I substituted ‘create’ for ‘write’ in the original quote but I’ve always loved this. It’s a favorite because, like a majority of designers, I’ve used the tired platitude about an intrinsic need to be creative or to produce in order to be happy. Fitzgerald however knew not to confuse productivity with contribution. And while the two often do go hand-in-hand, not everything that gets produced necessarily adds value. Einstein echoed this as well, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Prosier than Fitzgerald, I know.
And when it comes to actual happiness, we know that contribution and gratitude are two of the most effective life hacks available to us. Having an empty inbox at the end of the week might bring you some satisfaction, but it is temporary at best (see Monday) and don’t confuse it with genuine happiness.
A number of years ago, I had access to a paid executive coach. His talent was making high performance people even more productive and much of this centered on a combination of prioritization and accountability. We’d spend the better part of a weekly meeting reviewing what I must “get done” before the next week and creating a plan of attack to insure it would all be completed. But in all those planning and priority sessions, we never once discussed whether what I was doing was adding value to my company or if I was the best person for these tasks. Could I have even delegated some of these responsibilities to another individual more capable than me? I certainly could have used much of his technologies but I honestly received very little satisfaction from this approach, regardless of how many little boxes were successfully checked or how well it looked on a time sheet.
Sometimes prioritization is just a euphemism for shuffling and organizing a shit load of tasks. And I’d argue that contribution is far greater than productivity. The real goal should be to add value – to the company, your team, your friends and your family.
It’s been a great start to 2014, both my wife and I have vowed to double down on our ‘contribution’ this year. Contributing more of our time, our resources and talent to our careers, family and community. When deciding to take on new responsibilities or when deciding to let go of old ones, we’ve begun asking ourselves, “Can I add value?”