Do You Struggle with Productivity? (Hah– no this isn’t a trick question)
Photo courtesy of Chris Dudgeon.

Do You Struggle with Productivity? (Hah– no this isn’t a trick question)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

I remember times when I would literally break down from thinking so hard about everything on my plate.

The saddest part was that the projects that stressed me out were things that I’d been genuinely excited about only moments earlier. But by focusing on all of them at once, or jumping from one to the next to the next, I would inevitably end up making zero progress and feeling totally useless. I’d become paralyzed by overwhelm and end up a lump on the floor.

I also used to worry constantly about my inability to finish anything. I remember a particularly painful experience when I ran into an old acting teacher and she asked me what I was up to. I had just finished film school and was about to begin law school– something I was genuinely excited about. But when I shared my excitement with her, her response was, “oh so you’re not going to become a filmmaker?” It was really heartbreaking.

Fast-forward a couple years.

I’ve learned that I’m a multipotentialite, and that everything I’ve experienced, all of my choices in life, have been a result of my multipotentiality. This includes the good things too: the fact that I rallied up the kids in my neighbourhood when I was nine, to put on a gymnastic show in the park, complete with a fortune telling booth and origami candy boxes. The fact that I learned web design from scratch (back before that was common) in order to promote my high school punk band. Or that I became interested in law and business at all.

I see now my multipotentiality reflected in everything I do. It is the core of who I am, and the only label that doesn’t feel uncomfortable or restricting. Giving up the need to define myself was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done.

But along with the wonderful benefits of multipotentiality came the challenges: focusing, finishing, prioritizing, juggling multiple projects, and yes, overwhelm.

Looking back, I’ve struggled with these issues throughout my life.

The Existing Productivity Systems

I began hunting for a productivity system to help me organize my projects, but I couldn’t find anything for people with multiple interests. All of the systems out there stressed focusing on one project – and nothing else – until it’s done, keeping your projects separate, and not working on too many different things at once.

What if I had two or three (or ten) projects? Was I just supposed to just deny them? And what happens if I lose interest in the middle? Should I really just keep plowing on in the face of boredom?

None of this felt right.

 A Productivity System for Us?

Over the last two years, I’ve pieced together my own productivity tools, many of which I’ve written about on the blog. But as I’ve been speaking to you guys, it sounds like the odd tool here and there isn’t cutting it. It’s time to put together a comprehensive system specifically for us multipods.

Introducing, Productivity for Multipotentialites: The Course

Throughout the month of February, Michelle Nickolaison and I will be running a 4-week, interactive course called Productivity for Multipotentialites. Michelle has a really multipotentialite friendly productivity framework, in which I will be injecting my own techniques for shifting between projects and getting it all done.

This course is going to be one hell of a power resource! I’m really excited about it.

Check back in on Wednesday, Feb 1, when registration begins.

Your Turn

Have you become frustrated by all the productivity gurus who expect you focus on one project only, and plow on till “completion”?



  1. Dwayne@TWC says:

    Multipoteniality! I love that! I’m someone who tends to jump from one thing to another and now I feel cool about it because now I can tell myself that I’m a multipotentialite. Good job, Emilie.

  2. Brett Henley says:

    Man … I am not alone (whew).

    I’ve been struggling with this for years, most of which I didn’t know what “this” was. Sounds like we’ve had very similar experiences Emilie.

    You are now my new best friend … onward!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Brett,

      As I said on twitter, you’re awesome. Earlier today I actually passed your blog along to a friend of mine, who also wants to write a book about her time in prison.

      I find your site so fascinating. I really am going to devote some time to going through your archives and reading a bit more of your story. I don’t say that often since I’ve got so much on my plate, but with you, I really mean it.

      So glad we connected! Stay in touch ok? :)

  3. Maral Onabox says:

    Wow, this is EXACTLY what I’m struggling with… However, I seem to never be able to actually finish something. And that used to be okay, when I was younger, but now I’m actually becoming an entrepreneur and starting businesses, so I can hardly afford to flake on myself like that…. I’m going to keep a close watch on this one.

    • Emilie says:

      Ah, see the not finishing thing is a tricky one. I happen to believe that if you become genuinely bored (as opposed to paralyzed by fear– the two often look similar), then you should move on. Boredom is a sign that something is wrong. You should listen to your body. And you know, it may not look like your project is “finished” to the outside world, but perhaps you got what you came for.

      About entrepreneurship… Entrepreneurship is one of those careers that’s ideal for most multipotentialites. There are so many different forms of it, but it tends to be multifaceted.

      For example, if you have trouble sticking with something for a really long time, you could be the sort of entrepreneur who launches a startup and then sells it or puts it on autopilot and then moves on to the next company.

      Or if you want to have one core business, you can create a Renaissance Business that will allow you to focus on many different topics within it. Plus you can see each new product/service/launch as it’s own mini project. Those are much shorter term and require less of a commitment. I love running a ren biz because any new thing I want to try, I can usually find a way to fit in.

  4. Struggle with it? Hell no, I gave long ago!

    Seriously… people get productivity and efficiency conflated. Efficiency is overrated: you’re not a machine. And if you’re producing stuff, then you’re productive.

    So the real questions are: what are you producing and what’s that getting you?

    • Bleh… that was supposed to say “gave UP long ago.”

      • Emilie says:

        Heh Michael, I loved your response to this when we discussed it on the podcast. Something along the lines of: “GTD can suck it.”

        And I agree. I think a lot of the time we’ve got these repetitive thoughts that play over and over in our heads that say, “you didn’t get enough done today!” Says who? Maybe you did. Maybe your thoughts are just on autopilot.

        • “Thoughts on autopilot” is the bane of my existence! It’s like I have my own little Gollum inside scrambling after his Preciousssss…

          It’s tricksy and we hates it. :)

          • Lisa Stevens says:

            Hey Michael! Nice to see you over here at Puttylike. I like the questions “What are you producing and what’s that getting you?” I rarely watch TV, but others in my household do. The other day I caught a commercial on the 5-hour energy drink that made me rather sad. Throughout the commercial was the phrase “so I can get stuff done, so I can get stuff done, I want to be awake at 2:30 so I can get stuff done.” What stuff? Stuff and nonsense me thinks.

  5. Denise says:

    Yup. That’s why I rarely click on any posts/articles related to productivity.. I automatically make the assumption.. I’ve heard it all before – but, I know you will have a fresh perspective on the subject!

    Wish I could join the course, but bad timing for me.

    The best productivity tip I could give to your community, is just be committed to finishing within a certain time frame, and make that time frame VERY generous.

    Because when you do work on multiple projects you are going to shift focus a lot. So, to say I’ll finish something by Friday, or whatever, rarely works for me. I know that from now until Friday, my focus will shift to 2 or 3 other projects (maybe more!), and I embrace that!

    But I take the time frame seriously. I think it’s about taking into account all of our interests and making room for those shifts of focus. It’s almost like scheduling distractions, but we know those distractions can lead to awesome discoveries, so we embrace them. (at least I do :))

  6. Daniela says:

    As many hear, I’ve found relief when finding a word to “describe myself”: multipotential, and that I’m not lonely on this.

    However, I would like to say that, as Emilie, I’ve found my way, but I haven’t. I still feel useless :( I read a lot of many things I’m interested in (entrepreneurship, “get better on life” things, economics, politics, green-projects, neuroscience, eco-design) whereas I do my PhD on neuroscience. However, I’m gonna finish soon and I’m wondering what I would do? Would I continue working on research? Would I start my own business? Ok, sounds cool, but a business of what? I have so many interests that I don’t know where to start from.

    I try to calm myself by thinking that I first have to finish the PhD and then me and life will figure it out :)

    Anyway, now that I’ve found many like me I know that, thanks to their experience, I will probably figure it out sooner than later.


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