Lately, I have been wondering if I am too focused on “being productive”—a vague idea at best which only means “producing” or “producing a significant amount or result.” There’s nothing in the definition to even indicate that being productive is good—it depends entirely on point of view and what is being produced. I have thought the idea of productivity to be far superior to “busyness” simply because it’s very easy to be very busy and yet at the same time to be using time really poorly.
I remember reading an essay with my students back in 1997 about the badge of honor that comes with being really busy. The essay was Barbara Ehrenreich’s “The Cult of Busyness.” Now, I am thinking that I have maybe moved onto The Cult of Productivity. I honestly do not want to be in either of these groups. I want to be fruitful and I want rest, and I want to move toward a balance between the two.
Do you struggle with rest and slowing down? I definitely do. My ever-changing and evolving lists of to do’s and goals and ideas drive me most days and I think I enjoy it. Except some weeks, it overwhelms me. I notice I’m really tired. I am grumpy and irritated and impatient and daydream about having a day to myself.
While I haven’t resolved the questions or the tension between so many ideas and pursuits with a limited amount of time and energy, I have a new goal area as of last week, and I am going to continue with it until I have mastered it and it’s just a part of who I am, and that goal area is about sleep. My new goal is to get at least seven hours (and more than that most nights) of sleep. This goal came to be as I was considering my boundaries and my non-negotiables. I decided that no matter what it means for my goals and hobbies and various irons in the fire, I am no longer willing to deprive myself of adequate sleep. And, one of the cool things about this goal is that while getting more sleep may not be “productive” or “busy,” it is absolutely 100 percent fruitful. Good sleep is one of the necessary conditions to produce good health in all areas—not to mention a prerequisite to creative ideas.
Maybe you already get enough sleep and have rituals and routines in place to make sure you have time to relax and unwind. However, is there perhaps another area where you have been compromising and you no longer want to? Consider what your nonnegotiable are for your life. What are your absolute priorities for yourself? What steps an you take this week to see that your schedule and your daily activities reflect your priorities and values?
Accepting one thing, or more of one thing (like sleep, or family time, or a half day on the weekends to go on hikes—whatever your thing is) almost always means letting go of something else. I have to accept that in honoring my body’s need for sleep, I am going to have to let go of some of my morning and/or evening activities. It means being disciplined with myself and letting others know that I cannot start a movie with them at 8:30 p.m. If we are going to watch that movie, we have to plan for it and start it earlier. It may sound unpleasant to “give something up” but we are actually letting go of something that is just okay, for something that is better. When we don’t choose, it means overwhelm from having no priorities and a dozen possibilities that all seem equally important. Choosing may be challenging, but when we choose, it means upgrading our lives by acknowledging what we really need, and what we value most. How will you upgrade your life today?