Productivity And The Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Pyramid

Photo by purpleslog
Photo by purpleslog
In 1943, Maslow proposed his pyramid of needs. Briefly, this theorizes that everyone has levels of needs, and until the lower needs are met, higher ones will not come into focus. So the theory goes that until you have a steady food supply and physical safety, you will not focus on creativity.

The Pyramid and Productivity

I believe that most people have similar levels in their productivity systems as a reflection of their life needs. It would make sense that most people cannot focus on writing the greatest novel ever written if they are surrounded by piles of dirty laundry.

The Problem With Most Productivity Systems – Top Down Design

One of my biggest problems with early time management or productivity systems was the focus on the top levels. “Write a mission statement and make sure everything you do works toward that.” This idea is fine if you have a staff to handle the mundane details of life or a stay-at-home spouse, but for the majority of us, this isn’t the case. I know that the mission statements I produced early in my quest had no mention of housework, laundry or cooking.

Bottoms Up Productivity

I really believe that until we have a handle on our current activities and responsibilities, there is no productivity system that is going to allow us to find the time to pursue other goals. Most people are barely finding enough time to work, run the kids around, do basic household stuff and sleep a few hours every night. So how do we get our current responsibilities into a manageable state?

Go Gradually

There is no magic bullet. We have to incorporate our lives into the system, not force our lives to conform to the system. This requires gradual change. We must work the system in, adjusting as we go. As individuals, we need individual productivity methods.

Evaluate Day To Day

Anything that helps us come to grips with our daily lives has to be flexible enough to handle what we encounter. We must take a look at items, evaluating from day to day if they are things that need to be done, or if someone else could do them.

I had a good frame of reference in January. With my husband in intensive care for a few days, a five year old at home and no family nearby to help, every day became a “what is the bare minimum that needs to be done” question. And truthfully, it dwindled down to clothing, food, and maintaining a regular schedule for my daughter. Exercise, walking the dog, housecleaning, writing, and, even to a limited extent, work, all went by the wayside.

These priorities changed day by day. Work was added back in first. There were days when I could walk the dog, or do a bit of housecleaning. But until I had the basics under control, I couldn’t add anything else in.

Get the Basics Under Control

In order to get to the point where we can tackle dreams (or someday/maybes), we need to be able to handle what we’ve got on our plates. This means looking at what we do at work and at home and evaluating. Write down everything we do. Do we need to do it at all? Can we do it less often? Can someone else do it? These are all questions we must ask, particularly if we are overloaded.

But What About the Other Stuff?

Usually at this point, though, we have a large list of tasks that need to be done but we haven’t gotten to. I think Mark Forster has it right. Put everything into a backlog and concentrate on tomorrow. Then chip away at the backlog as you can. Eventually you will get to the point where the daily stuff is working well, and you can now focus on the next level: the things you want to do.