I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity of late, especially after recently having one of the most productive days I’ve had in a long time. Although I love everything related to productivity: from understanding how to really rock it, to making small tweaks that yield big results, to learning how my body can work with alongside my psychology, there is one area of productivity that is still a wasteland for many an aspiring productivity hack like me.

That area?

The productivity you enjoy when you don’t realize you’re actually being productive. 

Now I’m not talking about the concept of “flow” here (when you’re so much in the zone that you’re rocking it out and feel great). Instead, I’m talking about a strange, less understood type of productivity that happens when you think you’re not making progress, but you actually are.

I spent a few months of 2013 in a strange situation where I enjoyed this exact type of a productivity.

For me, that experience was called being pregnant.

You see, when you’re pregnant, there’s this magical thing happening inside you (you’re creating life! a tiny lentil-sized fetus is turning into a human!) and yet you’re not really doing all that much to make it happen. You throw up, you take naps, you hang out with doctors. But your efforts are really quite minimal in comparison to all that’s really going on behind the scenes.

And in terms of your regular life, all bets are off. Some women plow forward and live and work as they do in a normal year. In my case, due to medical issues, I was doing way, way less than normal. And yet despite the fact that my professional projects were at a complete standstill and I was basically lying in bed watching House Hunters International all day, I was actually, amazingly, “being productive”. In fact, I think most people could argue I was the most productive I’ve ever been. (Making a human trumps writing a book or leading a successful career, right?)

Overwhelmingly, this taught me that we ultimately don’t always know when we’re truly being productive, and when we’re just spinning our wheels. Sure, sometimes we might have super human productive days or weeks where we know we produced, but other times we might have little indication that huge strides are actually being made behind the scenes.

So what’s the lesson here?

Look behind the curtain to see what’s really happening. Is there true “productive” growth going on? Is a critical framework being laid? In all your efforts, take more time to try to see where you are “really” being productive, and not just where you think you are.

Have you ever had a time where you thought you were being unproductive, only to realize that you were really moving the needle? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

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