An Appreciation of Slowness and the Constant Allure of Productivity

image credit: Sage Friedman

Let’s face it – we have become addicted to productivity.

Do you ever wonder why time seemed to pass so slowly when you were younger? Is it just that children experience time differently, or is it that the burden of responsibility makes it harder to appreciate the time we do have?

Lately, I’ve become so obsessed with how I get things done that I barely take a moment to appreciate anything I have accomplished, and I give even less thought to the journey it took to get me there. Before long, I move on to the next thing, and it might be because I’m getting older, but it’s starting to feel like I’m living my life at double speed – it seems as if everything is moving so quickly and I have no time to enjoy it.

Maybe you can relate.

Just take a look around at all the modern conveniences we’ve created to help you do more in less time: pick and pack at grocery stores, fast food, Uber, same-day delivery, self-checkouts – technology has allowed us to create lives that aren’t “burdened” by unnecessary chores or time wasters.

And then there’s that compulsive need to multi-task, a problem for which I am notorious. Maybe you like to watch YouTube videos while you check your emails, listen to podcasts during your commute, or play an audiobook while you’re cooking dinner. Rather than take the time to appreciate each task individually, we stack them together, a teetering tower of pancakes threatening to fall at any moment.

Or maybe that’s just me. ADHD does not make me the best at multi-tasking, I admit. But that does not stop me from trying to cram more tasks into the same block of time.

And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things. In many ways, optimizing time is a good thing. It gives us more time for our friends and family. More time to spend on ourselves and explore new hobbies and try new things.

I’m guilty of listening to an audiobook or two while I edit photos, check emails, or do laundry, but it can make an otherwise boring task more enjoyable and enriching. It’s not a bad thing. Far from it, in fact. But I’ve found that for me, at least, it has become the norm.

If I’m not optimizing every minute of every day, I’m underperforming, and it’s reached a point where it just makes me unhappy. I don’t feel as though I’m taking enough care with what I do or the things I make. I don’t feel like I enjoy or appreciate what I’ve learned and how far I’ve come. I focus only on the next task, the next milestone, and it’s causing me to neglect the work sitting right in front of me.

And that is an incredibly frustrating truth to confront.

What is the point, after all, in making our lives easier if we’re not going to take a moment to appreciate the things that life brings us?

And I might be in the minority, as I’m sure there are people out there who are more well-adjusted than I am. Maybe this is a lesson you learn differently and at different times in your life, and that’s okay too. Learning is a lifelong process, and just because it happens a little slower for some does not invalidate their experience.

Earlier this year, I set out to publish a book in 100 days. The whole point of this project was to get me out of my head and focused on the work, so I made a detailed plan for it and gave it my best shot. And it very quickly derailed.

I was so obsessed with hitting goals and sticking to the plan that I failed to see the forest for the trees. I was so focused on publishing a book that I didn’t stop to appreciate that I was trying to publish a book, something I’d dreamt of doing for years. My focus had switched entirely to the result, and I became obsessed with reaching that goal, truly believing I would be overjoyed as I finally made this dream a reality.

Except I was miserable as I fell further and further behind, and tried to cram two or three days of work into only one. I neglected other responsibilities, as I mentioned in my latest update, and I ended up writing the first draft of a story that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, just because I was running out of time.

My obsession with the process cut me off from the process entirely. I was on autopilot, pushing forward because I had to. I couldn’t be intentional. That would mean pausing, and taking a moment to consider my options, and that wasn’t something my plan had allowed much time for.

It sounds crazy when you think about it, but it was hard for me to acknowledge at the time. As I mentioned in my most recent update, I’m still technically trying to publish a book in 100 days. The only difference now is that I’m choosing the days I work on it, and each time I do I’m making sure I am intentional and enjoying the process.

Of course, that comes with its own problems.

The shift from a hobby to something you want to pursue as a career is going to change the way you think about it and how you approach it. This is inevitable. It can still be fun and something that brings you a lot of joy, but it’s something you have to do even when you don’t want to. Deadlines are a fact of life. Endlessly creating without a stopping point isn’t really going to get you the kind of career you’re looking for.

If you think only of the end of a project, did you appreciate all the time you spent on it? All the effort and creativity it took to bring it forth? Or are you happy to have it over with and ready to move on to the next thing?

Is it possible to change the way you think to make it so that every time you sit down to do the work, you’ll find something to enjoy in it?

The hustle culture can be toxic, especially for those who struggle to find any meaning in what feels like a never-ending grind. You reach one goal and immediately set another, always setting the bar higher and higher, and not stopping to appreciate how far you’ve come.

I’ve been an avid NaNoWriMo participant for over a decade at this point, and I think it does incredible things for the writing community. But it has also made me deeply competitive and ashamed when I see others reaching goals that I am repeatedly failing to meet.

When you hear things like “NaNoWriMo isn’t about winning,” they might be nice to hear, but platitudes nonetheless. They ring hollow when you have been working very hard and still find you’re falling behind, all the while surrounded by others celebrating their achievements.

In the end, a balance must be struck between an intentional, creatively gratifying process and the deadlines that must be met. And what I know is that what I’ve been doing is not working. I feel more disconnected from my work than I ever have, and I know that needs to change.

For now, I’ve decided to embrace slowness. I want to take a moment to savour everything like you would a delicious plate of food. Whether it be a novel I’m writing, a book I’m enjoying, an invigorating walk outside, or a new song I’m listening to, I want to make sure I’m being intentional with my time and appreciating everything I have. Enjoy each minute of hard work put into the things that matter to you, and every moment spent with people you care about.

I think this is especially important as we close in on the holidays. Now can feel as good a time as any to cram as much as we can into the last days of the year.

Take a moment to look back on everything you’ve accomplished in the last year. The last month. The last week. Celebrate what you’ve done. And if you don’t feel like you accomplished anything? I promise that isn’t true. That is your productivity-addiction trying to trick you. That’s the narrative we see people building on social media. We are constantly exposed to the journeys and successes of others and we can’t help but want what they have, and try to engineer a life that will get us there.

While it’s great to connect with others who are on a similar journey, we can’t want what other people have because that is their life, their journey, and their goal. It belongs to them. And we need to find the one that belongs to us. And we need to find it at the pace that is healthiest for us.

In a world of constant stimulus and rapidly dwindling attention spans, I invite you to take a moment and breath – enjoy what you’re doing, and appreciate all that you’ve done.

Remember that life is not a race, even if we’re sometimes made to think so.

Let’s Chat!

Are you also dealing with an addiction to productivity? How do you balance getting things done without losing touch with the process? What tips or tricks have you learned that help keep you intentional? Let me know in the comments below!

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