The Pressure to Produce: Talking About Productivity

I have been writing up a storm lately. Its been awesome. I’ve been inspired by the recent growth of the blog and Instagram and also generally inspired by a lot of things around me.

But I find the more I write the more I feel the pressure to keep it up, to continue to be productive. It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves me feeling like what I’ve done is not enough, anxious about getting more done, and sometimes disappointed in myself.

In the last 2-ish years I’ve spent in the full-time work world I’ve realized very clearly that there is HUGE pressure in our society to be productive. All. The. Time. No matter how much you do there is always more to be done and the world tells us that this is a good thing. And it can be. It is good to make positive progress, it is good to feel driven and motivated, and it can be satisfying to get things done.

But where it goes wrong is when productivity is valued in our society above other important things such as feelings of peace, rest, personal fulfillment, and mental well-being. And what’s worse is that it is often said to be the key to those things. For example, if I am productive enough I will eventually have time to rest, or this high level of productivity will help me to feel fulfilled in my life. We are also told our personal productivity will guarantee us success, money, stability, career advancement, and will indicate our value, impact and contribution to society. There is this subtle pervasive message that people who are highly productive are just better people who are better for our world.

But let me tell you, while productivity can give you a rush, make you feel great, give you a sense of achievement, the pressure to always be productive can also crush us. It can make us feel depressed, anxious, and also like a total failure because what we do is never enough. Pressure to constantly be productive can make you feel like you will never catch up, it increases competitiveness between people, and can completely drain you if it is left unchallenged.

The thing about productivity is that it is something that you can never attain. It is a continual on-going process because once you have accomplished or produced one thing there is always another thing coming up, or something else that can follow it. It never ends. Productivity is all about a continual upward trajectory.

And it really causes a problem when pressure to be productive is combined with human energy and capacity. Human beings, individuals, don’t have a continual upward current of energy and capacity. Our personal energy ebbs and flows, increases and decreases, depending on many different factors in our lives. This is normal, but our ideas about productivity tell us that it is somehow unacceptable and that we must fight this natural peak and valley-ing of our energy.

This pressure is really evident in how we talk about lazyness. We will often make statements that suggest we feel guilty about taking a day off. Conversations like, “What did you do on your day off?” responded with “Ah, we didn’t really do anything. We just had a lazy day at home I guess.”. There is this implication in these conversations that even on our days off, when it is supposed to be permissible to rest, that we should somehow still be productive. In addition, one of the most negative things you can use to describe someone is “lazy”. We equate lazy with uncaring, glutenous, unhealthy, and unproductive.

When it comes to productivity, I have found we have to learn to set our own boundaries. We have to set concrete goals, and then allow ourselves to be satisfied, and to stop. Our society won’t set boundaries for us. In our consumeristic, capitalist, growth-based, productivity obsessed society, our workplaces and societal norms will never tell us, “Take a rest, you’ve done enough.” Because they hinge on this pressure to continually create, produce, and consume.

We must create our sense of achievement, fulfillment and satisfaction from within ourselves and not wait for it to be handed down to us by others, or by the measures of our society. Because if we do, we will spend our lives waiting, and we will likely never be told that what we have done is enough.

I’m here to say, it is normal to not always be productive. It is good to rest and relax, it is good to be lazy sometimes. You will have times in your life where you get everything done, and you will have times where you get nothing done. Both are good, both are necessary. All of our personal capacities are different so try not to compare your productivity to others. We cannot maintain perfect levels of productivity all of the time. Life is about doing things, but it is also about resting, relaxing, and relishing. There is beauty in restoring and revitalizing. And if we don’t take time to slow down we will burn out.

The part of the dialogue we are missing in our society is that productivity has to come from somewhere, it comes out of times of reflection, times of slow contemplation, it comes from stores of energy that get consumed and then the cycle restarts the stores must be replenished.

So, take a nap, be lazy, sleep in, stay in your pajamas all day, put things off until tomorrow, rest your head my friend. What you have done is good, it is enough. There will always be more work for another day.

Write soon,

Hannah B.L.

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