Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with Productivity

Productivity makes me edgy.  Being good in general puts me in a nervous state.  Like now I have something to lose, I guess.

Theoretically, and "according to research," we are supposed to feel better when we get more done.  This good feeling translates into more positive energy, and less avoidance of previously shame-inducing tasks, leading to greater productivity, which leads to. . . . You get the picture.

And I admit to experiencing a minor high from finishing things, a feeling that has been more frequent of late.  So why is my anxiety level creeping up as I move further along in my "recovery" from chronic procrastinating?  

I suspect this has to do with two issues, in addition to the "bad angel" one I raised at the outset.  The first problem is that I associate task-oriented effort with somewhat manic states, with growing lists and increasingly feverish activity focused on checking off items.  Kind of like Skinner's randomly rewarded pigeons pecking keys nonstop.  I think of myself as having a cut-rate switch with only two positions--"Off" and "Full-tilt."  I fear both extremes, and the emotional and life fallout associated with them.

The second concern is existential.  What is the meaning of all this newly reclaimed productivity?  Are the things I'm getting done the "right" things, whatever that means?  And whose priorities predominate?  What balance of quantity and significance of accomplishments is best?  How many dog walks and declutterings equal one novel?

I have recently encountered in a couple of places the notion that negative emotional states can represent energy for change, and that instead of attempting to escape them, we should make use of them to propel us forward--again, wherever that is.  Any new situation or surrounding engenders some unease in many of us.  The resultant anxiety focuses us and, if kept at a bearable level, can support new learning.  So I suppose I should feel the edginess, and do it anyway.  And I think I should pay attention to matters of mania and meaning.  I probably need to keep asking myself why I'm putting some things on my to do list, and monitoring my down-time to "work"-focused-time ratio.

And perhaps most importantly, it seems wiser to aim, not to achieve some state of perfect productivity, but to be more productive, and to define productivity according to values that make sense to me.  

No comments:

Post a Comment