Productivity guilt. Let’s talk.
I often felt that I had quite a lot to say and share, and I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to engage in some interesting conversations with my close friends on topical issues, life and our purpose, etc. But I never really shared my thoughts and learnings on a more public domain as such, ever. After much contemplation, I thought to share my honest, unfiltered experience with a wider readership/ audience, in the hope that maybe some of you might relate to it, understand it, realise we’re not alone, and perhaps take away some aspect of that learning. For my first post, I wanted to start with something that’s been on my mind during this whole period of lockdown/ quarantine and continues to pick my brain as we slowly go back to the ‘new normal’ way of working. So, I think it’s high time I proactively addressed the elephant in the room — productivity guilt.
Those who really know me, know that I love and highly value my ‘me-time’, or generally, some laid back quiet time amidst the crazy busy lifestyle I have gotten so accustomed to. So, at the beginning of the lockdown, I didn’t mind it at all and almost enjoyed the added time I was getting to spend at home. I was able to give more time to family — more time than I have collectively spent with them over the past 5 years working in Dubai — I took time out to experiment in the kitchen (but no, I did not bake banana bread), I even made a TikTok video with my teenage sister, to name a few. So essentially, all seemed well at the beginning. All until, I started developing this anxious pit in my stomach, an odd physical uneasiness coupled with mental premonition, a sensation and feeling that only intensified day after day, and something I (then) felt would just never go away. Something that affected the way I worked, the quality of my sleep, my appetite, and my spirit and frame of mind, in general.
I’ve always been an over-thinker. So naturally, when I started experiencing these feelings, I sat myself down and constantly tried to figure out ‘why?’. Experiencing highs and lows is normal by me, but I just did not understand why I constantly felt anxious. This also led to me unknowingly lashing out at friends or family. Thankfully, I immediately recognised there was a problem, so I actively tried to do things that could perhaps make it better. I moved my makeshift home office between different areas of my parents’ house trying to find that ‘perfect, productivity enhancing’ work spot; allocated 30 minutes in the evening to a work-out routine copied off YouTube tutorials, even tried meditation (which trust me, is not easy for someone like me), until I finally started to realise that the problem was probably not entirely to do with me, but was perhaps more to do with the new definition of productivity. It was no longer (socially) sufficient to be working an 80-hour week, but it was becoming increasing important to demonstrate our ability to thrive during this uncertain period and discover a whole new creative aspect to our lives. Moreover, there was this added anxiety of the sudden shift to work-from-home (“WFH”) and elimination of the small things that I probably considered insignificant or rather even ‘a waste of time’ before — things like a conversation with a colleague in the elevator or pantry while waiting for the coffee to brew, the drive to and from work, the planning aspect of a future work or pleasure trip — things I now realise are required distractions, and things I unknowingly replaced with ‘productivity guilt’.
None of the above realizations happened overnight, and that is why for me, this entire period (and continuing) has been a huge learning and self-realization process for me. I am still learning and adapting, every single day, but so far, a couple of things have worked for me in my attempt to fight off this uneasiness and actively replace that with something more mentally and physically uplifting. I have listed them down below (in no specific order, and P.S., I LOVE lists). However I would like to iterate that this is purely from my personal experience and I wanted to use this platform to share my learnings, to encourage those reading this to actively converse about this and maybe try them if it appeals to you, and in the process, really discover what works best for you.
1) Meditate. Start with a couple of minutes per day. For now, I try to do 5 minutes of guided meditation every morning (again, off a lovely tutorial I found on YouTube). So far, I honestly feel this has really helped set a calmer and more positive tone to the way I start off my day.
2) Grab a book (or books). I am so happy I have gotten back to reading, and so far this year, have read The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (by Robin Sharma) and The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho). I am currently reading three books that cover three completely different topics; genres ranging from Self-Help to autobiographies — A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s ‘Wings of Wire’, Yuval Noah Harari’s ’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ and Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia’s ‘Ikigai’. I am doing this only because I am trying to really broaden my outlook and derive inspiration from different sources.
3) Find that one thing that you love to do, something that reminds you of your childhood perhaps, and commit to it. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved to dance (I am so thankful to my parents for enrolling me in dance classes as a child!). I committed to it by joining a local dance studio, and by training with the cutest girl, at least once every week (or once every other week). This really brings me so much pure happiness.
4) Add an element of exercise into your routine. Like I mentioned before, I started off by doing a 30 minute evening workout against PopSugar routines off YouTube, but nowadays, I am trying to take this exercise element outdoors as I am blessed to be living a five minute drive away from the beach.
5) Be mindful of the way you respond to text messages from friends/ family and loved ones. I was quite well known to be MIA on WhatsApp/ Messenger etc., or if I did respond, it used to be something in the lines of ‘heeeyy ok’, ‘alright’ or ‘haha’, for example. Over the past year or so, I’ve gone from that to responding in the form of mini essays (if you know, you know), by consciously asking myself one question — ‘how do I make the receiving party FEEL with my response?’.
6) Follow a couple of motivation, self-help and positivity pages on social media. Trust me, it helps.
7) While facing a moment of extreme anxiety or anger in the middle of a conversation with a friend/ parent/ sibling/ colleague/ partner/ anyone really, and before you say something, consciously stop yourself and think — ‘Do I need to say this?’; ‘Am I adding any real value with my words?’; ‘Is it fair to the receiving party?’.
8) Declutter. I spent quite a bit of time during the Eid Al Adha break cleaning out some of my closets. I called it #purposefulprocrastination haha. But honestly, not only did I find so many items that I had never used (and hence subsequently donated), but also found SO many things that brought back such sweet memories from my childhood and university days. And at the end of it, those neat and clean closets brought me joy like no other.
9) Be selfish (and to be honest, I don’t think it’s really selfish at all). Say no. Say you need more time. Say ‘I’ll get back to you’. Just say it.
10) Invest some time in learning or doing something completely new. I have been spending some time over the past couple of months discovering data analytics tools such as Alteryx and Power BI, through a voluntary digital upskilling programme at work, and I absolutely love it. Another example is this article itself — just trying my hand at writing!
11) Take a minute out at the end of every day, to think about what you’re grateful for, and just say ‘Thank you’.
As I navigate through my learning process, I intend to share more ideas on this platform. But for now, I hope those reading this can take away some aspect of my learning so far. I also hope this somehow encourages more active conversations around this topic and I for one would LOVE to be a part of these, so please let me know your thoughts and comments on this post.
Sending each one of you love and light and a MASSIVE hug. And if you didn’t know already, you ROCK.