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What I learned when I challenged myself to be less productive

by | Feb 3, 2021

Illustrated woman with her interests around her.
Image Credit: Rosie - Anna Mischke @peachbaby
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I have a productivity problem. 

There, I said it. 

I have a productivity problem, and I can’t, for the life of me, stop being productive.

Day after day, minute after minute, I am always doing something. Or, should I say some things

Yes, more than one thing at a time, every time, all the time — things for my job, for my nonprofit, for my cats’ Instagram, for my side hustle, for my house, health, husband, hell, even for no reason at all. 

Now, you might say it’s a good thing, how I’m always being productive. And sometimes, it is. I’m never bored, never lazy, and never feeling unfulfilled, and I can take on a lot more freelance projects than your average working woman.

But sometimes, it’s not as great. Sometimes, a girl can benefit from a day of doing nothing. Isn’t that what the coveted “self care” is supposed to be all about? 

Sometimes, all I want to do is relax, recharge, and rest. Read a book. Read a magazine. Not read…at all? Then what do I do? 

After a series of long conversations with my very patient husband, I’ve decided to challenge myself to not work as much. Each challenge we came up with was designed to get me to actually relax (and to stop me from asking him to do productive things all the time, too).  

So, I got to work…at not working.

My first challenge was to start knitting and doing macrame again. But then I realized I can’t knit in silence, so I almost always put on an audiobook, podcast, or documentary. So now I’m doing two things at once again: educating myself, and creating a physical item from a piece of string. Fail. 

Then we decided to watch more non-educational TV. Seems simple, right? Wrong. I get antsy after a few minutes of just sitting there, and always end up knitting to keep my hands occupied. Double fail. 

We decided going for walks and runs might be a good solution. You can’t knit when you’re running, right? Right, except that I love running to the beach and stopping to walk along the water and collect sea glass. (It calms me, it’s pretty, and I’m good at finding it.) But is that productive, too? Is it doubly productive because it’s also…healthy? Great, now I need to find a use for the sea glass. Another project. Triple — maybe even quadruple fail. 

What about playing with my cats? It’s fun and relaxing, but it’s also exercise and enrichment for them. Is that productive? Does it become too productive if I film their adorableness to post on their Instagram page? Oh man. 

The more I work on trying to not work, the more not working feels like, well…work. 

Is anything truly, genuinely not productive? Am I working too hard on this whole “not working” thing? Am I losing my mind? Possibly.

As I sat down to write this (don’t roll your eyes, I know this part is actual work), I realized something: if it’s something you enjoy and something that relaxes you — even if it is creating something — maybe it’s not work after all. At least not really.

Confucius said ,“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I always hated when people quote other people, and hated this quote the most. But maybe Confusucius was onto something. That, or maybe he was just on something. (Maybe I should be on something?) 

Maybe we’re all so obsessed with finding meaning in everything we do, that we can’t just stop to enjoy what we are doing. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your work and enjoying creating. Maybe it’s okay to find creating to also be relaxing. Maybe I should stop trying to relax like other people do, and just keep doing what works for me. Maybe working is what works for me.

These challenges may not have taught me how to slow down, but I did learn to pause. Now, before I start something new, I stop and ask myself: Is this something I enjoy? Do I want to do this right now? 

If the answer is no, and this “something” feels like work, I won’t do it. I’ll try to focus more on something for me, instead. But if the answer is yes, I will resume. 

From now on, I am going to aim for more pauses, more yes-es, and less work for the sake of work. But I’m not going to stop doing things I love because other people might consider it “work”. I’m not going to change who I am to meet the stereotypical “self care” norms. And I’m definitely not going to overwork myself. I’m going to do what I love. 

Maybe my “productivity problem” isn’t actually a problem at all — if I’m doing something I enjoy.

Isn’t that what life is all about?

Lauren’s Socials & Website: LinkedIn, Website

Editor’s Socials & Website – Analisa Cantu: LinkedIn, Twitter, Website

Topic: Wellness
Written by Lauren Beader
Senior Copywriter

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