapologetically unproductive.

When you think about carving out time to do the small things that light you up — taking a leisurely walk, reading fiction, drawing, painting a rock, watching a sunrise, or anything else that today’s world would deem “unproductive” — how do you feel about it? 

Personally, I can feel a sense of low-grade anxiety: surely I’ve forgotten something extremely important and I must sit at my computer until I remember what it is. Playing Sudoku or surfing social media for an hour somehow feels more productive (“See? I’m at my computer!”) than walking away from the screen to play with paints or meeting a friend for coffee.

Others describe a feeling of guilt, having picked up the belief that being a grown-up, whatever that is, requires us to put everyone else’s needs before our own. There’s a voice that’s constantly whispering “You should be doing _____” that never shuts up, and is never satisfied.  

Where did we get this idea, anyway?

(Scrolling scrolling)… “Four Reasons You’re Not Being Productive.” “Improve Your Productivity At Work.” “10 Productivity Hacks.” “The Best Productivity Apps for 2021.”

Argh! Stop the madness already. These messages are everywhere.

Sure, it’s helpful to get more done in less time. Who could argue with that? But we’re not machines.

Productivity is an idea we’ve borrowed from the Industrial Age in which value was determined by factory output. The greater the output, the greater the value creation.

This, of course, is the fundamental premise of most workplace cultures today. It’s the premise that fuels the relentless busyness in cities like San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv and London. It’s the message that’s been drilled into us since our first jobs out of school.   

Somewhere along the line, we’ve equated our own personal value with outputs and forgot what it means to be human. Is it any wonder that depression, stress and anxiety are at all-time highs?

It’s high time to accept that we simply can’t live like this. We do have biological limits and vulnerabilities that require downtime, white space, sleep, and healthy boundaries.

It’s time to say NO to the idea of toxic productivity in order to say YES to the best of being human: experiencing the joy that comes from Life and Freedom and genuine Connection and Creativity and all those juicy feelings that naturally emerge from the care and feeding of our souls.

And not just occasionally, not just for a “special treat” for doing such a good job being productive. Gawd, that’s another huge misconception: I’ll treat myself only if I achieve this list of goals. Hogwash. That’s how we train dogs… it’s not how we live.  

You deserve joy, dear reader. And I’m sure you’re overdue to give yourself permission to unapologetically create it for yourself on a regular basis. If you don’t do it for yourself, who will?

Living your truth begins with saying YES to those small, seemingly inconsequential things that represent the essence of who you are. Pretty soon those small things start to snowball into a more authentic, confident, happy version of yourself. You feel seen and heard for who you are because you are seeing and listening to yourself.

Being unproductive can be life-changing.

What will you say NO to this week so that you can say YES to what lights you up? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

PS. We’re exploring this topic in the Intentional Rebels group coaching program right now. If you’d like to learn more and get on the list for the next cohort, click here. Or if group programs aren’t your thing, you can book a call directly with me here.

For a better 2021, think inside the box

The transition to 2021 is well underway, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon! Have you started imagining how this new year could be better than the last? 

The forced solitude and downtime, plus a greater awareness of mortality, are sparking cravings for change in so many people.

Cravings for more meaning, authentic connection, and freedom in our lives and work.

These changes will be unique to each of us. It can be hard to know where to start, or what to focus on first. Tip #1:

wear your innovation hat

I suggest taking a page out of the innovation playbook. As innovation pros know, the best ideas don’t come from a blank page, infinite possibilities, and a generous bank account. 

Instead, the best ideas emerge within design constraints.* Thinking outside the box paradoxically requires thinking inside a box. 

Constraints are even more important for brains like ours that are dazzled by possibilities.  

If we’re smart and talented, perhaps we’ve believed that we could be anything we want. We tend to like novelty, so our overactive brains get busy with endless ideas about what we could or should be. 

We don’t like the idea of limitations… our culture says we’re supposed to correct or transcend them. But  limitations are precisely what we need most. They force us to look at the world more creatively, using fresh perspectives and improving focus and resourcefulness. 

Start with WHO

Tip #2 is my guiding mantra for any kind of strategy, personal or professional: Start with WHO.

Innovation pros know to start with a clear understanding of an archetypal customer: a persona that articulates the needs, mindsets, beliefs and the core challenge to be solved. They know that trying to please everyone results in not pleasing anyone. The persona guides many of the constraints.  

Why should intentional life design be any different? 

Starting with WHO starts with YOU: deeply understanding yourself and how you’re unique. Your core needs that drive your behavior. Your skills, passions, and hard-wired limitations. Those inconvenient facts that won’t change anytime soon: these define your box. 

We stop believing we could do or be anything and start playing with the hand we’re dealt. Not someday in the future if/when our circumstances might be different, but right now. 

Reframe limitations as design constraints

The moment I felt truly liberated was when I publicly claimed what is about myself instead of wishing I was different. I started focusing on what brought me joy instead of being obsessed with fixing or hiding what I assumed was flawed. I stopped waiting for someday or for more money in the bank. 

See, I have a laundry list of personal design constraints: I have a quirky brain that isn’t embraced by most companies. I’m a deeply intuitive dot-connector who doesn’t always understand social rules. I can be too direct, despite decades of practice. I get overwhelmed easily, so I need to carve out a lot of white space. My reality feels slippery: it’s hard to set goals and stick to the plan. I crave novelty and chase shiny ideas. I’m terrible at managing details.

I could have continued my decades-long struggle with trying to “fix” these limitations; instead I embraced them as design constraints in my personal life innovation project. They allowed me to take a pile of wishful options off the table (hurray!) to focus more clearly on my truth.

Is it then any surprise I’ve designed an incredible life in which I get to serve as an “intuitive acupuncturist of the psyche” (as one client called me) for similarly wired humans? In which I can roam the world with my camera instead of sitting under florescent lights getting 2 weeks of vacation a year? Where I outsource what I’m not good at, to focus on what lights me up?

I have designed my perfect life, not in spite of, but because of my limitations. I work with them, not against them. Are there a few things I’d like to improve? Sure. But a lot less than there used to be, when any option was fair game. 

We have very little choice about who we are, but 100% choice with what we do with it. 

Thriving happens when you fall in love with the hand you’re dealt, get creative with what the best version of you might look like, and challenge your assumptions about what’s possible… within the box. 


What are your design limitations? What are your YESSES; what lights you up? When you combine your limits with what lights you up, what ideas are sparked about your work, relationships, location, calendar? What doesn’t fit those constraints you can now confidently take off the table? Share in the comments!

Want to jumpstart this process?

Check out the Intentional Rebels group coaching program starting in January! Not just for career transitions, this program will help you design your most authentic life or work. We start with WHO — your unique needs, values and archetypes — and design from there. 

If you prefer a more personalized 1:1 approach, book a call with me for a no-obligation chat. 

*PPPS. If you want to read more about design constraints in innovation, check out this article in HBR or this one in Inc. 

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