On Monday, I was a powerhouse of productivity. I worked through my entire to-do list. But not only that. Each time I finished an activity, I asked, “What should be the next step?” and from that question, I made a new list. Then, I finished that entire second list too. I had lots of energy, resulting in a plethora of check marks on paper.
Then, on Tuesday, I did no work at all. I still had energy, but it was a different kind of energy. I woke up thinking I was going to follow the same trajectory. But every time I sat down to begin, I just couldn’t get going. At first, I was frustrated. I have things that need to be done, and it certainly feels good to move through them. But then, I realized I needed a different kind of space. I needed to let go of a narrative that says, “Productivity is always better.”
Over the last few months, our wider family has experienced unexpected diagnoses and losses. It’s been a lot. On Tuesday, I just needed to tend to some space for that. It wasn’t all sad, actually. It was mostly connective. I felt a lot of love yesterday as I connected with loved ones — about these things, about other meaningful things.
Sometimes, we need to let go of a particular narrative and make space for one that is more foundational to who we are or what we need.
And boy, “Productivity is always better,” can really get in our way, can’t it? That’s a narrative we’ve often internalized. We live in a capitalist culture that tells our our worth lies in what we can produce. Whether we ourselves are Protestants or not, we live in a culture that has been influenced by the Protestant work ethic. I additionally live in a university town where imposter syndrome dynamics are nearly always at work.
“Who are you, and what do you do?”
That’s a question we might ask aloud. But within this narrative lie other questions, often asked of ourselves:
How much time do you work?
How busy are you, and how is that a badge of worth?
How much did you accomplish today?
How does my work compare to yours?
How does my organization compare to others?
Productivity can be fun, especially when it’s connected to what’s most meaningful in our lives. But “Productivity is always better”? Yeah, I have gratitude that we can kick that to the curb.
Also, as encouragement for tossing the to-do list aside, here’s a poem I wrote a while back. It’s called For the Goal.