A Perfectionist’s Musings

Productivity: the state or quality of being productive*

Objectively productivity is a good thing, it is what drives society, it is what allows things to get done. Productivity makes the world go around.

As the world transitioned into working from their homes not offices, the influx of of posts about productive WFH began. I cannot even begin to estimate how many times I saw some variation of that same post. There were lists, planner templates, tricks and tips, articles and even an essay or two that somehow made their way to me.

That hyperproductive focused phase lasted about ten days. We all say that post about how if you didn’t find time to chase your dreams whilst being stuck at home it wasn’t being busy that stopped your from chasing them. Hell, I even launched this here site thanks in a large part to the hyperproductivity phase of quarantine.

Then the narrative quickly shifted and the rhetoric became that one shouldn’t be preoccupied by their productivity during this time, we are after all going through a global pandemic.

Whilst the anti-productivity movement seems to have kept its footing in the cultural discussion for longer, there’s something about it that just bothers me.

Sure, it’s a nice departure from the insufferable hustle culture vernacular
that has been so readily adopted in recent years.
Sure it’s a movement steeped in kindness to oneself and acceptance of
the emotional toll of the current situation.

But man oh man, does it bug me.

I’m not someone who is good at slowing down, I never have been. I remember the countless nights my father spent during my childhood trying to help me fall asleep. He tried every thing- no technology in the evenings, warm glasses of milk, bedtime stories, relaxation techniques. Hell, the man even downloaded every track of whale songs, white noise, rainforest sounds** and rain that iTunes had at the time.

It’s not just sleep that I have trouble with, the issue really is that somehow my self-worth and productivity have become inextricably linked.

Even now as I’m writing this, it’s hours past when I was supposed to go to bed, and I know that I have an enormous day of work ahead of me tomorrow, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not doing enough.

I should have done more work.
I should be reading cases for my classes.
I have an essay that I should be editing.
I need to post more on my blog.

These thoughts run through my mind in perpetuity and if I’ve learnt anything from years (perhaps more like a decade) of sleepless nights, I know that if I don’t write them down and do something that makes me feel productive I’ll total three hours sleep for the fourth night in a row.

So how do I find balance? Where do these feeling stem from? Probably both great questions for a therapist, but alas the sleepless nights spent pondering these very issues have provided me some answers.

I won’t wax poetic about the value of schedules, time management and organisation here, but let me just say that if you share my perfectionist traits and need to be productive, having a system in place is indispensable. What that system may look like is a matter for another post, but just know that you need one.

Secondly, and something not enough people do, is to have a brain dump. A brain dump is essentially where you take all the thoughts in your head and put them on paper. It can take many forms- a list in you phone notes app, a scribble on a post it, a diary entry, or as was the case for me tonight, a blog post.

There is something magical about getting all the mish mash of thoughts in a permanent note so that they won’t occupy your mind.

Some say our of sight, out of mind. Personally, I say written in a neat list in order of decreasing urgency , out of mind. It’s got a ring to it, don’t you think?

Finally, and absolutely most importantly, learn acceptance. The same way that the anti-productivity movement is gentle to itself, and validates the feelings of its followers, I allow myself to be a productivity driven person.

I know myself, and I know that my fiercely determined (some may say stubborn, but in true Alex Betheras form I would argue with them) self is not likely to change. I enjoy having multiple balls in the air, I like to be busy. I strongly believe that being a highly committed individual makes me interesting and encourages me to fully embrace all of my different interests.

If I wasn’t predisposed to intrinsic motivation and hyperproductivity, I would have to give up some part of myself and my hobbies, and that is frankly not something I am willing to do. I couldn’t be an aspiring tax lawyer, lifestyle blogger, who loves art, photography and fashion and who spends her free time engaging with politics, whilst also trying to maintain a social life and give back to my community, if I was not will to spend a lot of late nights and early mornings chasing my dreams.

Being driven by productivity allows me to have it all. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to pursue just one or two interests, but for now the need to be productive allows me to embrace them all. Sure a proper night sleep now and then might be nice, but I wouldn’t trade my lifestyle for anything.

TLDR: a perfectionist, type A girl justifies her tendencies to base her value on her productivity, and is totally okay with it.

* There is nothing I hate more than when definitions use a different forms of the word that they are defining, but alas apparently not everyone is on the same page.

** I should note the irony of my dad trying to get me to listen to rainforest sounds given that both my childhood homes were largely surrounded by rainforests.

Note from the author: in the interest of full transparency this was originally written on the back of a piece of paper with a self-made productivity tacker.