I am in a constant struggle to squeeze more productivity out of my day. More accurately, I am in a constant struggle to not be angry with or disappointed in myself for not being able to do as much as I think I should. Long time readers here will not be surprised by this - or to know that I have once again decided to try and do something about it - but whenever I mention my attempts to increase productivity, I am met with a bit of push-back from trusted friends who ask, “what’s so great about productivity?”
I’ve been experimenting recently with “energy mapping” at the urging of a productivity coach. The idea is to find out when you are naturally most energized and focused and to schedule your days or weeks around those peaks and valleys. When I shared this online recently, a friend posed the familiar question about the importance of and my constant quest for productivity.
I tried to explain that I want to be able to do all of the things I value, not just all of the things I think I should have to accomplish. Productivity for me doesn’t just mean earning more or meeting more obligations; it means having time and energy to be fulfilled in both my work and my personal life. It means meeting deadlines and working on home projects and planning dates with my husband. However, my latest crash and burn has me rethinking my expectations of myself.
Last week while I was “mapping my energy”, I quickly noticed that I had a burst of energy in the morning, then a lull, then a burst of energy in the later afternoon evening. I was ecstatic; it was if I had unearthed an extra 24 hours in my day! No, it wasn’t 24 hours, but it was a whole new period for doing stuff that I hadn’t been taking advantage of previously.
Oh, boy, was I productive.
I got ahead on deadlines. I finished rehabbing Craigslist furniture. I organized my daughter’s closet and dresser. I got that jacket to the dry cleaners AND responded to that letter from my brother.
Pew! Pew! Pew! I was a productivity machine!
And then… after a few days… I got a little tired.
My energy map showed that I was focused and ready to work from about 5pm to 11pm, so that’s what I did. Sure, I had a hard time getting up when the alarm clock went off the next morning, but the kids always managed to make it to the bus. Then I just had to fuel up on coffee until I found myself in the midst of my morning peak.
And, OK, I wasn’t having the downtime with my husband that I typically enjoyed in the evening. While he was watching old Seinfeld reruns, I was working on new articles or cutting fabric strips for my new homemade rug. Who knows when I would have finally gotten around to those projects if I’d just called it quits on the day at 5?
I slept until 12:30 today. PM. On a work day.
Technically, I was up at 7am to get the kids off to school. And then, because I’d been up until about 12:30 the night before, and because I’ve consistently been staying up late and getting up early, I decided I would just lay back down for just a few more minutes.
On a day when my kids will be home at 3:15 and I have planned a full day of work for myself.
Someone’s new puppy just peed all over my fancy energy map.
This is pretty much how my productivity projects always end. I get tons done for the first week or so, and then I crash and burn and throw my hands up in the air in disgust, certain that I’m inherently flawed. This brings up two potential issues for me:
1) Are my expectations unrealistic?
2) Should my ability to get stuff done be so tightly linked to my sense of self worth?
The answer to number two seems obvious: of course not. But don’t we champion those who do and use words like lazy and distracted to describe those who don’t? Furthermore, my personal definition of success and happiness includes so many facets of life that I have to be able to excel in multiple areas in order to feel like I’m getting it right.
Which brings me to the idea of maybe having unrealistic expectations for what I can accomplish in any given day. It seems I am constantly looking around to find people who do so damn much with their time, which tells me that it must be possible. There must be a way to spend quality time with my kids, connect with my husband, attend to paying clients and work on future projects. Oh, and of course find time for self care and centering and friends and faith. And yet just writing that all out reminds me that hoping to do all of those things at once is probably unrealistic.
My advice to new mothers who are struggling to do it all is to stop trying to do it all. I remind them that societal obligations can be left at the door and that it is so much easier to focus on their own small set of values. It seems, however, that my own small set of values - kids, husband, community empowerment, self discovery - is still a large load to consistently carry. I really don’t want to set any one of those things down.
Perhaps instead of productivity, I should be pursuing a recipe for not needing sleep.
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