Living in the Midst, rest

On Productivity and Busyness

Some rambling thoughts on productivity and busyness

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. On family vacations everyone would just be hanging out, not really “doing” anything, so I’d chime in: what are we doing now? I wanted a plan; I wanted to know what to expect next.

The same is true today. Just last fall, while on vacation in Asheville, I asked Brad: what are we doing now? He wanted to relax on the couch. No, no, no! I thought. We need to do something. So, Steve and I took off to find a dog park and walked for a while. 

I had a FitBit. Every time the “you reached 10k steps” celebration went off I got a hit. Later Brad got me a Garmin watch. It would buzz loudly any time I’d been sitting for too long (in its humble opinion, of course). I was like a Pavlovian dog — it would buzz and I would walk.

garmin watch

I thought I wanted to be still

Prior to my sabbatical a few years ago I was so excited about the possibility of time off. I was yearning for quiet space and an open schedule. I couldn’t wait to wake up without an alarm or be without a calendar to guide my day, weeks or months.

That was wishful thinking. I hated it. I felt useless. I began to fall into a depression. I was lonely and aimless. My toolbox for “going through a challenging time” had not been filled at that point and I was slowly losing my mind. 

Just as I was finding my way out of the darkness, I was hit with the news of my infertility. All dreams and desires of productivity and busyness came to a halt.

It turns out I didn’t

What is it about productivity that drives me? My therapist suggested a Protestant work ethic — I disagreed. Don’t get me wrong, my parents worked hard. However, I saw them rest too. I saw them take breaks. They were never “go, go, go” parents — we weren’t over scheduled by any means.

I think it’s just part of my personality. Or, it’s where I learned to get attention. People tell me I’m good when I work hard, when I don’t stop. Another hit, just like that FitBit celebration.

I’m loosening the grip on productivity and busyness these days. It actually started a year or so ago. I didn’t like being controlled by my Garmin watch. I didn’t like the loud buzz anytime I decided to take a break. So, I turned it off.

I turned it off.

That’s a big deal for me. I removed the rule. I chose to no longer follow it.

I’ll just organize this pandemic

When this whole global pandemic thing started I decided I would just manage my way out of it. I set three reminders on my phone — 7:45 am, 11: 45 am and 3:45 pm — to tell me to go on a walk. I decided I would run a 5k every other day. I “met” my co-workers for lunch every day at noon. I joined zoom happy hours and made phone calls on my midday walk. I made a quilt top in a day and sewed dozens of masks. I started new flower beds and began training Steve in earnest.

Now, none of these are bad things. However, I was overplanning this pandemic just like I overplan the rest of my life. Every time I checked something off the list, I got another hit. Look at me managing a global pandemic! 

Then I realized the reminders to walk were starting to bother me. And then I didn’t really want to run. And though I loved seeing my co-workers’ faces, the lunches weren’t satisfying my need to be with them. And then I got annoyed about making masks. And then I got annoyed that I was annoyed.

So, I turned off the daily reminders to walk. It turns out, I walk whether my phone tells me to or not. I decided to listen to my body and run when it felt right. I gave myself grace when it comes to making masks… it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to push myself a little. 

masks
on productivity and busyness

Letting go little by little

There are no more to-do lists on my desk. Instead of planning out my Instagram posts a week at a time, I do them when the moment arises. I’m getting more comfortable with sitting still (mostly). Afternoon breaks on the couch with a weighted blanket are becoming more regular. 

I’m not sure a pandemic can completely break me of productivity and busyness, but maybe a little bit. It turns out my friends still love me even if I don’t do all the things. My co-workers still appreciate me even though I’m not planning six months in advance. My dogs are still happy even if I don’t go on all the pre-planned walks.

I still need things to do. I still sew and color and go on walks and tend to the flowers. I’m still me. But maybe just a little more relaxed…maybe a little more focused on my inherent worth than on earned value. 

mandala
on productivity and busyness
Jamie Locke Art Mandala coloring sheet

I’ll never push productivity and busyness completely away. However, it’s nice to know that when I don’t focus on them, my life is still good and full. I don’t have to produce to be loved. I don’t have to be busy to feel needed. If that’s all I learned during this time of physical distancing, that will be enough.

peace.

on productivity and busyness

4 thoughts on “On Productivity and Busyness”

  1. Seriously, ARE YOU ME? I struggle literally daily with the exact same things you’ve written about today. It may be a very first-world problem, but it’s still a real thing.

    For the life of me, I simply cannot sit still during daytime hours. Jake will be relaxing on the sofa and I can’t even fathom how that’s possible: I simply must be producing something, no matter how bad I may feel physically.

    Like you, I’ve viewed this sudden ‘extra’ time because of pandemic as magical in a way: now I have time to do ALL THE THINGS, right? I make endless to-do lists and daily schedules and force myself to stick to them no matter what. During quiet moments, I can sense the Holy Spirit trying to still me and let go of this false notion of control; only rarely do I obey it.

    Funnily enough (although not *actually* funny…), I severely injured my foot while running last month and it’s physically forcing me to slow down despite myself. For the first few weeks of stay-at-home I ignored the foot and worked out anyway, which only made it worse. God has definitely gotten my attention, but stubbornness still sometimes wins.

    Okay, now that I’ve written a novel here, I’m so glad you wrote this. You’re definitely not alone in it.

    I hope you have a relaxing afternoon!

    1. We are so similar in many ways! 🙂 Yes, injuries have forced me to slow down in the past as well. It’s frustrating but clearly what the body needs. It’s hard to find a rhythm when there isn’t much externally guiding my choices. Maybe this is a time for us to turn inward and listen to what WE need… much love to you.

  2. Love this! I put up a whiteboard and had lists of all the things to get accomplished. I set a goal of doing at least 3 things a day. My husband saw it and just shook his head. I was like, yeah, WTF am I doing? Just chill! I erased it all ( of course I took pics first lol!) and am TRYING to just flow. It recently hit me that there is no concept of when this will end, which makes it that much more challenging to plan. It’s interesting to think about … we can plan seasonally, around the calendar, but when there is no expiration date – how do you set deadlines? What do you think about that?

    1. I have similar questions, Dawn. How to plan when we have no idea what will be allowed in a few weeks, months or even a year? Many people are pivoting to online offerings, which makes sense. But at some point (now, maybe?) we will be so tired of our screens… I won’t go from “work” screen time to “happy hour” or “yoga” screen time after awhile… But we can’t just stop, or can we? Big questions that we’re just beginning to live into.

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