Today is the type of day that I would normally consider unproductive if I wasn’t being careful. It’s currently, as I write this, half past two in the afternoon, I’ve sent a few emails but that’s about it work-wise. Scrolling Twitter and getting annoyed has made up about twenty percent of today’s agenda, for context. And so, as usual, my mind wanders to reorganizing my office. I have a broken monitor that needs moving, my bookcase behind me has a whole pile of papers that need filing, of course the dog that is home with me could always use an additional cuddle. There are things, things that feel varying levels of productive, that are calling my name.
I have worked in my own space, to some degree, for about a decade. I can tell when my mental state is somewhat stable because my room layout stays the same. In the home I currently live in, the first place I’ve owned, my desk has moved twice. That, in and of itself, is telling. My office is covered in art made by friends or collected on trips that I took as an athlete. I have a fairly small office, it has more than 20 pieces of art in it plus four dog beds, and that’s before we get to the furniture that is actually used by humans. I keep the art local-ish because, living in a Conservative province like I do, I have to remind myself why I do love this part of the country. It’s not just my family or community that keep me here, but it’s also the relative calm of the prairies. I have been to Toronto, I do not desire to live there. I have been to Vancouver, I would like to steal their weather and let them keep their sky high prices. I was born an ocean and half a country away, but I do feel home here.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am unproductive today in the place that is designed, specifically, to keep me on track. However,I’m also being unfair to myself. I had a Zoom coffee with a friend and collaborator, I supported some friends in various other ways that will in no way show up in my invoicing software, I made lunch, I booked a home repair. I did things, but they didn’t feel like the right things.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how cripping productivity means not seeing productivity as a moral judgement, but it also means acknowledging that those down days will come. You will have days where you were entirely productive doing something else. The key, so as not to wallow or sink further, in my opinion, is to develop the skill to identify when those days are happening and build context around them. Matt D’Avella calls this the two day rule. He uses the gym as an example, but it can sub in for anything. If you identify as someone who goes to the gym then missing a day does not make you a non-athlete automatically. Just go the next day. Cripping this, because that’s what we do here, I would say–if you want to use the two-day rule–you might be better served segmenting the task and building that capacity back up.
So, using the gym analogy, if your usual expectation of yourself is that you’ll work out for an hour a day, and you miss a day, I would suggest cutting that expectation of yourself down by 75%. Same goes for wordcount, if it’s negotiable. Usually write 1000 words a day? Try 250. The next day, 500. The next? You guessed it, 750. You can build this back incrementally, it’s not all or nothing. Maybe you will become the person who can bounce back quicker, but it’s okay if you’re not. The goal is to make even the slightest movement forward, even sideways somedays. Momentum is the key.
And, at the end of the day, you deserve a lack of productivity but you also deserve a pathway to that sense of accomplishment that comes with a full day’s work (whatever full means to you). For me, most days, that’s five hours of concentrated work. Today, it will be more like two. Quite frankly, it’s my responsibility to myself to grow to be okay with that. Even if that growth is painful.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.