The productivity paradox

Stirling Castle, Scotland

I was up early this morning, around 4 am. If I had to work today, that would’ve been fine. The strike’s still going, however, so I am home.

Like most days, as soon as I woke up my brain started reminding me of all the stuff I either felt I needed to get done today, or wanted to. Writing, laundry, dishes, trash, getting some bins out to the shed, making sure I got to my appointment, all that fun stuff.

Another normal for me is making a list so I don’t forget something. It feels good – a sense of accomplishment – every time I can cross something off. I’ll be honest; some days I write down stuff I did before I made the list so I could feel productive even if I’ve spent the last hour online while sipping my coffee.

Today, though, I started thinking about the process. How I had trained myself to put the needs of everyone else in front of mine. How my definition of being productive had little to do with me and almost everything to do with others.

Sit on the couch and play a game on my tablet? It may be relaxing, but it’s not ‘productive’.

Write a few thousand words? Enjoyable, necessary, but not ‘productive’.

Going out with friends? Having fun? Not until I get the stuff on the list crossed off.

The next thought was why do I think like this? Part was ingrained in me growing up. As long as I can remember, I’ve been told that I’m to give as much as I can, then a little more, to everyone else. I have to be what they expect at all times. Since I was a girl, and this was the 1970’s, that meant silent. Don’t talk back. Don’t argue. Don’t put your needs before what someone else wants. Because that means you’re a selfish bitch.

You can’t relax yet. There’s still dishes in the sink. Why are you playing cards? Isn’t there laundry in the dryer you can fold? Why haven’t the beds been made? Pick up those toys. No one will come visit if you leave socks in a chair.

Let’s ignore that nobody came to visit that wasn’t family. That I was in high school before I was allowed to have a friend spend the night. That several friends of mine never saw the inside of the house where I grew up. Why was that? Because my mother didn’t think the house was presentable unless we scrubbed it top to bottom. And, as she worked a full time job, that landed on us.

I tried, more than once. Only to be told it wasn’t good enough – I missed a cobweb in a corner or forgot to straighten a pile of books that my dad was reading. That I failed to meet her expectations, hadn’t given her everything I had, so I didn’t get what I wanted.

Now I’m a 54 year old woman who has a compulsion to do all the work expected of me by someone who has been dead for 6 years before I can sit down and write. Before I can relax. Before I can take care of me.

Because I’m convinced I’m a selfish bitch if I do.

To give you an example; before 8 am, I had made the bed…vacuumed out the lint catcher in the dryer…washed/dried/put away the laundry…loaded the dishwasher/ran it…organized everything that has to go to the shed…emptied the trash around the house/changed the cat box/took the trash out…brought the recycling can up from the curb….emptied the recycle bin in my office….packed my backpack for gaming on Sunday (only to delay session 0 for another 2 weeks due to COVID exposure)…and did some general picking up.

I checked tracking of 3 packages online. Took care of our cats. Played a little solitaire. And, eventually, even got the file for ‘Sword & Soul’ open.

My brain is now trying to tell me I should get stuff out to the shed now, as it’s not raining. I’ve got under 2 hours before my appointment, and I should be doing any number of things that are considered ‘productive’ and ‘having value’ – cleaning toilets, sweeping, dusting.

So why don’t I see my writing as productive? Why don’t I allow myself the chance to breathe, relax, instead of constantly need to do what I think is expected of me?

Because I wasn’t taught that was okay. I wasn’t taught that saying ‘no’ to a request is a thing. I was taught to give and give and give some more. Because no one would like me if I didn’t.

The paradox is this: by not learning how to set boundaries, use my voice, I’ve lost myself to the noise. COVID showed me how many boundaries had been crossed by people who said they were friends, that cared about me. Too many people who constantly expected me to bow to their desires, ignoring that I might need something different.

Too many years were lost before I started writing. I can’t change the past, only look to the future. And that’s including unlearning this lesson.

It’s okay if I want to relax.

I don’t have to do everything for everyone.

I can prioritize me, my writing, without feeling guilty.

I need to redefine what being productive means to me. Something that is more about self-care than it is trying to be everything for everyone else.

It’s time to be productive on my terms.

BB/Chan Eil Eagal Orm

2 thoughts on “The productivity paradox

    • I know it will. Probably sooner than it looks right now. But I REALLY need to rework what I consider being productive to where it includes things I need and not just what others need from me.

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