Productivity is a tricky thing. The more we do, the more we should feel accomplished. A sense of doing should bring about a sense of peace--or so I thought. 

Lying awake at 1 a.m., in the throes of a busy week, I could not figure out where my day went. It wasn't that I wasn't productive. In fact, I was getting a remarkable amount of work done, so much so that my weeks were beginning to blur together into what felt like one giant long working day. Over the previous five years, I'd become a productivity addict, reading all the books, learning all the hacks, and crushing my goals. And yet there I was, haunted by a sense of being perpetually behind.

Something was wrong, I could sense it, my family could feel the push, and the rat race I was running was getting old fast. Ruminating at 1 in the morning isn't ideal, but it was in this quiet moment that I had a breakthrough, one that would transform my productivity forever. 

I realized my desire for a productive life wasn't actually about productivity at all. My real desire, the one I thought could be manifested through full-speed action, was actually just a desire for personal peace. 

I had imagined that if I could only get everything done, if I could only get that promotion, if I could only get that one project completed, then I would feel OK; then I would arrive at peace. But of course, it never happened. It seemed the more I did, the worse I felt, as my life and much of its meaning was devoured by the sheer velocity of my work. 

I'm not alone in this experience with productivity. For all the merits of modern productivity thinking, it is absolutely terrible at helping people come to the point of enough. When your goal is to be the most efficient machine possible, your work never ends. We never reach the point of being done, no matter how many daily widgets you churn out. Productivity, without barriers, is a race to the bottom, a race where no matter how fast we go -- we never truly arrive. 

So what changed for me during that 1 a.m. epiphany? I realized that my model for productivity needed a serious change. I needed to focus less on efficiency (easier said than done) and focus more on the most important things. I needed to find a peaceful approach to productivity.

The good news is that peaceful productivity is possible, but it looks a lot different from the manic busyness we often celebrate in productivity culture. Here are some simple steps you can take today to elevate your productivity without sacrificing your peace.

Pick a Daily 'Thoughtful Three'

If you don't have a clear daily indicator of what done looks like, you'll never feel done. Entrepreneurs and high performers tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a day and underestimate what is actually possible for a mortal being.

Every day, create a list of your top three daily priorities, with the first being your top priority. Take time to really consider whether these are the most important places to invest your energy, and if they are not, replace them with something that will bring greater meaning to you and your business. This practice will give you clarity around what done looks like, as well as anchor your time in your key goals and away from the tyranny of the urgent. 

Shift From More to Less

Instead of trying to get the most done in a given day, shift your thinking to what is the minimum you can do to make the most significant progress on your key goals. We often confuse action with progress, but taking action on the wrong things is placebo productivity, no matter how busy we feel.

The secret to doing your most important work is by doing less, not more. Peaceful productivity is about getting the important things done and eliminating everything else.

Slow Down to Speed Up

Part of what makes music work is the space between the notes. Without these pauses, we have a hard time making sense of exactly what we are hearing, and the effect is just a lot less profound. If your day-to-day feels anxiety-ridden and noisy, consider how adding white space might help you come back into alignment with the most important things.

Clarity emerges from quiet, and clarity is the super fuel of peaceful productivity. Ten minutes in meditation a day, or regular five-minute pauses at the end of every hour, is a great way to get started.

If you want to make meaningful progress on your goals without sacrificing your peace, try out one of the above practices for a month. You'll find yourself both enjoying the work more and progressing on your most important goals much faster.