Treading carefully through the “productivity” mine field.

My dear friend lamented to me that she is no longer as productive as she had been a few months ago. She is also 9 months pregnant with a 2 year old at home. I think I said to her (or hope I said) that “productivity” should be the last thing she needs to worry about at present. If she can make it through the day, it is a successful one.

I am on a journey to be less productive. In fairness, I suppose I should call it “selectively productive”. My goal is not to become or endorse laziness or sloth, though we can all use some quiet down time now and then. Productivity is what has got our species to its current, glorious technologically advanced state (well, that and big brains, and a lot of slave labour, but that’s a topic for another post). We all need to be productive in order to procure our basic necessities of life; for many people on this planet that requires a lot of time and back-breaking effort on a daily basis. For many people like myself, living quite privileged and automated  lives, productivity efforts are often concentrated on our out-of-house work lives. And then there is productivity in the home. I would argue that this notion is mostly directed towards women, as women are seen as the keepers of the house, or that they SHOULD be. From what I gather, based solely on my own experience as a woman and mother as well as what I hear my female peers say, being “productive” means having a clean house, clean laundry (washed, dried, folded, AND put away), errands done, scratch-made meals planned and preferably prepped ahead of time, ALL THE TIME. Merely cleaning the house isn’t enough, the house must be CLEAN, as a constant state of being.

Last year, I strived towards this goal. Every evening after the toddler went to bed I spent 2 hours or more meal prepping, vacuuming, washing, or other household tasks. I got a lot done. I hated every minute of it. I was exhausted. But the house was cleaner, right? I thought I would feel accomplished, organized; I might even feel more free now that I got so much done. Instead, I found myself spending more and more time trying to keep up what I had started, with less and less time for activities for myself, or even time for my husband. I was unhappier than when I started. This is a sign that the intervention was not succeeding.

As frequently happens in these situations, there was a lesson to be learned here: when we put so much stock in something generally meaningless and entirely temporary, we’re going to set ourselves up to feel defeated more often than successful. The dishes only stay done until you want something to eat, the laundry is only done until you change your clothes, and the floor only stays clean until the toddler wakes up. I don’t want to have spent a good portion of my time and energy in this life on something that doesn’t really matter, in the end. At my funeral, no one is going to remember me based on the type of house I kept or whether or not my laundry made it from the basket into the drawer in the same day (at least I sure as hell hope it’s not trivial things like that that people will remember about me). I want to be remembered for my relationships, the meaningful interactions, and the fond memories my loved ones and I shared. Spending my time being “productive” meant spending less time doing the things that matter to me.

I am not condemning cleaning or suggesting we all live in filth and chaos; yes, housework is largely a thankless task that most people don’t particularly enjoy, but it is absolutely necessary and not worth wasting energy fighting against it. There is a difference between being organized and being productive. There is a difference between being and living cleanly and having your house in mint-condition at all times. We all have to set our own targets as to what is acceptable, but it would be wise to ask ourselves if the targets we set are both realistic and leading towards our ultimate life goals. For myself, what I was doing was not the case on both fronts.

Now, I’m working at not sweating the small stuff. I’m focused more on the meal planning and preparation (gasp, a dietitian that doesn’t use a 14 day meal plan with accompanying shopping list! The horror, the horror!) because that is one item that really does make our lives easier. I’m working at breaking large tasks into smaller ones that I can pick up if I have a spare few minutes, and I’m focused on doing tasks smarter (like more laundry folding right out of the dryer instead of days later). I am not too worried about how long clothes are hanging in the basement before they make it to the closet, and the dust bunnies and I are making good friends. Most importantly, when I’m done my chore, I don’t go in search of more as I was, I go do something that I never had “time” for. I feel better, I’m starting to be happier. If I’m happier, I can be a better partner, a better mother, a better dietitian, and none of those things depend on whether my dishes are completely done or not.

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