As far as I’m concerned, “productive” should be a four-letter word. I say this because, like other four-letter words, it’s a curse. Or can be, when one has become so accustomed to ”doing” that sitting still for more than three minutes at a stretch is proof positive that you’re a lazy, therefore unworthy, member of society and definitely not deserving of those new, fairly expensive, shoes you were eyeing earlier that day.
Of course, you didn’t leave the house with the notion of visiting the shoe store. It just happened to be on your route between the bank and the dry cleaners. You know, earlier today, when your movements were full of purpose. You were getting things done. You were being productive.
The “you” I’m referring to in the admonishment above is me, of course. And all the other like-minded souls who are obsessed with multitasking.
There was legitimately a time in my life when 24 hours in the day was not enough. When caring for husband, children, home, career, and dog (mustn’t forget the dog; there was always a dog) demanded perpetual motion. As hectic as life was, I never once considered eliminating any of it, especially not the dog.
So how come I created an existence that was an endless to-do list? Not sure, really. Perhaps I was born with the hyperactive gene. Perhaps the Women’s Movement assured me I could have it all. That a day without a quitting time was the definition of fulfillment.
Or maybe it was simply my mother? My mother, who did not work outside the home, appeared to make a full time job out of caring for our rather small apartment. She was constantly “doing.” If she wasn’t cleaning, or washing, she was grocery-shopping, or preparing meals, or straightening a closet.
I can’t recall her ever sitting still. The exception was the middle of the night, when, at 2:00 AM, she’d often relocate to the living room, armed with a book and a bag of M & Ms, to escape my father’s snoring.
(Digression — If snoring was an Olympic event, my father, to this day, would still hold the record for most gold medals.)
Pick up a magazine and there were those articles. No matter how busy you were, they insisted you could do more. “30 Quick Tips for Becoming More Productive,” “21 Tips To Release Your Inner Productivity.” That’s 51 guilt-provoking tips that inform you that you may not be sufficiently organized, or how much more productive you could be if you moved your desk closer to the rest room.
I’m sure it’s not helpful to dwell on what the influences were back then. (Thank goodness there were no smart phones or iThings!) The challenge for now is, at a time of life when I’m supposed to have my nose in the rose bush, how do I alight from the hamster wheel?
Because, with the exception of the one hour in the morning when I give myself permission to dawdle (see essay on Dawdling, 4\30\17) with a second cup of coffee, I spring from my chair and mount the treadmill which is my day.
I need new articles to read, different articles, articles that encourage me to get less done, to create a don’t-do list. Articles that offer 51 ways to stop simultasking.
With the proper guidance, I could begin first thing tomorrow morning, in the bathroom. The assignment, should I choose to accept it, would be to resist wiping the sink at the same time that I’m swilling mouthwash, just because my hands are free. Rather, I would simply stand still, letting my arms dangle uselessly at my sides and be in the moment, fully experiencing the sensation of the Listerine burning the inside of my mouth.
If my self-control prevails, I might even attempt to read a book in the middle of that same afternoon, knowing full well that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded.
I know there are many of you out there, both men and women, who have turned it around, and are enjoying life at a slower pace. Would you consider holding a seminar for those of us still stressing over not knowing how to de-stress? Or at the very least, let us know who prescribes your Ritalin?
Don’t get me wrong. My goal is not to spend the rest of my life in a lounge chair. Rather, it is to turn off that imperious voice in my head that keeps asking “Okay, what’s next?” And you know what else? I think I’ll buy those shoes. The dry cleaning can wait.
To further the cause of doing less, I’m taking off the rest of August. See you again in mid-September.