On Productivity

Did you write anything today? Make anything? Do your homework or catch up on readings or study for a test? Practice piano?

If the answer to all those questions is no, and you’re anything like me, you feel guilty about it. After all, everyone knows how life works: if you want to get good things out of it – if you want to be able to play an instrument or speak a language or graduate with good marks or make money – you have to put the hours in. And god knows I want to be able to do all those things, preferably at the same time. At the same time, though, I don’t want to live under the burden of a hundred self-imposed and unrealistically expectations when I could – and probably should – be proud of what I can already do. That leaves us with the same timeworn issue that so often rears its ugly head – how do we find the right balance?

Obviously, there’s no tried-and-true, step-by-step guide to finding that equilibrium that works for anyone and everyone, or else, as the saying goes, we’d all be doing it.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a few tricks for figuring out whether you need to step down or step up, though.

The first is easy – ask. Look to the people you respect, people who you consider seem to be striking an alright balance themselves and who know you. It’s difficult to judge your own efforts, and particularly so when we’re so constantly inundated by other people’s results. Though everyone you know might only be doing one noteworthy thing – getting an award at uni, or a promotion, or just being really excellent at making their own dresses – the cumulative effect of seeing so many people’s sole achievement ends up making it seem like everyone can, and does, do everything better than you.

Asking the people around you whether or not you seem to be holding your own against the onslaught of Other People’s Achievements can help give you back some of the perspective you might be missing. Frequently, we underestimate ourselves by downplaying our own accomplishments – over time, they come to seem so naturally a part of you that you forget other people would find them impressive.

Consider your goals. In the end, we want achievements because we imagine they’ll make us happier. But the work involved to attain them can end up making us unhappier than the joy we gain from having them. Acknowledging that, no, you can’t do everything – and certainly not all at once – is vital, because you need to be able to consider the achievements you’re aiming for and whether the end-goal is, ultimately, worth the work. Not everything is, and the goals that matter most are different for everyone.

Some achievements, like graduating, might be reasonably necessary to your future. But if it’s something you’re doing only for the sake of being able to do it, well, don’t stress about not having practiced or studied if you were doing something else that brought you pleasure. Just ask yourself, every time: will you gain more enjoyment, in the long run, by being ‘productive’ for an hour or by procrastinating? After all, you can still enjoy your life to the full without a list of achievements as long as your arm – more so, even, than if you constantly torture yourself with remembering what you haven’t done.

Don’t waste your time. Often, when we do have to do something, we waste our time stalling and being distracted. Three hours at home rarely means three hours of uninterrupted leisure, let alone productive work. Instead of trying to get your work done in bite-size intervals, dedicate the necessary time to it – give yourself instant objectives, like finishing a book this week, practicing for a full half hour today, or not getting up till you’ve written 500 words, and stick to them. It really is easier to get things done if you give them your full attention, and it leaves you with more time to spend doing absolutely nothing productive, but with one important difference – you don’t have to feel guilty about it.


It will still never be easy to judge how well you’re doing. But if you’re content with the way you actually spend your days, and with how people see you, there’s no point worrying about amassing achievements to your name. Just try to consciously enjoy every moment that you can, and when you can’t escape the necessity of some boring or difficult work, keep in mind the reasons you’re doing it. Finding the balance will still be tricky, but at least you’ll be a little more aware of what you need to be weighing up.

 

I don’t need to do anything and it’s making me sad.

It’s hard for me to feel like I’m not failing at something. I’m on holidays and so I have nothing to do – and even though I’m doing French exercises occasionally, I still just feel like I’m being unbearably lazy. Like if I ever want to achieve something, I need to be working right now. I do write my little stories sometimes, and otherwise I’m often cooking or cleaning which aren’t exactly the hobbies of a complete loser in life. And yet I feel, for lack of a less stereotypical word, unfulfilled. Despite the fact that more than half my peers are probably doing less than I am, at the moment.

Perhaps I just really need to work harder on learning languages fluently and writing a tonne of stories. I don’t know. Part of me really, really wants to but it can be so very difficult to be motivated when I could just be reading books or with my cat. Or making scrumptious chocolate desserts.

I blame this uneasy feeling on my horrible jealousy of people who succeed, especially those who succeed young. I look at my own list of achievements – mostly good marks – and they seem paltry in comparison to the many people who are doing so many brilliant things. Like when I stumble across Top With Cinnamon, a gorgeous food blog run by a seventeen year old. I was borrowing her croissant recipe when I noticed that she’d started this when she was 15.

Seeing things like that make me ashamed of myself.

So I guess I need to go do something that makes me proud instead.

Letter-writing is normal and totally counts as writing practice. Which I desperately lack. Halp, I’m not Terry Pratchett!

My dears, I’ve been doing it again, that thing where I don’t write at all because I’m so incredibly tired all the time, and it’s all very well and good to get enough sleep for once but it certainly messes up my feelings of self-satisfaction and success.

It’s really frustrating me that I can’t write like Terry Pratchett because, um, wow his books are AMAZING and I love them. And it’s not like I’ve actually even tried to write a single word of fiction in like, a whole fortnight – does that mean I’m not a serious writer? I can’t tell. I had ideas and thoughts and stories and words running through my head the whole time like usual, I just never sat down sometime and let them run out.

You know, I was going to write ‘pour onto the page’ but it occurred to me that they don’t, really. I mean, sometimes, yes, the right words flow and it’s all lovely and easy but there’s a lot of hard ugh-just-write-it-already kind of work in between. Maybe because I’m not a great writer, or maybe that’s normal. I don’t know. I don’t know these things, remember? I’m only 15.

Because in case you couldn’t tell, I did it again, that thing where I hate on myself for not having really written yet? But I’m only 15? And yes yes yes I know talent should probably be showing itself early and all that, but hey, I’ve been attempting to write epic sagas since I was about 10 years old, so surely that counts for something, and I’ve been, like, learning things and stuff. You know, like students are supposed to. Or so I hear.

Wow, I just really cannot get over the sneaky realism of Pratchett’s writing – that’s what makes it so fantastic, isn’t it? It’s really hard to do, by the way. To just sit down and say “I will write a witty insight on society and weave it carefully within the fabric of a fictional tale.”

And I can’t do it, because it’s hard, and I get angry at myself because of that, and NO, that’s not right, I shouldn’t be getting angry, that’s dumb. I should go learn French and chemistry and be happy enough with that, because let’s face it, most other teenagers aren’t doing any more than their homework and whatever they feel like – reading, watching TV, playing video games. So me reading all day is good. Or me talking with my family. Or watching French TV.

I need to learn to calm down and RELAX about being lazy again. I was so good at this last year, how have I managed to forget? I was the Queen of justifying doing absolutely nothing all day but idly pleasing myself. And the years before that – countless books read, countless hours spent on Neopets and Runescape and even Egg Cave. But this year? 2013, aka the year I can’t relax and do nothing without hating myself for it? How dumb is that? Very dumb, in case you needed to be told. I should hope not. Anyway. I really must stop letting dumb things like that get to me.

OK, so I wrote a nice blog post today. Does that count as fulfilling my quota of writing for the day, or do I have to include fictional, or do I have to work through the backlog of you’ve-not-written-anything-since-last-weekend guilt? I did write long emails though guys. That counts for something, right? It totally should. Someone, quick, go explore the benefits of letter-writing vs. fiction vs. blogging. It would be much appreciated if the results were to show something along the lines of ‘why yes indeed, writing letters totally exercises the parts of your brain wired for blogging and novel-writing, and improves your ability in those areas, way to go’.

If this is impossible (due to, y’know, it not being true or whatever) then, I don’t know, just hug me lots and tell me I’m pretty and that yes, of course I’m a good writer, not to worry, every word I type is a masterpiece in itself…

(Hey. Hyperbole is appreciated, is all I’m saying. Just so long as it’s hyperbole that emphasizes my good qualities, few though they may be.)

 

Dear Self: You’re 15, it’s OK that you’ve not got a true career yet. Also, sleep is awesome, you should get more of it.

I am the worst at writing posts, aren’t I? Oh well – I’m so tired that I first wrote this sentence as ‘it’s so tired’.

I want to go write a really well thought out and clearly explained post about jealousy, and accepting and loving and celebrating the hell out of yourself (coz YAY you are heaps awesome!) but I think it’s too late at the moment for me to write something that makes any sense at all, and I’d rather give this my full attention than my sleep-craving mind. It’s all about making the decision that is really the best. There’s another topic I want to talk about!

Often, I do things because I feel like it’s the only ‘right’ way to do it, and then I end up stressed and tired and generally in a bad condition, because I pushed myself too far or whatever. I’m slowly recognising that this behaviour, in the long run, is unhealthy and just overall not good.

I’m talking about things like forcing myself to stay up and finish some homework when it means that the next day I’m too tired to function properly. Or when I try to write fictional stories, relevant and sensible blog posts, long responses to emails from friends, careful advice and help to a different friend, two essays as homework, and a conversation in French, all on the same day. As well as doing my share of housework, cooking meals, staying fit, developing an actual hobby, finding a career…wait a second, you think. This is going a bit far. Because yes, it is.

I try to make myself do a million things every day – exercise, write this, write that, do this homework, whatever else – and if all I do is the basics – cleaning, cooking, homework, answering emails, holding conversations with people, getting ready for school – I beat myself up over not having gone out and made an effort for my future life. I want to be a writer, why did I not write a full short story today? Why not? What excuse do I have?

My excuse is here. My mental well-being.

It’s hard to only do ‘good’ things all day – you need a little downtime. And I should be able to let myself relax and not worry about not having a job to pursue after I finish school – I’m only 15, after all. It’s so ridiculous that I’m getting angry with myself for not making myself act like an adult yet.

It’s hard to say that though – I want to be writing and having people buy my books, but I don’t dedicate the time to it, how can I say I want to be a writer? I’m just some stupid teenager with big ideas.

Yes, that’s totally true.

But that last sentence is my excuse as well as my sentence – I am but a stupid teenager. I am allowed to not succeed in life until I’m 20. That’s actually normal. I keep pressuring myself to have made a career for myself by the time I’m 17, or something like that – but it’s unrealistic to expect that to happen without work and time. So, I need to stop condemning myself every time I choose sleep over a new post or story, and instead remember that getting more than 5 hours sleep is more important, for the mean time, than writing one little post.

Just so long as I do keep working at it, at doing the things I want to, or making the things I want happen. Rather than just asking for them. It’s just that it doesn’t all have to happen overnight – I can publish my first book when I’m 23, it doesn’t have to be next week, so I should stop getting angry that I’ve not finished a full-on novel yet and instead work on sleeping and living the rest of my life, and writing bit by bit, and over time I’ll gradually start seeing the results.

At least, that’s how I hope it will work out. Note: Cue discussion on society’s expectations being for us to achieve at an ever-earlier age.

Sorry, guys. I did say it was too late for a real post, didn’t I? But it’s the weekend now, so once I return from my adventures in investigating a French market being held tomorrow, I’ll try and write the post I’ve been hanging onto for ages (by which I mean all week) – the jealousy vs love one.

Bonne nuit, mes amis.