The “problem” with productivity (part 1 of 2)

Anxiety, OCD and Other Brain Farts, Creative, Levelling Up and Productivity

I’ve always been one to obsess over the most efficient way to “get things done”. Literally – I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done when I was sixteen. It irrevocably changed how I approached my life, simultaneously calming my life, and introducing another level of chaos: am I doing enough? And am I doing it the right way?

Suddenly, everything that should (or could) be done was now an ‘open loop’, that needed recording in some way. I wrote everything down.

Next actions, project lists, someday/maybe lists. The weekly review.

I still do most of this now, particularly the weekly review. It’s often combined with the Bullet Journal or some flavour of the month gadget/productivity tip I’ve seen on reddit or Pinterest, or whatever.

Habit trackers, hydration trackers, book trackers.

The point of such systems is to create a structure, external to yourself, that you can trust completely.

And there’s the rub.

Like most things in life, productivity systems like GTD, Bullet Journal, Don’t Break the Chain, etc, are helpful systems.

It makes sense to write things down, because memories are notoriously unreliable. It makes sense to track habits, to give yourself a sense of accountability or keep a promise to yourself.

It makes sense to write down things you want to get done that day if they’re time sensitive.

I mean, isn’t that their appeal? Productivity systems just make sense: it’s a neat, quantifiable way to check you’re “on the right track”, and your life is “going well”.

However, if you are prone to taking things to extremes, perfectionism, or a sense that you need your life to be “just right” – as I am – such systems can trigger issues. As time has gone on, I’ve felt increasingly pressured by the very systems I made to help me out in life. It’s easy for the endless lists and goals and projects to become a stick to beat yourself with. Naturally, if you’re always focusing on what needs to be changed rather than appreciating what is going well, dissatisfaction is bound to occur.

Didn’t floss your teeth yesterday? Failure.

Didn’t achieve any of the goals you set yourself this month? Why do you even bother?

Made a spelling mistake in your journal/put the wrong date down? Oh boy

Again, the issue is largely regarding the rigid, perfectionist approach I’ve taken with these methods – NOT the methods themselves. That’s a deeper issue than productivity itself. Any tool can be destructive if you use it in a destructive, harmful manner.

Even so, there’s another problem I began encountering… And that is a consistent feeling of What is this all for????

Why am I doing all these things? Why do I care about doing these actions or ticking these habits off my list? Why do I care about anything at all?

I believe this sort of thinking comes from my shift from Goals Based thinking to Values Based.  In a nutshell, goals based tasks are dependent on achieving a certain outcome. I want to get to my target weight so I’ll do exercise. I want to be “good” at Mandarin so I’ll do some flashcards. I want to reduce my anxiety so I meditate.

Values based tasks, on the other hand, focus on why you want to do something, and how that helps you live life as the person you’d like to me.

To rephrase the above tasks from a VB perspective – maybe I exercise because I care about my body, or I want to have more energy and stamina to do other things I value. Maybe I practise Mandarin because I value learning things, just to learn, or so I can connect with family in that manner. Maybe I meditate because I value being mindful and checking in on my mental health.

Traditional productivity systems, I’m finding, neglect to truly acknowledge the why of an activity. You could write a blithe little inspirational comment next to your to do list if you wanted, but still: an unticked check box only represents that something was unfinished. It doesn’t take into account how values are a continual, minute to minute practice. You don’t just do it once and it’s over forever.

So what I’m wondering: is there a way to merge these two ideals?

I don’t know yet.

Until next time… where I will not have the answer, but might have stumbled a little further upon this personal journey of mine.


Why are you scared of writing?


Dear Rat Brain,

I see you – I felt you, earlier, sitting at my computer and staring blankly at a screen while I waited for inspiration to hit. I feel it now lying face down on my carpet hoping the format for this blog immediately lands in my hands, fully packaged and ready for the world. I felt it this morning, the panic and scrabbling on the inside of my skull as I stared at my novel outline and wondered if I should just give up, as I have many times for the last 7-8 months. I was once 60k into this book, but now I’m starting from scratch. And although it’s for the best, I can always feel you running into your panic stations every time I open up Scrivener…

‘How are we ever going to finish this novel?’

‘What if people don’t like it?’

‘What if people laugh at me when it’s finished because I put so much time into it?’

Thank you, Rat Brainbut no need to call 999 today.

It’d be easier to stop; I get it. It’s always easier, and wouldn’t we both rather watch shitty kpop videos in bed?? After all we’re both so exhausted from… What, exactly?

Here’s a story I wish I could have read as a teenager: about what happens after you come out as queer. How the fuck do you conduct a healthy LGBTQ+ relationship when all the examples on TV, books and movies either end in one half dying, or one half turning evil? (Sometimes both?)

And what do you do if you’re in an unhealthy LGBTQ+ relationship … but neither of you are dead, so you have to actually live with your shitty choices? These are questions I had but never really got solid answers for.

And if nothing else, I want to provide that story for one person in the world. So as tempting as random kpop videos are, maybe we have something more worthwhile to do today.