Mood First Productivity: Hard truths and how-tos
Imagine a day when you no longer assigned judgement to your ability or lack of ability to be productive. On this day, you follow your state of being in a way that naturally lends itself to the things you need to get done. Mood-first Productivity is a framework that allows you to flow with your mental and emotional state in a way that enhances your productivity.
Productivity's dirty secret
When was the last time you had the following dialogue in your mind?
What is wrong with me?
I was ready!
I organized my desk, cleared a block of time off my calendar and had the list of tasks ready to be completed.
But, yet again, nothing is done and I am feeling stuck. And it is uncomfortable.
During these mental battles, you are presented with a new challenge. How do you navigate what you are feeling to get to a productive place?
That fight between the feeling of discomfort and using it to get something done is the biggest secret behind productivity: Emotional engagement for the sake of movement towards effectiveness IS a part of the productivity process. This is a crucial part of eventually finding yourself in a flow state, or a state of being totally absorbed or deeply focused on the task at hand.
“…the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” - Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
Unfortunately, we do not often associate productivity with this struggle because of the way productivity is publicly presented. Our favorite YouTubers, authors and podcasters often frame productivity as the achievement of predefined steps that ease hard work and accomplish a desired outcome. But it isn’t shown that we have to fight through emotions that arise in moments of resistance.
Enter Mood-first Productivity...
Here is where Mood-first Productivity (MFP) comes in. Rather than trying to adjust your mood to fit your objectives, MFP creates a route to employ your different emotional states to accomplish tasks that are best suited for that specific state.
So instead of asking, “What do I need to get done?” Mood-first Productivity encourages you to start with, “How do I feel right now?”
So how do we build Mood-first Productivity?
Step 1: Create a habit to ask two questions:
- How do I feel?
- Where is my energy?
You must start with and get used to fully embracing the awareness of yourself. The point here isn’t reflecting on the feelings (that’s Step 2) but the practice of prompting yourself to care about your feelings. The habit of checking in is important for building and growing your ability to flow with your emotions.
Step 2: Identify and journal the emotions you are experiencing.
“Without a proper vocabulary, we can’t label our emotions, and if we can’t label them, we can’t properly consider them or put them into perspective.” - Dr Marc Brackett
How can you engage in something you do not understand? It takes time to develop an emotional vocabulary. As a consciousness of your emotions emerges, you will eventually be able to predict the direction of your emotional flow.
We see this ability in individuals with mental challenges like depression or anxiety. They tend to be familiar enough with the patterns of their emotions that it allows them to predict the direction of the upcoming challenges based on small cues in the beginning stages.
Step 3: Employ your workflow in a direction that best suits your mood and state of mind.
A workflow process that breaks down projects into intermediate stages is best suited for Mood-first Productivity. Within the framework of intermediate packages each project will have different requirements at different stages of the project. Different emotional states can add momentum to the different stages in each project.
For example, feeling excited, inspired and optimistic might indicate an opportunity to write or publish something. In another instance, feeling worried and stressed may indicate that you need to focus on the things you can control and let go of the things you cannot, so you should organize your thoughts and outlines.
Let’s walk through an example from my own system. In the example below I selected:
I feel okay and my energy level is chill/calm. I selected the emotions of content, grateful and hopeful.
I then realized the best use of my current mood was to spend time thinking.
I was then directed to:
🤔 Explore Internal Ideas
🤔 Review notes and extracts
🤔 Unpack research
In my personal system, I have a call to action button that will lead me directly to the exact app or location so I can complete the action item that best complemented my mood.
There are some threats, however. For example, how do we ensure our emotions stay under our control? Isn’t it better to force ourselves to feel the right emotions to achieve our desired outcomes?
A concerning pattern
I have been a therapist for 12 years and have supported the healing journey for hundreds of people that have come into my office. When I compare their first session to the final session, I notice one important pattern. Many individuals begin with a desire to change their emotions in order to change their outlook. Whether it was the husband hoping to be more content with his marriage, or the college student hoping to be passionate about their career choice. The hope was, “If I could change how I feel, perhaps I will be alright.”
As a result, these clients grew accustomed to resisting the information their emotions were trying to give them and instead wanted to “fix” their emotions to affirm their expectations of how things should be.
Waiting for emotions vs. being waited on by emotions
How often do we neglect our authentic selves because we are waiting for the right emotion? How often do we allow ourselves to be passively bullied by our emotions?
We can find ourselves in a pattern where emotions melt into our core and convince us that our feelings define us.Then we ride the wave of the struggle and/or wait for the next struggle to begin. What is out of balance here is when emotions are given access to define our sense of self, our identity. And with this imbalance, we give our emotions the role of master, when instead, we should assign them the role of servant/informant.
Emotions serve us when we treat them as data or information that we can learn from.
“All learning has an emotional base.—PLATO”
Dr Marc Brackett has done significant research on emotional intelligence and has implemented tools and programs to help schools and students learn to acknowledge and navigate their emotions. One of the fascinating insights offered in his book, Permission to Feel, was that learning or attainment uses the same brain systems needed for survival. Our flight, fight or freeze responses rely heavily on our attention, focus and memory. All of these responses live closer to the part of our brain that regulates emotions, not the part that regulates cognition.
For example, If you have ever dealt with a life-or-death situation like a car accident, you know that you need to take a chunk of time to deal with the heightened emotional response afterward before you can actually process what happened.
What does this mean? If we listen to our emotions and the information/data that they offer, the process allows our productive efforts to be more instinctual, more dynamic, and appropriate for the energy we have available to us.
States of mind are a better guide to modern work than values (which don’t always motivate), goals (which often change), and processes (which try to prescribe the unprescribable) precisely because moods are the only things that change just as fast as the world around us. - Tiago Forte
Following your mood allows for agility and flexible in your daily productivity.
Next time you sit down to get things done, ask yourself, “How do I feel right now?”
If you want to take this for a spin yourself, I created a Choose your Adventure Questionnaire that gives you tasks that best match your emotions.
Please note, this rubric was created with ME in mind. So you may find different actions better coincide with your emotions.
If you would be interested in my entire logic tree, leave your information below and I will send it over.
I will be writing about the following topics:
- Key components needed to make a system like MFP work
- Learning to play like a child
- Journaling to track and study your emotions
- Setting up intermediate packets system that works with MFP
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