I had a day all planned out a month ahead. On paper and in my head, it was set to go as smooth as butter. But when that day came, nearly everything on the list was altered by something else.
Some may say I wasn’t strict enough with my time. I would agree to a certain extent. Yet, it’s good to leave room for change. There’s a chance that change could make all the difference in the world.
In this production-centered world of ours, we plan to do one thing but do something completely unrelated later. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is worrying yourself to death because a day didn’t go the way you dreamed it would go.
Instinctively — or because we’ve been conditioned to do so — we then panic and rush to find another productive task to check off the list. We want to feel useful. But that often results in overload.
In those moments, the best way to conquer a sense of overwhelm is through decompression. We’re packed so tight with expectations and short attention spans, it’s no wonder we feel anxious all the time.
I’m guilty of this myself. There’s always another item on the checklist. And no matter how hard I try to escape the rush, an email, phone call, or some other notification reignites uneasy flames.
Then I realized how powerful it is to simply start over.
We’re All New Mattresses
I bought a new mattress recently. For the past two years, I slept on a Chinese mattress to “conserve space.” My twin brother and I play music in our spare time, so it felt logical to keep part of my room open for that and roll out the bed for snoring time.
Could I have made the purchase a year ago? Absolutely. But I chose to wait.
After I took the mattress out of the box, I needed to complete a few steps before getting too comfortable. The most important one was giving the mattress time to decompress.
The air-tight seal didn’t allow anything in or out. And when I cut the outer plastic, it needed to achieve its full form. That took time. In fact, it took 48 hours — two extra days of floor sleep.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t suck to sleep on the floor temporarily. But at the same time, I realize it was for the best. If I hopped on the bed before the process was complete, it would never reach its potential.
Sometimes we do ourselves (and others) the same way. When we’re out of a tough situation — one that challenged us and stretched us to the point of giving up — we don’t set aside enough time to reset. And in the process, we stunt our growth.
Performance coach, Melody Wilding, LMSW, explains why becoming a “productivity addict” is worse than most of us assume.
“Although you may feel like you’re wasting time if you’re not scratching something off your to-do list, the opposite is often true. Your most meaningful ideas may come in that one moment when you’re not distracted or triaging emails.”
Every moment doesn’t need to be filled with a to-do. Sometimes spontaneity is the best thing for you. In reality, we simply overdo productivity because we fail to see that it’s okay to say no.
The truth is we’re all new mattresses. And just like the unboxing process, we need time to decompress, too. There’s no sense in staying trapped in tight productivity plastic. Pull out the (metaphorical) scissors and give whatever it is sucking the life out of you a snip.
Activate “Just In Time” Learning
Do you want to know why you can’t get anything done? There’s no timing factor — no cut-off points for your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.
I used to make long lists of to-do items. One day would consist of two full pages. That’s all well and good, aside from the fact that by the end of the day only 25% would be complete.
The glaring problem was I didn’t attach a time to them. I never told myself, This is how long you have to do this. Then, that’s it. The party’s over.
Chaos was the result.
On a deeper level, I also over-consumed. Most of what we soak in on a daily basis is irrelevant to important tasks. But don’t tell that to a person who wants to distraction-task, I mean multi-task.
Wilding suggests a better approach. She calls it just-in-time learning. And for me, its usefulness spanned well beyond content consumption. It beckons us to focus on what matters at the moment, rather than obsessing over what doesn’t.
“If you’re working on launching your side hustle, that might mean focusing solely on learning sales skills to get your first paying client rather than diving into learning how to code an entire website and marketing funnel from scratch. There will come a time for that. But it’s not right now.”
You see, I was addicted to productivity. I didn’t need to do everything on my list. Simply put, I craved accomplishing a lot but succeeded at nothing.
You don’t have to make that mistake. Simplify the process to get more done and improve what you learn. And only then will you see those desired results. It will require patience. But if it holds weight in your life, then it’s worth the wait.
You Don’t Have to Win At Everything
The term “hustle” has gotten a lot of resentment lately. It’s as if some folks are becoming more aware of what matters most in life or something. I can’t blame people for feeling this way. Hustle culture is toxic.
We think that sweating over our laptops and sleeping 2 hours a day is being productive when it’s not. We’re only killing ourselves. Meaningful work should be the goal. And it shouldn’t come at the cost of your mental and physical health.
In the words of Cal Newport, author of Deep Work:
“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”
I’m sure you’ve heard all this before. But the rat race isn’t just about overworking ourselves in a 9 to 5 kind of structure. It also shows up when we aim to make huge gains in everything we do.
Let me remind you of something, you were never meant to excel in everything. That’s only reserved for what is actually important in your life. We are quick to forget that:
- Quick money is not always the best money.
- It’s okay to focus on one thing.
- Valuable lessons are in the losses.
Sometimes you need to lose before you can win. The lessons that come with failing are vital to your growth as a person.
Think about it: if you won all the time, how would you know what it was like to lose? What feeling would serve as a teacher in the most important aspects of your life?
If you move in a direction that means a lot to you and lose, that’s still a win.
If you move in a direction you can care less about but you want to “be productive,” you’re wasting your time.
You can’t rely on others to lecture you and hold your hand in those areas. No, you have to take the steps alone. It’s the most effective way to learn and accomplish more.
It’s good to work for what you want. In fact, work hard for it. But what if what you want can kill you? What if it can stunt your growth and hold you back from experiencing actual success? Because it can.
No matter how appealing your goals might be, none is worth more than the air you breathe. Inhaling and exhaling your worries away is the best thing for you. And your productivity will reap the benefits.
Take a break if you want. Relax. Decompression is healthy, too.
Kevin Horton is a 24-year-old photographer, student, modest bookworm, and wanna-be web developer with a new-found love for writing. He writes helpful words about creativity, productivity, and the enjoyably simple life.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.