Taking Your Foot off the Productivity Pedal

When was the last time you really recharged? I don’t mean taking two extra minutes in your driveway before you go back into your house just so you can get a tiny bit of alone time. I don’t mean hitting the coffee shop drive through for a quad shot of whatever with extra foam. I also don’t mean hitting snooze a *gasp* second time. And I also don’t mean taking ten minutes of your lunch break in between answering emails and running errands to scarf down a salad while scrolling through social media.

I mean a REAL time to recharge. A period of time, activity, and maybe even inactivity that gave you back some of your life force.

I have a problem with this. I don’t do it well. Maybe it’s my nature and maybe it’s the social and familial programming I received growing up, but somewhere along the way I adopted the mindset that productivity is the virtue. Not A virtue. THE virtue.

While this has served me well in many cases and has arguably been a contributor to my success in various areas, it has also created a condition where I often believe the only acceptable position for my proverbial energy switch is ON. My value and worth are only at their fullest when my foot is pressed firmly down on that productivity pedal. All. The. Way. To. The. Floor.

Do I get a lot done? You bet your boots I do! Do I take care of all the things and all the people? Yep, sure do! Am I freaking exhausted and starting to notice a tiny bit of resentment starting to creep in about the depth and breadth of my workload? Um, yes.

Over the past few years, I’ve really dug into this penchant for productivity. What’s REALLY behind it? And a bigger question – is it mandatory? Upon further examination, turns out that what really drives a big portion of my productivity addiction is actually fear. My thoughts tend to run in some of these patterns:

  • If I don’t do this right now, it won’t ever get done
  • If I don’t help them with this thing, their feelings will get hurt
  • If I don’t take this over, no one will do it correctly
  • If I don’t do all these things, I’ll never be able to relax
  • If I don’t squeeze this into this 87 second block of time that just popped up, I’m not “doing it right”
  • Insert infinite variations of Nicole’s thoughts on these themes here….

Hmmm. Knowing that I’m doing these things because I’m afraid of some other possible-but-probably-not-very-likely outcome changes the game a bit, and it leads directly into a further examination of question two: is it mandatory? Is my endless loop of needing to be productive mandatory?

Thankfully the answer to that one is a resounding hell NO. And while that may seem obvious to some of you, for me this was an unquestioned framework that was actually driving a lot of my behavior. There were a lot of things I simply did because, well… that’s what I DO. And when I finally slowed down long enough to question these actions (like only watching a movie if I was also folding laundry, answering emails, playing Lego with my daughter, sewing an errant button back onto a shirt… you know- something PRODUCTIVE), I realized this was all a series of choices I was making. And beyond that- this constant need to be productive was wearing me out. I didn’t actually enjoy it. In fact, I minded it more than I was admitting to myself. That tiny seed of resentment when I saw my partner totally unplugging and really relaxing was beginning to grow deeper roots.

I made a conscious decision to take my foot off the productivity pedal. When I first committed to doing this, I was expecting to feel a massive sense of relief. Ahhh… I’m finally getting to relax. Instead, however, I felt a ton of anxiety! It was a foreign experience for me, and I quickly realized how addicted I was to constantly being productive. I felt more than a little untethered – I felt unworthy.

WHOA. Unworthy?? Yep. Not my favorite thing to admit, but being productive had become so commingled with my self-worth that I had never noticed that productivity was my ticket to allowing myself to do what I wanted. I can sit down and relax after I unload and reload the dishes. I can hop on that video chat with my friends if I’ve gotten groceries and done the meal prep for dinner tonight. I can read that new book I’ve been dying to get into if I clear out my inbox. I can go grab what I really want for lunch instead of microwaving something if I get the clothes to the dry cleaners, pick up hamster food, and schedule my truck for an oil change. You get the picture. With that awareness in mind, I really challenged myself to make time for things that were, well, NOT productive. I gave myself permission to paint with watercolors. I went for a walk on my treadmill because it felt good (not to burn calories) and listened to a podcast I never make time for but thoroughly enjoy. I meditated more. I called and talked to people I care about, simply to reconnect, not for the purposes of addressing an issue or making plans for something. I even made myself go get a coffee and just sit and enjoy it purely for the experience of being completely focused on the sensory experience of sipping a yummy beverage I truly enjoy.

What I found was interesting. I LIKE to be productive. AND I like to do things that are not (insert air quotes here) productive. More importantly – I realized that when I regularly invested time in non-productive pursuits, I actually had more capacity when I turned my attention and energy to productivity-required efforts. Sure feels like a win-win to me!

- Nicole



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