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.
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.
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.
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.
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.