8 things I learned about productivity at a four-day oncology camp

by | May 21, 2013 | General Productivity

Takeaway: Work with a purpose. Take nothing for granted. Step out of your comfort zone. Practice self-honesty. Find your tribe. Tell people how you feel. And lighten up.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 51s. But it’s skimmable.


For the last four days, I volunteered at a leadership development camp designed for teens who suffered from cancer, as well as their siblings. I’ve been a member of the Camp Quality “tribe” for a few years, and I always leave camp happy and inspired. (Though I’m still pretty tired from the weekend!)

As a volunteer, I have a chance to share my life experiences with teens who are going through teen stuff, so they can learn from my mistakes and triumphs. I also have a chance to breakdance, ride horses, walk on high-ropes, act like a fool, and bring others in on the fun. And I have a chance to help teens make themselves into even better people. My time at camp is always one of the most productive times of my year, even though I usually don’t accomplish anything tangible.

And it works both ways, of course – every year the campers teach me more then I could dream of teaching them. Eight things I learned over the last four days are below.

1. Work with a specific purpose in mind. When you question why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can make sure you’re aligned toward a purpose that means a lot to you. Over the weekend I saw a ton of volunteers and campers work to make each other better. I can’t think of a purpose much higher than that, and I have never seen a happier or more motivated bunch of people.

2. Take nothing for granted. Don’t wait for a reminder of how short life is to get your shit together. Live life like it’s short, every day, because it is.

3. Step out of your comfort zone and into your “learning zone” (illustrated below). If you stay in your comfort zone all of the time and never push yourself, you’ll stay stationary and boring, and never change. The only way to become better and more productive is to step outside of your comfort zone and into your learning zone. This makes your comfort zone bigger, every time.




4. Practice self-honesty. I wrote a post about practicing self-honesty last week, and was inspired to see a bunch of people living it over the weekend.

5. Find your tribe. And this works into number 1, too. A tribe of people is a group of people who are connected to one another through a common idea or purpose.1  It’s infinitely easier to get motivated to get more done when you’re a member of a tribe of people doing stuff already.

6. Tell the people you care about how you feel about them. At camp there were a number of ways to give someone a compliment, like through a camp-wide mail system, by writing it on their shirt at the end of camp, and of course, in person. It feels amazing to hear about how someone appreciates you, and it’s worth sharing those feelings more often.

7. Lighten up. If you focus too much on productivity, you can become a robot. Lighten up a bit, and use productivity for something truly worthwhile, like for making more time for the people important to you or getting more out of your time.

8. Horseback riding makes you sore. Like, very sore. I rode a horse for about 20 minutes with a bunch of the campers a couple of days ago, and I can barely move. Be careful.

  1. This definition is inspired by the book Tribes, by Seth Godin. 

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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