Productivity: When to Beast Mode or Not Beast Mode

Productivity is a science. We tend to think there’s a magic button that can be pushed or a sequence of rituals stitched together that will somehow make us all beasts. Or hyper productive robots who are fully on when we’re on.

Especially after the last month, getting in a productive groove has been difficult. I’m trying hard to live by the mantra, “Be where you are.”

For me, this is pretty difficult because I never generally like where I am. I’m always trying to get to that next level, whatever it may be. It’s like trying to climb up a ladder through a series of trap doors, and after every door there’s another one waiting at the top of the next ladder.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person out there who experiences this.

The last few weeks have taught me that productivity is not a straight line. It’s really unfortunate that the modern work day is generally set up for us to function during specific hours, to have off times and on times. What happens if you’re the most productive at 7 o’clock at night? What if your best work day is a Saturday?

In a perfect world, we’d be set up to succeed at times that feel the best for us. Right now that ain’t the world we live in.

So here’s the deal: I haven’t taken any time off since everything happened in the last month. That’s not because the people who I work with and for have expectations that I will work through tragedy. It’s that work is my normal and if I’m not doing something that’s part of a routine, I have to stop and think about what’s happening around me.

Getting back home to Austin forced me to think about what was going on and I suddenly felt less productive. I stopped moving mountains. I’ve gotten the minimum done every day and I’m hitting deadlines, but typically the day is now punctuated with breaks, with contemplation.

Rather than beating myself up about this, I think it’s time to consider productivity in a new way. Productivity is not about getting a certain amount of things done. It’s about being where you are and not overextending yourself during those time periods while still meeting your personal needs and those of your clients.

My very brilliant friend Marrit Ingman wrote a book called Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers. Marrit talks about her experiences with postpardum depression in the book. She deconstructs the myth that women have children and we fall immediately in love with them, that suddenly our biology fires us into perfect mothers who are grateful for what can turn into months of suffering and sleepless nights. This book is brilliant because she’s demystifying motherhood and telling a story that’s authentic, but she’s also telling an authentic story about the depression that can accompany specific life changes or cultural rites of passage. Having a baby is one. Losing loved ones is another.

I can’t remember if this is from her book or if it’s something she’s talked about personally, but I remember her saying at some point that she felt lucky to be able to floss her teeth every day – to redevelop some semblance of a routine through chaos.

This is brilliant to me, because so many of us define ourselves through our routines and our productivity. And you know what? Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we (I) should be where we are and do what we can. Maybe every now and again, Beast Mode needs to become Beast Mode Lite.

And maybe Beast Mode Lite for a week or two is necessary for Beast Mode Heavy Duty to come back into play in the very near future.

I’m interested in hearing about your stories of remaining productive and avoiding burnout during challenging times. We should talk about it!

Amber Turrill

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