I think, somewhere along the line, I became addicted to feeling productive.
It’s become an unbreakable habit, a compulsive need to feel that I am making good use of my time. Anything less than that is unacceptable, it feels unnatural.
Even when I’m ‘relaxing’, I feel the need to be actively relaxing – doing something, ticking something off the list, achieving something with that time. The drive to productivity puts you on an endlessly spinning wheel – even if you slow down, you never really stop long enough to catch your breath.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. There’s countless articles about the growing issue of burnout, and the fatigue that comes with constantly running through life and it’s seemingly infinite tasks (despite the fact that they’re often self-imposed targets and deadlines).
I realised that this year, I need to take a different approach to being productive and consider whether it’s really serving me. Whose goals are these really, and why do I so desperately need to achieve them?
So, that’s why I decided that following a long weekend away in Porto (you can read about it here!), I would extend my time off to take the rest of the week doing nothing much.
That’s right. I decided, for the first time in my life, to take some of my ‘precious’ time to stop. I had to fight every urge in my body to book something in, to organise a trip or find a reason for this unplanned time – but I did it. I chose stopping, over scheduling.
Now, I couldn’t entirely let go of the reins, but for me it was a huge step. I set no solid plans in place and the only list of activities I jotted down included things that I really wanted to do with my time, not things that I felt I had to achieve. I set the days into free blocks of time and allowed myself to meander through them, doing what felt right in the moment.
I took time to indulge in art in numerous forms (films, books, poetry, exhibitions and podcasts). I decided to eat out on a whim (more times than my bank balance appreciated). I spent mornings in bed writing. I spent afternoons reading in coffee shops. I spent evenings in the cinema watching whatever I fancied.
This is what stopping looks like to me – and it felt like the most indulgent, honest form of self care. I ignored the clock and I floated around in a little bubble of my favourite things – and it felt so good.
I wanted to write this blog to remind myself, and others who need it, that punctuating your day, week or month with little acts of ‘self care’ or focused time for restorative activities is all well and good, but it’s impossible to keep plowing through tasks and smashing through lists without hitting a wall at some point. If you don’t stop to consider the possible, alternative ways of doing things, you might start to forget that you have other options. You don’t need to feel trapped in a self-imposed routine.
Sometimes, the hardest, but kindest thing you can do for yourself is to stop.
It’s not always easy, or simple to do (and I’m aware that it’s a luxury that not everybody can afford). But, it’s important that where and when you can, you take time to reset, re-evaluate and recharge.
Take a look at the alternative ways of doing your ‘day-to-day’. Find the space between achieving what you want and doing what’s right for you. Explore what it feels like when you don’t have an endless to-do list. Discover how to weave what truly makes you feel good into your everyday life.
You never know, throwing out the checklist may feel just as good as putting a tick in the box. Perhaps, even better.