This is part 2 of the Sustainable Productivity Triangle origin story. You can find part 1 at this link.
In last week’s essay I introduced the geometry concepts, and this week I want to show you how they apply to a Sustainably Productive life.
Concept 1: “Each side of the triangle relies on the other sides for strength.”
A triangle by definition has three sides and three angles – just two sides doesn’t make a shape. If you have parallel lines they may run next to each other, but that is not how life works. Life is less like sleek parallel lines and more like spaghetti. We need the reliance on all three sides of the Sustainable Productivity triangle in order to make sure that the life we create can be sustained long term. Missing a side or having a weakness can cause collapse of the triangle, which shows up as burnout in our lives. Let’s review a few examples. To keep the high school math analogy, let’s look at each as an equation.
Example 1 = (Health and Fitness + Environmental Surroundings) – Mental Well-being
Imagine a woman who is fit and strong, kills it at work and has a penthouse apartment with a great view. Now imagine she is lonely – you don’t have to try hard, I think this is pretty much Tully Hart in Firefly Lane, right? Not sustainable. Not productive.
Example 2 = (Mental Well-being + Health and Fitness) – Environmental Surroundings
For this scenario our woman has created good stress management habits with a variety of hobbies. She shares her joy with friends by gifting her fiber crafts and painted landscape masterpieces. But what if there is a significant amount physical clutter that she has collected for these hobbies that prevents her from truly enjoying her home? Or worse yet – her home is not safe for her to live in. Not sustainable. Not productive.
Example 3 = (Environmental Surroundings + Mental Well-being) – Health and Fitness
Consider the woman who always has a house full of people. Hers is the gathering place for her kids and neighbors and she loves having relationships where people feel welcome and a house to make that possible. What she is missing is caring for herself as she does everyone else – the results of her annual wellness visit are a disaster. Not sustainable. Not productive.
While this might be productive – or appear productive, these scenarios can rarely be sustained long term. Each side of the Sustainability Triangle relies on the others for strength. While a weakness can be accommodated in the short term, this is not a long term solution for a life you can be fully engaged in.
Concept 2: “If force is applied to a corner of a triangle, the shape of the triangle automatically shifts to the other sides to carry the load.”
Imagine a triangle where each side is a Sustainable Productivity dimension. Life is not static – there are always stressors that are applied to us by external forces. If you have a Sustainably Productive life that includes all three dimensions, then when the force is applied to that corner, the opposite side shifts to take the stress. Shifting to accommodate that stress is how we can prevent or heal from burnout. Here are a few examples, of course in the format of an equation.
Example 1 = Force x (Environmental Surroundings + Health and Fitness)
Perhaps you have been sleeping poorly because there is a significant amount of physical clutter in your bedroom. Your Sustainable Productivity triangle shifts so Mental Well-being can shoulder the load and offer a solution of Time Management. For example, time blocking 30 minutes per day to get the space cleared up could relieve the stress.
Example 2 = Force x (Health and Fitness + Mental Well-being)
What if you want to exercise and eat healthy, but you just cannot seem to find the time to make it happen? If this example resonates with you, consider looking to Environmental Surroundings for your solution. Set up your refrigerator and pantry with healthy foods that make it easy to meal prep (meal kits and precut veggies are great for this). What if you spent less on a gym membership and more on equipment you could use at home? Or even a membership to an online exercise program that led you through workouts with what you already have on hand?
Example 3 = Force x (Mental Well-being + Environmental Surroundings)
Although it may seem like social media use creates connection, the connection is not the same as in person (phone/video chat falls somewhere between those two). This loneliness can find a solution in the Health and Fitness dimension. Connect with others over a walk or hike. Invite your mother in law to cooking classes. Go out to dinner or coffee with friends instead of texting.
Thus, the Sustainable Productivity Triangle
Clearly we as humans are not machines or architectural structures. Human beings are always changing – our insides and our outsides. But what we have in common is that all three – humans, machines, and buildings – experience outer forces of change. A machine needs to be engineered, or re-engineered, to keep up with advances in technology and humanity, and a person needs to adjust to the impact these advances have on our lives as well. Just as a sky scraper needs to bend and flex with the seasons of nature, we need to bend and flex with the seasons of our lives.
Habit change is not just about doing the thing that maximizes efficiency and effectiveness. Habit change needs to be about what you can maintain. Maintenance could be a season of life or just until you change your mind about what “working for you” means. This is where sustainable habit change enters. We need habit change that is productive and that we can maintain over the long haul. Habit change that can withstand the impact of outside forces acted upon it. The Sustainable Productivity triangle shows you how.
This was the birth of Sustainable Productivity. Stressing the system – even if it is on behalf of positive change – can lead to burnout, which leads to illness, addiction, and disengagement.
You are here because you want another way forward. A way that helps lead you to your goals yet does not make you want to escape your life.
Sustainable You Reflections
- Which of the above examples felt most like the life you are leading right now?
- What small adjustment can you make to remove something that would cause an improvement in this area?
- What small adjustment can you make to add something that would cause an improvement in this area?
If you are not sure what to add or remove, I am open to hearing the scenario to help you identify a potential shift. You can reach me at Susan@SustainableSue.com or send a DM on Instagram.
Until next time remember to create productive results in a way that you can sustain and that sustain YOU.