More and Less: The Perils of Productivity
More, more, more. Always more.
We’re bombarded with ways to do more, be more, achieve more.
How can we sleep better to check more off of our to do lists? How can we fuel our bodies with the right concoctions to think more, lift more, pack more into our days?
Even that word fueling, as if we’re machines, not the complex living organisms that may appreciate food and beverage for more than the chemical reactions they provide.
Productivity. Focus. Goals. Processes. Optimization. Use these words and you’ll earn admiration from your peers. Everyone applauds a good hustle.
I’m guilty of falling into the productivity trap. I’ve read the books on habit stacking and the blogs detailing the next surefire way to schedule your days like a top performer.
In fact, as I write this I’m listening to a Lo-Fi Pomodoro playlist on Spotify. For the uninitiated, the Pomodoro Technique is the practice of dividing your work periods into 30 minute increments: 25 minutes of disciplined focus, followed by 5 minutes of doing whatever floats your boat.
I aspire to optimize my productivity. I dream of being prolific with my contributions to the world. Of writing regularly. Filming often. Even publishing a book one day. In this way, the hacks can help. They can help me break the cycle of endless notification checking.
After all, there’s nothing like the sinking dread of realizing that you’ve been making endless loops around the notification cycle. Checking all of the apps to see if there are any important updates, but rarely finding anything of consequence. Or rather, finding a lot of dire consequences in the form of wasting your day one click, refresh, and banal update at a time.
The minutes swirl around. I tell myself it’s time to get serious.
But then a very important email comes in that clouds my mind. I absolutely must answer it in order to clear space to create. Except then I might as well clean out the rest of my Inbox.
Before I know it, I’ve exhausted my creative reserves. I can’t possibly produce anything of value now that I’m so mentally depleted. So, I’ll turn to my trusty to do list. I’m sure there are plenty of productive things I can do to earn my smiley face sticker.
Tomorrow will be the day I’ll do that thing.
I’ll sleep with my phone in the other room. I’ll run through the perfect morning routine. I’ll keep the email tab closed. I’ll wake up and be the saintly version of myself that practices impeccable discipline, who stoically sits down and focuses on the one task. And then the next one task. And at the end of the day I’ll leave an enviable, check-marked to-do list that will prove how amazing I am.
So how can I break free of the hustle? How do I reclaim my attention? How do I create the meaningful things that I long to make?
I don’t want to do more. I want to do better. I want to wield my focus with fine-tuned precision. I want to do what matters.
Do less, but go deeper. Do less, but think bigger. Do less, but achieve greater.
I’m realizing after embarking on this productivity quest many moons ago, that there’s an underlying bias that has stolen my days, infected my mindset, and held me back. I’ve unwittingly prioritized quantity over quality.
It’s oh-so-satisfying to mark that task as done.
It’s the perfect 20-step morning routine that allows you to humble brag about your before-dawn wakeup time, as you revel in the sense of superiority that comes from knowing you’ve already crushed your to-do list before the mere mortals even press the snooze button.
I’m prolific with my words. Churning out directives and emails and SOPs. But rarely taking the time to create.
Are the things that I’m doing important? Yes. Are the things I’m doing things that I need to be doing? More and more, the answer is no. And with that realization the big scary question of what I should be doing looms all the greater.
So with that I bury my head in more doing. Fixing this system is surely a very important way of using my time. It’s definitely not a way of hiding from the uncertainty, the exquisitely audacious goals. But look at how much I’m achieving!
Here’s perhaps the most puzzling piece. When I actually sit down to do that thing. The hard thing. It’s actually not so hard.
I’ve been rolling blog ideas around in my mind for weeks. But it’s been so long since I’ve written something as me, Emma, rather than the boss, the CEO, the speaker, the colleague, that it feels scary.
Mind you, marketing writing is nothing like creative writing. Sure, there are many overlapping features. There’s the clacking of keys, the stare down with the blinking cursor, the mocking of the blank page, the way you massage words to communicate ideas just so. The actions look very similar. But the experience is wholly different.
I’ve missed this version of writing. Formulating ideas and tossing around concepts. Solidifying how I feel about something as I combine words on a page.
Oops, there goes my Pomodoro timer! 806 words in 25 minutes.
Now that I’m in the zone, I don’t want to stop. But the rules say it’s time to enjoy five minutes of freedom.
The thing I dragged my feet about doing for weeks is now the only thing I want to do - more than checking my messages, getting up to do a happy dance, or entering the notification death swirl. Instagram isn’t nearly as alluring. Email isn’t calling my name. The irony is not lost on me.
So what does all of this mean? Why does any of this matter? It feels like there’s a trail to follow. Some thread that needs extricating.
I don’t want to define my days by how much I did. Except I know that’s just a lie I’m telling myself before I even put these words to “paper.” The fact is that honing my focus, being deliberate with my time, and going after the big things will unlock more.
Maybe the problem is when more becomes the objective? It’s so easy to be carried away by the momentum of more that before you know it, you’re tumbling down the productivity trap and letting the tasks take the lead.
Everything becomes an opportunity to cross an item off the to do list. That Amazon return, that pile of laundry, that insignificant email. Check, check, check.
I’m tired of second-guessing and over-optimizing every decision I make.
In my pursuit of doing more I’ve actually gone down the path to less. Filling every spare moment with another task doesn’t leave opportunities for thinking, for creating, for being.
I feel how rusty I am. The words flow, but the points feel shallow. Like I’m edging up against important ideas, but I haven’t yet figured out how to communicate them - to myself or to the outside world. It will come. With time and practice.
I’m leaving behind days of going wide and shallow. It’s time to go narrow but deep.
I’m clearing the slates. I’m making space. I’m committing to doing less, but creating more.
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