Positive Productivity

Coffee Shop Date

Margarita Tartakovsky for Psych Central recently interviewed me about how we can be productive on our own terms – without taxing our health or skimping on self-care. Since I know how we creatives love exploring productivity, I asked if she’d let me share the interview here. Thank you, Margarita, for saying yes!

Margarita: How do you define “productivity”?

Jamie: For me, productivity is the magical act of transforming my days, my energy, my life into acts, creations, experiences and a life well-lived.

Margarita: What kinds of productivity tips tend to put too much pressure on an individual and actually backfire, leading to overwhelm?

Jamie: The ones that forget to start with reassessing what our deep priorities and desires are. When we continue to get better and better at doing what we don’t really want to do, we move further and further away from who we are and the life we actually want to be leading. As one of my clients brilliantly said, “A baby step in the right direction is better than a thousand steps in the wrong one.”

Margarita: Please share 3 to 5 tips to help readers be productive without losing their sanity or skimping on self-care.


  1. Whether you are working on a major project or holiday plans, whether you are creating for yourself or for others, start with defining why it is you are doing this project or activity. Make sure your to-do list directly addresses that underlying desire.
  2. Create enough structure to support your forward momentum and allow enough flexibility to adjust to what comes up along the way. We are organic beings living a life rich with unpredictability. Instead of stressing about not being able to control every detail, anticipate that there will be a dance between plans and circumstances. There always is.
  3. Be realistic. We get angry when someone else imposes unrealistic expectations on us (ever had a boss that demanded more than was possible?) yet we regularly do this to ourselves. Look at your current list of to-dos and the time frame you’ve given yourself. Is it humanly possible? Give yourself a place to gather all possible tasks but each week or each day take on only what you can reasonably get done if everything goes smoothly and you’re feeling great. If you end up with more time on your hands, awesome! You can always take on a bonus task – or maybe just go for a walk and enjoy the found time!
  4. Declare what you’ve done to be enough. Our minds circle around and around our lists and plans. We go over what remains to be done, worry about what’s next, strategize about what’s better. At some point we have to declare ourselves to be done, for the day, for the night, for the season, so we can get some rest, have some fun and be present to our lives.
  5. Celebrate your wins. So often we focus exclusively on what didn’t get done, judging ourselves harshly and creating a really tight and stressful environment for our productivity. Instead, pay attention to what you did get done and give yourself a pat on the back. When we’re feeling encouraged, we find it easier to take on the next task (and the next and the next). Give yourself a gold star and keep up the good work!

Margarita: [In reference to tip 1] What’s an example of someone’s activity addressing their underlying desire?

Jamie: When I first began my journey as an entrepreneur, I found myself working with a feverish intensity for outrageously long hours. I felt tight, overworked and anxious when what I wanted to feel was free, fulfilled and of service. I knew something had to change. What could I do, create, offer that made me feel free, fulfilled and of service every step of the way? Letting that question guide each of my choices led to a balance of coaching, classes and content creation at Jamie Ridler Studios.

Margarita: What if someone has a project at work that doesn’t address their underlying desire, do you suggest they try to find their “why” (i.e., connect it to some deeper reason)?

Jamie: Let’s look at it from two directions: what can you bring to the project and what can the project bring to you? A great place to start is to ask yourself, “Who am I? How can I engage in this task as a meaningful expression of myself?”  If you are someone who is creative or efficient or loving or brilliant or full of good humour, how can you bring that to the work? Secondly, how can this project serve and support you? Perhaps you’re looking for more leadership or learning opportunities, how can you build that in? Maybe you want to add to your portfolio, performance review or resume, how can this project do that for you?

Let me take this opportunity to also say that if you find yourself spending the majority of your time on things that do not address your underlying desires, it may be time for some deep self-reflection and fresh direction-setting. As poet Mary Oliver says, this is “your one wild and precious life.” What will you do with it?

Margarita: [And you’ve said,] “Create enough structure to support your forward momentum and allow enough flexibility to adjust to what comes up along the way.” What might this look like for someone?

Jamie:  Each of us has a different comfort level when it comes to structure and flexibility. One thing that has worked well for me is to have blocks of time throughout the week that are dedicated to my priorities. On my schedule each week is time for writing, for creating content, for business building, for spending time with my husband, for moving my body, for connecting with friends, etc. What I do in each of those blocks varies a great deal.  During my writing block, I might create a blog post or work on my book. During my connection time, I might go to choir with friends or have a Skype tea with a colleague. This way of working ensures that each of my priorities gets attention while giving me room to adjust to desires, circumstances and opportunities as they arise.

Margarita: Anything else you’d like readers to know about being truly productive and what that entails?

Jamie:  I live in Toronto where it seems that if you ask anyone, “How are you?” there are only two answers: “I’m busy” and “I’m tired.” Productivity is not positive if all it is creating is a busy, tired life. Productivity is our gift to the world and to ourselves. It’s how we transform our lives into our legacy. At the end of each day, I want us to sink into our comfy beds looking back on what we’ve done, ready to sleep easy knowing that we are not beat but spent, that we gave our day’s energy to good work well done. Let’s get started.

One comment

  1. jodylund says:

    Thank you for sharing this interview. Your 5 point list really hit home for me, especially 4 & 5. Creativity has been on the back burner of my life until recently and I am enjoying having my creative side expressed. But just last night I found myself ‘shoulding’ about all the items I had hoped to work on yesterday. Your interview came at exactly the right time for me, and I am going to simply enjoy what gets done and the process of doing just that. No more shoulds…hopefully

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