MIND YOUR PRODUCTIVE CATEGORIES

Most workplaces talk about productivity these days and to better understand productive categories we must first understand what the term ‘productive’ actually means.

‘Productivity’

Productivity in itself means something useful. But then again useful is extremely subjective. For example, a regular watch for a blind person is a useless object. It does not matter even if it is a diamond-studded Rolex. So, a better term would be any work or issue that holds meaning to the person doing it.

Throughout the day we often ponder upon things that are either unrelated to us or hold very little meaning in our life. And while doing so, we categorize them as “good” or “bad”, “superior” or “inferior”, and “black” and “white”.

For example, Rohit reads about the money-laundering case of a business tycoon and how his own booming empire has now become ruins. Throughout the day Rohit thinks about how evil the person is and how much money he has stolen from people. Despite not being even remotely related to the case or the person or the business, Rohit’s loss of productivity can be directly tied with these thoughts.

It is our inherent nature to judge and create categories for every issue we come across. It could also be about events and people or about almost any other thing. While judging is bad in itself, not creating categories is even worse. Because then it leaves little room for rational thinking. Imagine you are working on a project and constantly thinking about the person who broke in the signal when you were going for work?

Here’s another example

Avantika’s business is slowly expanding and being the CEO she is responsible for taking the most important decisions of the company. Now, she reads an article of an earthquake in Malaysia and tells herself, “those poor people! They died of no fault of their own.” While it is understandable that Avantika sympathizes with the victims, her thoughts are in no way related to her company or her life for that matter. And if she is expected to take a big decision about her company then her preoccupation with this unproductive though can cause her company harm.

These self-conclusive and un-productive thoughts do not evoke any requirements of action most of the time. In fact, there isn’t much we can do about it. Take the money laundering case for example. The money which has been laundered was a loan from the bank, which means it’s the taxpayers’ money and you too have a share in it. But can you really do anything about it? Can you say, “I won’t pay my taxes because it might get misused?” You can’t. In fact, if you don’t then you will become the criminal instead.

Unproductive thoughts create unnecessary negative ruminations which cause brain fogging at the end of the day. The categories that we commonly develop as a result of such unproductive thoughts are immediate and thus impractical. A phenomenon from history that may seem “bad” at when it happened may pave the way to become something “good” at other point of time and vice-versa. Such thoughts are always associated with politicians, film stars, and famous personalities. When they take a decision that does not appeal to us we immediately conclude that they are bad people. But when the same person does something of note or something which we deem good, then our perception towards that person changes.

In the infinite realm there is nothing such as the ultimate good or ultimate bad. In the previous chapter we saw how destructive absolute thoughts can be and why we must not give into extreme conclusions, especially when it concerns people. These thoughts are nothing but the rumination of our mind and doesn’t do any good to us. But it does make us feel extremely tired at the day’s end even though we have not done much work. Thinking requires energy and in some cases it is equivalent to physical workout. So overthinking is unnecessary physical exertion that causes fatigue in our body.

We must always try to distance ourselves from any thought that arises in our mind which either has a tiny probability of affecting us or does not demand any action from us. Such thoughts are useless and unproductive and we must be careful.

Therefore, categorizing thoughts is one of the best ways of improving productivity. It will not only help us manage our thoughts better but also help us define what serves our purpose and what doesn’t. It’s fine to think about unprivileged people but only when you want to contribute something towards helping them. If you are working on building a robotic arm that operates on the human body and are preoccupied with hungry people in Syria then you are bound to become unproductive. Categorize your thoughts and thinking about poor people when you are not working on the robot.

The rumination on such unproductive categories and thoughts must be avoided for our own good. In the above example we can see how mixing one thought with the other can affect our productivity. We live in a world of distractions and with the rise of smartphones and tablets, it has become for us to ponder on a thought that has nothing to do with our work. It can be the funny video of a cat or the horrific accident or a cop chasing a thief for three miles, the distractions are limitless. Which is why some companies have a strict policy of not using smartphones or other such devices at work.

But we must remember that it is not really about the device but rathe about the way we think. When we get distracted by external objects, we are actually allowing that thing to enter the space which we have created for our work. It’s really about creating spaces. For example, if there is a room where there are only pieces of wood that a carpenter works with then the worker will be at his most productive self. But now suppose we hang a beautiful painting on the wall. Then in such a case, some amount of the productivity will be lost because the carpenter is bound to get distracted by the painting.

Instead, we should be possessed by the thoughts that demand our problem-solving skill and our action, by the thoughts that are really productive for us. This is a mindful approach to a productive living and it should be followed by anyone who wants a far better yield and result. If you are business owner then think only about your business during work hours. If you are an artist then think about improving your art when you are working. By categorizing properly, you are ensuring that your energy levels are high and your level of brain fatigue is low. This attitude also keeps us motivated for doing positive and productive things in life.

Let us look at the following example that shows why categorizing is important.

Sankalp runs a cloth store that sells different types of clothes to different types of customers. It has been three years since Sankalp began the business and in such a short time he has done well for himself. Not only has his business grown each year but he has also opened another cloth shop in another part of the town. Sankalp lives in a joint family and although they are well off, Sankalp’s brother, Avinash, is a spendthrift and often gets into trouble for splurging on his friends.

“Brother, I need 2 lakh rupees,” says Avinash one fine day.

“What for?” asks a surprised Sankalp.

“It’s for a friend. He needs money for his business. I will return it to you within three months.”

Sankalp is now in a dilemma. He knows that what Avinash is asking for is much greater than what he needs. If he spares that amount then he is sure to put his business at a great risk and it is something he does not want to do. But at the same time he loves his brother and does not want to say no.

Sankalp’s business is sure to get affected since he will be preoccupied with this thought.

The reason why thinking about Avinash’s demand is unproductive is because he does not really need that money. Is his life in danger? No. Is he going to use it for something productive? No. What profit will Avinash make from his friends’ business? Most probably nothing.

Unproductive thoughts are not always about random issues that have little to no impact on our lives. At times, we think about issues that have great emotional value. Despite knowing that the issue at hand is insignificant and does not require our thinking, we still spend hours thinking about it.

But at the same time, Sankalp has to think about Avinash because he loves his brother. Therefore, Sankalp must categorize his thoughts and think about them at the right time. When he is doing his business, he must focus on his business and what is profitable for him. At other times, he must think about Avinash’s proposal.

Let’s look at what happens in both cases when Sankalp categorizes his thoughts and when he un-categorizes them.

Categorize

Sankalp pays no attention to Avinash’s demands and instead focuses on the business. When Avinash continues his demand, Sankalp asks him to talk to him after business hours. After the days end, Avinash arrives.

“Brother, have you thought about my proposal?”

“No I have not. But I will now. I can only give you half and I need a written agreement which I will share with my lawyer.”

Here Sankalp is thinking clearly. He has laid down his own terms and conditions and will only comply when his demands are met. By categorizing his thoughts he has not let his emotions come in the way of business. At the same time, he is not saying no to his brother. Now the decision is on Avinash and there is no way that he can waste that money.

Un-categorize

Sankalp is preoccupied with his brother’s demand. He is constantly thinking about his proposal and ways to help him out. This leads to lower output and he often gets into arguments with customers. To make matters worse, his business has started declining. In the end he decides to give the required money to his brother without any assurance of getting it back. This causes yet another dent on his business and matters become so bad that he finally closes his second shop.

Avinash on the other hand has realized that his brother will not turn him away and has hence started demanding more money in the name of “business”. This creates further trouble for Sankalp and causes him great stress.

Throughout our life, we spent hours and hours on thinking alone and at some point of time we must really pause and ask ourselves, “does it really matter?” This is an important question since it helps us understand the things that are important and the things that are not.

This therefore brings us to another menace that is a direct result of un-categorization and that menace is called procrastination. Procrastination is the art of delaying productivity and spend time instead on thinking. It is a great tool for artists and thinkers and many who are from this field will tell you how important it is to spend time thinking about their work instead of actually getting around the time to do it. But every leader and successful person will agree that doing one hour of productive work is any day better than ten hours of doing nothing.

However, you might ask, what exact relationship does procrastination have with productive categories. We have already spoken about overthinking and thinking about unnecessary things as part of unproductivity. Then there you have it. The moment you start delaying your work and instead spent hours and hours thinking about unnecessary things, you are being unproductive.

Here’s an example

Suman works as a digital designer for a newspaper company. Everyday she is expected to produce five original images. Suman is creative but sometimes she drifts away into her other creative space where she does her own paintings. At times, Suman keeps exploring this side of her and even drifts away from her main job. While there is nothing wrong in this, mixing her hobby and work definitely leads to lack of productivity. You see, when she is supposed to be making serious pictures, she is instead creating something that is very artistic and which does not fit well with the newspaper.

The above example may not exactly hold true for procrastinating individuals who deliberately delay work due to overthinking but it does hold true for people who do not perform the task at hand but instead focus on something else. Had Suman compartmentalized her priorities then she would not face any problem at work.

Always remember that the moment you choose to do something else apart from your job at hand, you will experience lack of productivity. This is the reason why creating categories has become so important in today’s age. There are a million distractions that can affect our output and the only way to deal with this problem by categorizing them and handling them in their own time.

At times, not creating productive categories can have devasting consequences. For someone who is in the medical field or someone who is handling important finances, being focused is absolutely necessary. Take a look at the example below.

People who live on medications know more about the importance of time than anyone else. For them, taking the correct medications at the correct time makes up half of their lives. Also, there is the question of dosage. It depends on the age and seriousness of the ailment and is usually overseen by a professional. And a wrong dosage of medication can lead to serious complications. A similar incident happened in a hospital when Alok and Sunanda’s 1-year-old son, Riju, was given three days’ worth of medication instead of one! This incident is the reason why every parent who have children with special needs, need the help of a professional around the clock.

Riju has a serious medical condition – he has only half a heart which is why he has to follow a strict medical plan where everything is measured and on time. He goes to a hospital where his medicines are administered at less than a millimeter per dose.

The nurses know about the dosage but recently a blunder happened at the day care and little Riju was given a wrong dosage. Sunanda received a call from Alok who said that their son had been hospitalized following medical complications. Riju had to spent almost two days in intensive care.

What led to the health complication was a wrong dosage which was administered by the same nurse who treats him. Instead of giving a day’s medication, the nurse had given three days’ worth of medication which led to serious health deterioration in Riju.

The above example is extremely scary. The nurse is supposed to be an expert at her job. Now, here it can be argued that she was new and hence made a blunder. But the issue is actually something different. Those in the medical profession know that if they are unsure about something then they are supposed to refer it to a doctor or a health expert. But here, the nurse knew her job and was in fact treating Riju from day one. The problem here is that the nurse failed to categorize her productivity. She must have been distracted by some other thought while administering the dose.

CREATING PRODUCTIVE CATEGORIES IS IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN

Entrepreneurship lessons can often be found begin at an early age when children start interacting with different types of people for the first time in their lives. Entrepreneurship is all about how people behave in different types of situations. Successful leaders are those who have an inborn tendency to handle situations on their own and there’s no better place to observe this than in a school. A child with entrepreneurial skills will handle situations differently than his/her peers.

It is also interesting to note that school is one of the first places where business skills are picked up. For ex., during group activities, a child that enjoy taking along his peers with everything he does has clear leadership qualities. Sharing of lunchbox in a way that everyone close to him gets a bite is also another example of leadership quality. Productive categories help children build such skills and it is important to teach them how it can be done.

A child’s attitude towards his friends and teachers can tell a lot about their qualities. The qualities become even more prominent during pressure situations. There are some children who are more focused on finding a solution than anything else. Now there are two types of people under this category. One that panics and chooses the first solution that comes to mind. The other focuses on the problem and chooses the best solution at hand. The attitude towards surprise tests and quizzes is also another indication. A child with an entrepreneurial mind may not be good at first but it is the learning that matters. There are some children who can identify and improve their past mistakes.

The hunger to learn new things and apply them in daily lives is an important attribute of leaders and entrepreneurs. Application is extremely important. Children with leadership qualities are the ones who try to apply new knowledge in their daily lives. For these children science projects are not simply projects. It’s a new knowledge which they can play around with.