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Anti-productivity



Apparently there is a new trend on TikTok (I know, another day, another thing we should be doing to live our best lives... gosh, isn't it exhausting?!) where people share their thoughts and ideas on how to be the most productive between the hours of 5am-9am or 5pm-9pm. Busy, time poor lives require ever more creative ways to allow us to be able to live them without burning out.


Now, there will be many who find hints and tips offered by trends such as these helpful and inspiring. Best practices in this area have been well-documented over the years in books, magazines, papers... you name it. You know the ones, techniques such as reducing mental clutter by reducing the number of choices we make or tasks we undertake, e.g.


-Wearing a capsule wardrobe during the working week

-Or eating the same things for lunch each day

-Or having a thought/ideas journal to hand in your bedside table or desk at work

-Or bulk buying your favourite pen/notebooks/washing powder so you never run out of the very things that help you to feel more accomplished and organised, and have more time to do the things that bring you joy instead.


...All of these are fantastic ideas and can imbue a sense of organisation and life mastery which can be irresistible. But, whether these strategies are going to be useful to someone to the extent they are able to become habit forming, very much depends on their own lifestyle and preferences. Those with young children or who work early shifts and are therefore used to getting up at the crack of dawn, may well find it a more suitable strategy to get up earlier than others. Those that don't consider themselves to be 'morning people' however, may find it easier to find ways to get things done in the evenings. Whether that's the gym, or an extra hour of emails to catch up, or life admin, or a self-care routine such as going to bed an hour earlier. So through this lens, trying to take on or even emulate someone else’s ‘best practice’, may just be a sure fire way to lowering your self-confidence.


It’s important to consider the reasons why the trend has emerged in the first place. It could be for entertainment, or information sharing, or to raise awareness of a particular phenomenon that requires our collective attention - nothing wrong with any of that per se. But all too often you'll be familiar with the fact that documenting anything on social media can be a classic hallmark of an unconscious or unmet need for validation or attention, to pacify an underlying insecurity, or to receive positive attention. The very idea that there is a productivity ideal - in fact an ideal or perfect anything - at best is aspirational, but at worst sets up a parent / child 'let me show you the way' dynamic, and could easily fuel insecurities that one is not doing enough, or even worse, is simply 'not enough' full stop. Which it would be good to stem, as there is far too much of that treacherous narrative in the world as it is.


Forming rituals, habits and routines in areas such as these have always been important to the psychology of accomplishment, and is one area in which we seek to master our own egos (or outward facing part of the personality). In recent years however, these have become critical to our sense of selves, and provided a real source of comfort, and made us feel safe and grounded as we navigated our way through the pandemic. We developed anchors - not to pass the time, but often to serve a much more basic purpose - a coping mechanism to help us develop a sense of safety and security. For at times, emotions such as worry, insecurity, anxiety or fear - all completely normal to feel at times - can get in the way of us being able to get stuff done. And in doing so, can easily dent our own sense of achievement.


We are still living in turbulent times - think cost of living crisis, Ukraine war, political turmoil, death of the Queen, new monarch, new prime minister, another new prime minister - and so perhaps it is unsurprising that we are seeking to find ways to have a sense of greater control in our own lives. If this is you, consider partnering with a professional like myself to help you develop bespoke ways to achieve this. Or, see if you can find ways to ground yourself, for example through meditation, or by developing a simple set of affirmations you can repeat in the morning, on your commute, or last thing at night. These could help you to rebalance and find that sense of inner peace, confidence and feeling on top of things.


Looking at it from a different angle though, and consciously at that, could this 'perfect productivity trend' actually be signalling a need to slow down? Consider why there is a need to be 'more productive' in the first place... Are we simply trying to impress an unrelenting boss? Is there a genuine need to fit more in because of a temporary bottleneck in your own domestic or professional resources - perhaps you're picking up the slack at home because your partner is ill, or your team mate is on holiday. Doing more for a short period of time is often necessary, and we shouldn't shy away from it when there's a genuine need to step up.


However, if you find your life is, as a rule, so full and unrelenting that you need to find ways to more efficiently 'cram it all in'- perhaps there's a greater opportunity to reappraise your life to see if there are actually ways you could instead, do less... Ask yourself ‘who are you trying to prove what to and why’, to see if the need to do something different is more about external validation than a genuine internal need or drive. Doing less but better, focusing on quality interactions and lifestyle habits instead, consolidating and giving yourself the opportunity to slow down, or doing less full stop, are all often the savvy thing to do once you give yourself the space to properly consider what’s right for you. I call this ‘anti-productivity’.


The art of doing less, or even better, nothing for short periods, is incredibly rewarding. This is the space that helps you recharge - but is also the space where your creative juices can really start to flow, the homeland of new ideas and fresh perspective. Mary Portas for example, widely known for being very good at being productive and achieving a great deal, talks about boredom as the gateway to creativity. For you, maybe this is putting your feet up with a cup of tea... Or lying on your sofa day-dreaming… or sitting in the garden staring at the plants. So it seems there's an opportunity to learn that productivity and anti-productivity can go hand in hand for the best results.


So in summary here are three top tips:


-For new routines and habits to form, they have to be achievable and work for our lifestyles. Often we need our productivity hacks like we need our medicine - in small doses to help them go down, and with a healthy side portion of personalisation to make maximum impact. What works for another may not be your cup of tea, so try to be inspired by, rather than getting caught up in, someone else's strategies.


-Spend some time considering what problem you're actually trying to solve, and if there's a genuine need to become more productive, or in fact if there's a greater need to do less. Or even better, nothing, for a short period. Being anti-productive is often the real gift you give yourself which supplies the energy you need to do all the other things.


-And if there really is a genuine need to be more, do more... then spend some time thinking consciously about that need is, what your own personalised solutions could look like, and what benefits they would bring to your life.


I'd love to know your thoughts, and please feel free to share both your personalised productivity hacks and your anti-productivity top tips in the comments.


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