Why does ‘productivity’ feel like a trap?

How is it August already? And why do I feel like I wasted my entire summer?

I know that feeling’s an illusion. Or rather, the feeling is real (I’m feeling it, after all), but the facts behind it are not. I didn’t waste my summer: I finished the first draft of a novel, I did a bunch of revisions to my website, and I started writing a queer holiday romance novella. I also helped my friend Lynn edit her book.

So, that sounds like a lot to me. And yet, my brain keeps muttering slacker.

And anyway, what if I had wasted my summer? And what does that mean, anyway: wasting time? That I should be doing something productive instead?

Contradictory as it may seem, this sense that I need to be productive all the time could be why I feel like I’m always running behind. Maybe you can relate.

And yet, that implies that there’s always something up ahead that I’m running toward: the next book published, the next good review, the next raise, the next promotion.

We perceive faster/sooner/earlier/more as virtuous, and later/slower/taking our time as laziness. What if I just be where I am right now?

A few years ago, I listened to an episode of the podcast Hurry Slowly by Jocelyn K. Glei titled “Who Are You Without the Doing?” The question is one that a healer posed to the host and that, at the time, she couldn’t answer. When I listened to this episode, back in 2018, I didn’t think I could answer it, either.

It came back to mind when I read this article in Time magazine about always feeling behind, “There’s No Such Thing As Getting Ahead.” It made me consider other questions, like: “If I fixate on this one thing I’m running toward, what else am I missing?” I don’t mean that in a FOMO way, more of a “what if I changed my focus” kind of way. Which made me consider also: “What am I avoiding by committing to this path so single-mindedly? Am I trying to avoid not facing something more difficult?”

The more I thought about all of that, the more I thought “who are you without the doing?” is not the right question (for me, at least [sorry, Jocelyn]). It’s still a valid question and one that I keep thinking about. But it’s also kind of sitting right next to the more relevant question, which is, “Can you just be here now?”

I spend so much time fixated on the future: thinking about retirement, thinking about all the things I’ll be able to do when I reach that point. If I were to focus on my present circumstances, though, what would I see? What would I see lacking? What warrants more attention, and what needs less?