From Doing to Being: How to Escape the Productivity Trap
We’re a society obsessed with actions and outcomes. We’re bombarded with apps that increase our productivity, TED talks promising to revolutionise the way we get things done, and self-completing sentences in our gmail. Biodegradable coffee cups mean we can drink our coffee on the run – guilt-free – and 20-minute gym classes allow us to get fit without disrupting the workflow of our day. We live in a world designed to maximise our capacity to work, and it’s no wonder that the aspiration for productivity takes up so much of our mental energy. We’re all go-go-go, do-do-do, get it done!
But there’s another side to productivity, a darker side if you will, a quieter side, that exists in the absence of all this buzz. Some call it mindfulness, some call it “being present”, I like to think of it as just being. If productivity is about doing, moving as fast as you can from one task to the next, then on this flipside exists a pause. It sounds nice, right? A bit of downtime, a breather, a moment of ohmm. It’s an incredibly valuable segue out of the chaos of activity and into a meaningful space of reflection and consolidation. But, it’s a transition that we resist at every turn. We feel guilty when we take some time out, we’re ashamed when we don’t get through a long tick-list of to-do’s. We compare how much we’ve done today, this month, this year, with what our peers and friends have achieved – and we’re pretty hard on ourselves if we feel we haven’t done as much.
We fight the opportunity to be whenever we’re faced with it. Preferring, every time, to do-do-do. We link our self-esteem to our productivity, feeling good about ourselves when we have a busy, jampacked day of getting things done, and feeling bad about ourselves when we dare to spend time doing nothing – as though it’s a criminal activity to just be.
We do need a productivity revolution, but not to enable us to work more – we need to learn how to be ok with working less.
We need to perfect the art of just being.
The first thing we need to guard against, is the temptation to do nothing! My partner accuses me of this often because when I take time out, it’s something I prepare for. I announce it, “I’m going to relax now”, I pre-plan the snacks to have on hand, and I evict our dogs from the best spot on the couch. I do relaxation. The concept of a spontaneous and guilt-free breather does not exist for me, or not very easily at least. And I know I’m not the only one. While scheduling in some quiet time can sometimes be necessary, being still also means finding a moment of quiet in a busy day and pausing to take it all in – then and there.
Next up, cut yourself some slack! So what if you didn’t get through your whole long list of to-dos today? In all likelihood, you’ll be able to do them tomorrow, or next week. Your self-worth should never be attached to how much you’ve been able to achieve in any one day. It’s ridiculous when you really think about it, that how you feel about yourself is somehow linked to how many inky ticks you can place on a lined piece of paper. When I feel self-doubt and panic creeping in, I always ask myself: “Does it have to be done, today?” Very often, the answer is a resounding, definitive, no. You’re not a failure because you didn’t do something that really didn’t need to be done today. You’re not a terrible business owner, or an entrepreneur lacking ambition, or a disengaged employee. Get some perspective and be kind to yourself.
Related to this: recognise that we’re all on a frantic hamster-wheel of productivity, and that it’s ok sometimes to opt out. Taking a step off of the spinning wheel of go-go-go is a brave move that enables you to reflect and recalibrate if necessary. Are you in sync with those around you? Are you working in rhythm with your colleagues and peers and clients? Do you need to settle into a new pace and way of work? Leaving the wheel also gives you the opportunity to assess whether you’re making progress towards your goals, and whether you’re reaping rewards proportionate to the amount of effort you’re putting in.
It can be hard to let go of our obsession with productivity and getting things done, and to embrace instead a more balanced approach to work where we allow ourselves the opportunity to just be. The great irony of it all is that greater balance usually results in greater productivity. When your mind has rest periods, and when you’re feeling positive about your capabilities, you’re likely to power through that pile of work – and still have time for a quick coffee on the way to gym!
Jen is an entrepreneur, an expert in the young talent space, and an all-round enthusiast! Her career has been spent working alongside young people – upskilling them and supporting them to make meaningful career decisions. She’s a writer, a speaker, a disruptor, and a fresh mom.