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Who You Are is Far More Important than What You Do

Have you found yourself struggling to relax or feeling guilty if you aren’t efficiently using every moment of your day? Do you find yourself watching videos or listening to podcasts about the most efficient morning routines, or how to be more productive? If you aren’t producing something or doing something “productive” do you feel bad about yourself?

If any of this feels familiar than you may be caught in the toxic productivity trap that our westernized, colonized, capitalist culture has really amplified. After binge-watching far too many YouTube videos on productivity strategies, I realized I reached the point where I felt like I needed to be productive, even if there wasn’t anything I needed to get done.

Productivity was no longer a tool to help me reach my goals, being productive was the goal.

I had to be consistently doing as many things as possible in a day in order to feel good about myself, and honestly in order to not feel anxious. I couldn’t sit down and watch a movie, do a hobby, spend time with friends, without constant worry and intrusive thoughts about what things I could be doing with this time, and what else on the to do list could be checked off. This is still a struggle for me but it something I am actively working on unlearning.

I realized that I was anchoring my worthiness in how productive I was rather than in who I was. I became far too occupied about what I could produce or do than who I was. The kind of person I am is far more important that what tasks I can check off a list. However, it is taking a lot of unlearning to remember that, to remember that I am good enough. I am more than enough, right now as I am. When my loved ones tell me the things they love about me, the things that make the list are never how much laundry I can get done in a week, or how much work I produce in a day, or that I follow a 20-step morning routine. The things they love about me are anchored in who I am as a person, how we connect. It’s more about the slower moments of rest and joy we spend together.

Isn't Productivity a Good Thing?

Productivity is the goal of maximizing outputs while minimizing inputs. How to makes things more efficient and easier to produce. Which is a helpful thing to think about and consider. Of course we want to achieve more if possible. However, I think as a society this has been taken to an extreme that is not good for our mental health. We live in a time where we are obsessed with millionaire’s morning routines, side-hustles, hustle-mentality, and watching others vlog their “productive day.” Productivity has become an extension of the "American Dream." It appeals to the idea that if you work hard you can achieve anything you want and be happy. If we can be as productive as possible, we can make more money, get more done, and reach more goals. (By now I think we know and understand that this framework is designed in such a way that it benefits those with the most privilege in society, but if you would like a follow-up blog post on this, let me know).

Productivity can and does help us maximize our goals and align with our values. However, when it becomes the main focus in trying to do everything productively, it stops us from being able to enjoy the process or the slower moments in life. Productivity can pull you away from many of your other values. It can and has led me to prioritizing “getting things done” over other values in my life. I noticed I wasn’t able to be present with my friends or family, I wasn’t able to rest or relax, I was anxious ALL the time. I lost all enjoyment of the process of doing things and became obsessed with the just getting it done. I noticed I struggled to just be present and engaged with the world around me. I found myself rushing to get groceries done, trying to speed up visits with friends, trying to fit as many things as possible into the day. I thought that being productive made me feel good about myself, but really there were many other things that were far more important to me that I was ignoring. The anxiety of not being productive had me trapped.

The Productivity-Anxiety Cycle

There is a certain amount of stress or anxiety that is actually really helpful for us. It allows us to perform and do the things we need to do (i.e. study for a test). Being productive is helpful in supporting us manage this stress and get things done, but this is a delicate balance. Usually this cycle starts because we end up having a lot of things to do. It might start because you are in school, or have 3 kids at home with very busy schedules, or because you have a lot of work stress. Essentially, you start to realize time is a very valuable and limited resource and being productive helps manage and relieve that stress or anxiety. However, the more focus and emphasis we put on productivity, the more anxious we can become when we aren’t doing "productive" things. The more anxious we become, the more we rely on being productive to relieve our anxiety (in the short term). In the long term we can become more hypervigilant about time and what things are being checked off a list which increases anxiety.

This cycle continues and the anxiety levels rise and rise and we need to be more and more productive to relieve that anxiety. It can reach the point where you are anxious and unable to rest even when there isn’t anything you need to do. Or it can lead you to feeling paralyzed by the anxiety you feel and result in you being unable to get anything done.

Practice Rest and Recovery

We need rest and recovery. We need play and joy. We need to be able to enjoy the process of doing things and not feel rushed to just complete it. The only way to exit the productivity-anxiety cycle is to practice not being productive. It will cause you anxiety. But if can allow yourself to move through the anxiety, and not escape it by doing something “productive,’ over time it will get easier and your anxiety will decrease long-term. Practice doing some deep breathing to calm your nervous system, and challenge your thoughts by reminding yourself:

Who you are is far more valuable than what you produce

p.s. the rest will actually allow you to be more productive when it is the appropriate time to be productive.

Naming the Privilege in this Blog

It is important that I mention that this blog is written from a place of privilege. If you are in a position where you have to work many hours to put food on the table and then have to go home and take care of your children by yourself, there is a chance you cannot afford to not be productive. In these circumstance productivity is not a issue of self-worth, but rather a means to survive and is necessary. It is a privilege to say, I have a hard time relaxing when having time to attempt relaxing is a luxury not everyone has.

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Thanks for the reminder! Needed this today :)



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