The Myth of Productivity (Or…Don’t Just Do It)

Just as I was getting ready to write this post about resistance and how I’ve learned to overcome it over the years, I smacked right up against a brand new brick wall around my own work in progress.

Funny how that works.

When I first started taking my writing seriously, I had one day a week to write. At the time, it felt like a minor miracle. On Fridays, our older son had a full day of kindergarten. We managed to swing the cost of a full day of day care for the younger one and there you have it – Writing Fridays.

On Fridays, I wandered the empty house, clearing clutter, tidying up and baking cookies. Every time I sat down to write, I had to fight against something that seemed determined to stop me. The harder I pushed against it, the harder it pushed back.

I could barely sit in my chair. Anything and everything seemed urgent, even though all week long I’d been looking forward to this time. The day I found myself doing laundry stain removal instead of writing, I had to admit I had a problem. I had to figure out how to get past the wall of resistance, or I was going to have to give up on my writing dream (and the expensive day care slot it was costing our family each week.)

In my next few posts, I’m going to share my strategies with you in detail. (And I’d love to hear yours, in the comments!) We’ll start today with one block I’ve butted up against time and again. The Myth of Productivity.

Creative work is not valued in our get it done world.

Crush your goals!
Make every minute count!
Like a boss!
Learn a new language while you sleep!
Inbox Zero!
Do more with less!
Get ‘er done!
Just do it!

You don’t have to look too deep into your Instagram feed to get the message that what matters in our society is getting s**t done. Doing more, doing it faster, checking it off the list. There are plenty of writing methods that will encourage you to take this crushin’ it #girlboss-style approach to writing, but I believe this will lead to more resistance, not less. When you battle resistance head on, it only grows.

In an earlier post I encouraged you to be unrelenting and inflexible in setting, and keeping to, your writing schedule.

Yes, you absolutely have to show up. But once you get there, allow space, and grace. Make it more of a dance than a battle. If resistance shows right up with you, let it be there. Sit through the discomfort. Do one small thing. Then show up again for your next scheduled writing session. And the next.

All the messages you’ve ever received will tell you this is unproductive time. Keep showing up anyway.

You might be bombarded with negative messages within your own head about wasting time. If you have had to negotiate this time, or pay for child or elder care, if your spouse is doing both dishes and bedtime, if your friends are watching Netflix together on Zoom, these messages might be all the more persistent.

The temptation to get up and “do something productive with your time” will be almost overwhelming. Before you get up, I want you to remember something.

These thoughts? They are just thoughts. They are loud thoughts, and kind of mean thoughts, but they are just thoughts. It’s okay for them to be there. It’s okay for you to stay in your seat and co-exist alongside them. Imagine parallel playing with resistance like you are both 2-year-olds at the day care sand table. You’re there. It’s there. Both doing your thing. Full on engagement will only lead to someone getting whacked on the head with a plastic tractor.

Try this: Talk back to those thoughts.

“It’s okay to be unproductive sometimes. It will help me be more productive later. ”

“I know you are scared, and that’s okay. I know you are trying to protect me. I can see that and I appreciate it. And I’m still going to be here for half an hour and do a few things. Won’t be long. Please try to keep it down so I can concentrate.”

Also, remember to drop the expectations. Maybe yesterday you wrote a thousand words. Maybe you wrote a thousand words every day last week. Today is new. Who knows what will happen today?

Productivity and creativity don’t always go hand in hand, especially not at first. (Like when you first start writing. Or when you start a new stage in a project. Or when you suddenly find that everything that was working for you no longer works. These are all good times to drop the expectations.)

Productivity, as our society defines it, is the shortest path from beginning to end. Creativity is more of an exploration. What happens if we go this way? Or this way?

Let’s redefine productivity.

How about we say, for the next six months, productivity means setting your writing time and showing up, over and over again. Show up and check that box off your list. Show up and try something. Explore.

Give it six months. Let’s see what happens.

Remember, we’re in this together. I’m facing the same thing right now with my own work in progress. I’ll share some of my more specific strategies in upcoming posts, but these are just my strategies. I don’t pretend to know that they will work for anyone else.

I’d love to hear yours in the comments!

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