I guess it is due to how I was socialized—how most of us were socialized—that I have the need to feel productive all the time. It is very difficult for me to just be. This is particularly the case if I have already set a specific goal for myself. For instance, I have a goal to publish a blog every Tuesday. If I haven’t determined what I am going to be blogging about I can get very frustrated. I sometimes feel like I am wasting my time if I don’t sit down and write. And I feel like my lack of productivity is somehow a sign of being less than, being sloth-like or some other horrible statement of low self-worth. I have the time and space to produce, so produce already!
That’s the inner gremlin shouting at me. It shouts a lot during the week, less so on weekends when I am “allowed” to just hang out. And though at some level I know that “being” is as important as “doing” I still struggle with pushing myself to be productive. We all seem to have clear ideas as to what constitutes productivity. Most often productivity means there must be some tangible output. Creating a blog, baking a cake, making dinner, balancing my finances, finishing a project, clearing the yard, cleaning the house are all examples that fall into my productivity bucket. You probably have a similar list.
Most activities fit pretty tidily into the “doing” or “being” list. There is one activity for me that straddles the doing/being dichotomy because it feels more like “being” but is productive. Meditating, which is a kind of “being” exercise, I consider in the productivity pile because it is a task I have assigned to do and it takes up space and time and serves a purpose for me. That is somehow different in my mind from hanging around, reading the paper or magazines or staring into space and just “being.” I have assigned importance to one and not to the other. When truly, just hanging out is important too and does serve a purpose of relaxation.
The bottom line is that I judge the importance of what I do. We all judge so much. We are such wonderful little judgment machines. The value judgments I have around what is a good use of time and what is not a good use of time seems to come down to productivity. Is there output? If the output is concrete, it is easily established as productive. But if the outcome has a positive impact on my well being, shouldn’t it count too? Ah ha! There’s that nasty judger again. I can feel pretty awesome when I read a good magazine so by my own definition it is productive. But I judge enjoyment of a magazine as less important than, say, having a nice dinner prepared or meditating for 30 minutes. What a big hindrance that has on doing anything! Not only must I have some kind of outcome, but also the quality of the outcome better be good, important, tangible, moral or meaningful. No wonder life feels hard so much of the time.
Well, not all the time. I can feel the energy calming inside of me just by recognizing that this is a human problem. Consciousness about our own reactions and feelings about experiences goes a long way towards lessening the negative internal voices we create in relation to those reactions. I am sure you have experienced self-judgment around productivity. It might look a little different but I bet you judge whether you are using your time “appropriately.” I have heard so many of my clients use variations on these expressions: “Just get off your butt and do something already.” “Get over it already.” “Just do it.” “Why do I waste so much time?” “Fun isn’t productive and I don’t have time for it anyway.” “If I am not creating something, I am wasting my time.” “This counts, but that doesn’t.” You get the idea.
Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself permission to just be. If you are hard on yourself because of what you do or do not create, and how important the stuff is, you are holding yourself back from living authentically. Recognize that your body and soul needs a whole spectrum of experiences. Some experiences might be uplifting or energizing, some might be slow and calming, some might have an end game in mind, some might be planned and others unplanned, some might be creating things, and some might be simply navel-gazing. All of these make up the richness and complexity of living. And even beyond that, all of these are needed in order to feel balanced and completely human.