The Productivity Trap

The Productivity Trap

Working three days a week means that technically speaking, I have more days off work than days at work. Despite this, I still feel an enormous sense of pressure to get things done on those days off — to hit writing targets, take photos for instagram, write blog posts, run errands, do dance practice… All the things I don’t have the time or energy to do on work days.

This is not inherently a problem. I’m pretty sure this kind of mindset is why I was such an over-achiever as a teenager. I spent so much of my time at school or at extracurricular activities (I was in a whole bunch of orchestras and bands) that the moments in between were precious, and had to be grabbed with both hands. I wrote novels at lunch time and in the half hour before school if I caught the early bus. Knowing that I didn’t have a lot of time meant I used that time productively.

All of that can be a good thing, a way to be productive. It’s like the old saying — if you want something to get done, ask a busy person. Without deadline and commitments, it’s easy to slip into a fog of thinking, “I’ll do that later,” and never actually doing the thing.

The problem is that I’m working part-time for a reason. I suffer from chronic pain and fatigue. On Mondays, I have work and then dance class, which means on Tuesdays, I tend to crash. The first time I did both in one day, I physically couldn’t move the next day. On Fridays, after working two days in a row, I’m too tired to think.

I met some extremely tiny cats today and they were relatable.

On my days off, I tend to sleep through my alarms. I wake up at 1pm, and then I berate myself for oversleeping when I had so much to do. Wasn’t I going to take pictures for Instagram today, then finish the rewrite of Butterfly of Night? I set three alarms! How could I have wasted so much of the day by sleeping?

The fact is, if I could be productive every day, I’d have a full-time job. The whole point of these days off is not to cram in as much as physically possible. Yes, it’s good to use them to get things done, especially things like writing — I don’t want to give up on my career just because I have a job — but ultimately, they’re there so that I can rest, and recover, and cope.

Before I had a job, things were moving at a fairly slow pace for me. If I didn’t get something done one day… well, what does it matter, I’ll do it tomorrow. Now, I feel a kind of pressure to make the most of the days I don’t spend in a windowless, dusty munitions factory, and while I’m sure it’s helping me achieve things, I need to be aware that I’m doing that.

It’s a productivity trap: the more I get done, the more I want to get done. The more I know I’m capable of, the more pressure I put on myself to exceed it. I have never, in my life, done anything in moderation.

Having said that, this new-found work ethic (if that’s what it is), has had a few benefits — I finished my redraft of Butterfly of Night, which took two weeks compared to the previous draft’s two months. [More stats on my Tumblr!] I still have a lot of work to do before I’m ready for Pitch Wars, but it’s progress. I’ve also posted daily book photos on Instagram, and I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it.

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A rainbow for #TBRTuesday! I haven't read any of these books yet, but I'm planning to. Some are library books, as you can see from the stickers; others have been hanging around on my shelves — one for three days, one for more than a year and a half, the other somewhere between the two. I *have*, however, read all the back-to-front books in this picture, so I'm not totally useless. 📚CHALLENGES📚 It's also my first time attempting to join in some bookstagram challenges! No promises that I'll manage to follow these at all, but I'm trying. 📚 #ReadWithRobinAug18 – Rainbow love 📚 #BackToReads – Always on the TBR #bookstagram #bookish #books #bookrainbow #bookstack #rainbow #reading #tbr #bookwormproblems #bookworm #booklover

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And I’m also trying to multitask. The last couple of days at work have been extremely repetitive: place a page on the rostrum, press a button, turn the page, press a button, turn the page, press a button, turn the page… and so on, and so forth, for nearly eight hours a day. By the afternoon, my brain seems to have dribbled out of my ears.

So, I’ve started listening to audiobooks. Now, long-term readers will probably know I’ve never had much success with audiobooks, but it turns out combining them with work is pretty effective. Work uses just enough of my brain to stop me from falling asleep or zoning out completely, while the audiobook keeps me engaged enough not to go completely insane.

It’s a good combination: by doing the two together, I’m able to do them both more effectively than I’d be able to do either alone, because it keeps me in the zone and alert long beyond where I’d be otherwise. I’ve listened to all of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (which I’ve read before, but not recently), and I’m now partway through Feed by Mira Grant (which I haven’t, but am really enjoying so far).

Like I said, I’ve never got on very well with audiobooks in the past. I struggle to focus and I never saw the point in spending 10 hours listening to something I could read in <2. This changes things, though — a block of time I can’t use in other ways, combining tasks to make both easier. I refuse, however, to make this a chance to be more productive: no educational audiobooks are going to be involved here. They’re a way to combine fun and work, not work and work.

Anyway. I’m still getting used to the whole ‘working life’ thing, and I’m still frantically trying to get ready for Pitch Wars — finishing this redraft is only the start of the struggle. I feel like I’ve been doing okay; I get to the end of a day and think, “Hey, I actually did a lot today,” but I know I need to be careful not to let that trap me.

It’s okay to take some days just to rest. I need some days to rest. The whole point of those days is to rest.

Also, I should probably stop spending more time taking photos of books than actually reading them.

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While we're on the subject of books that changed my life… the two in the middle here are basically my origin story. I have a degree in medieval Irish language & literature and I'm an Irish dancer, so I get asked a lot if I'm Irish. I'm not (in any meaningful way), but my interest in Irish music and folklore was triggered first by The New Policeman and then greatly exacerbated when I read Ballad a few years later. What followed was a lot of folk music, a lot of dance, and a degree that involved two dissertations on medieval Irish literature. Never let it be said that books don't change lives…! #QOTD: what books changed the course of your life or triggered an interest in a new hobby? #bookstagram #bookish #books #medieval #medievalirish #asnac #bookworm #bookphotography #irish #irishmusic #tradmusic #maggiestiefvater

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2 thoughts on “The Productivity Trap

  1. Have you considered scheduling a lie-in?

    Every time I try to actually take it easy, the removal of the requirement to work fills me with the desire to work; so maybe if you plan to do all the things you currently see as obstacles, you’ll do other things instead.

    Or take a break without feeling guilty that you aren’t following a schedule; that works too.

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