My Shiny New Whiteboard And What It Taught Me About Productivity

I wanted to increase my productivity, so I went out and bought a whiteboard. I hung it in my studio and decided that each night before bed I would make a list of the things I wanted to accomplish the following day. My thinking: the simplicity and accessibility of the list would increase my accountability. After all, it was practically impossible to overlook the thing.

As soon as it was up I began forging my new habit. After a week, I was indeed much more productive. Starting with my most important tasks I would move from item to item, enjoying the satisfaction of crossing each one off and knowing that I was working toward my larger goals. If my objective was productivity, my little alteration in workflow was surely paying dividends.

However, after a few weeks this simple adjustment came to highlight a defect. It created a wall around the substance of my work. I began to feel less satisfaction with my output, my drive began to fade, and for the first time in a while, I began to question my motives. What could possibly be wrong? I am doing more. My output is trending up. Every entrepreneur in the world knows that efficiency is gold. This is when, as I often do, I took a step back and examined the process.

In the grand scheme of things, a whiteboard is not a big deal. Some may even find it trivial, and I would have a hard time disagreeing. But like so many other messages discretely packaged into our tiny day-to-day occurrences, there was something here worth noting. Obviously people need structure, and I am certainly no exception. What this little experiment taught me, though, is the balance that must be maintained between productivity and passion, routine and exploration. Lean too far in either direction, and the wheels fall off the wagon. In my case, there was nothing on the board that said, “Love today.” There was no bullet that said, “Enjoy this moment because you will never get it back.” These are the things that seem to slip out of the picture and I find it incredibly easy to lose sight of them.

The best speeches aren’t written because a presentation is scheduled. They are written because something of significance needs to be said. The best athletes aren’t practicing at gunpoint. They practice because they love the game. It means everything to them. When I am writing, composing, or creating, it is not to check off a box. It’s because I enjoy the self-expression. I love the process, the challenges, and the impact of the final product. In fact, I need them. Success is a combination of structure and passion, and I was reminded very quickly how blindly adhering to the former can mitigate the latter.

So with regard to the whiteboard hanging on the wall, yes, create your guidelines, build your foundation, and establish your structure. We need it. But with that said, don’t lose sight of what matters most. It may not be listed as a bullet point on your whiteboard, but it is the reason your whiteboard is hanging on the wall in the first place.