It’s a quiet morning. Grey Vancouver light pours into the windows as I sit down on the couch next to the dog I’m housesitting for, Maddi. She snores gently as I open up my computer, the blank computer screen illuminating my face.
I think through the to-do list, trying to prioritize. I have a client call in an hour and I’d like to finish revising the article I wrote yesterday. But I didn’t write a blog post last week, and there’s an email that I still need to respond to. A dozen other tasks filter through my mind, vying for importance.
I take the last sip of my french pressed coffee; gritty silt clinging to the rim. That familiar tightening in my chest clenches—the nagging reminder that I don’t have time to waste.
This is one of my biggest triggers for anxiety and shame. The daily evaluation of whether I was Productive Enough. The chase for Utmost Efficiency in accomplishing the tasks on my list. The meticulous analysis of whether or not I’m Wasting Time.
(And inevitably, ironically wasting time reading productivity hack articles online… Am I the only one who does this?)
This near idolization of productivity has been engrained in me. Raised in the hardworking Midwest, bootstrap-pulling was brought to an Olympic-level. The demonization of laziness was a part of the ethos. Then I chose a profession that glorified those who made work an all-consuming lifestyle. The five years that I was an elementary teacher were accompanied by a constant buzz of guilt over not doing enough.
Without explicitly announcing it, my worth sidled up to my ability to Get Things Done. How I felt about myself when my head hit the pillow at night was directly related to how productive I felt that day. We get a release of dopamine when we accomplish tasks, but I’d become addicted to the hit, needing it to feel secure.
I left the relentless pace of the teaching world with the hope to live a life that felt more…human. But old habits die-hard. A few months into freelance writing, I’m still struggling with the same battles.
The problem with obsessing over productivity is the collateral side effects. It requires that I act like a martyr, isolating myself to avoid all distraction or any threat to my efficiency. And beating myself up at any sign of weakness or failure. I stake my happiness on an impossible standard of perfection. When I dig down, demanding productivity is really an attempt to create and maintain and image of worthiness.
It’s true—I’m still facing the same old lies. (To be honest, I wouldn’t trust a quick-fix solution anyway.) But the bravery that has been showing up and whispering new possibilities is giving me hope that this isn’t the way that it has to be.
What if I actually believed that my worth wasn’t dependent on what I do or how much I get done?
What if my primary responsibility wasn’t to muster up the effort to Accomplish Everything, but to remain receptive to what is needed only for this moment?
See there’s a big difference between valuing productivity and honoring receptivity:
Productivity requires a constant hustle. Receptivity means submitting to a rhythm.
Productivity demands specifics outcomes to feel ok. Being receptive chooses to gently trust the process.
Productivity is fueled by an anxious suspicion of scarcity. Receptivity invites a hearty hope in a generous world.
Choosing a posture of receptivity means remaining open to possibility. When inspiration flows through, I roll up my sleeves, but I don’t force it to perform on my own terms or timeline. It means being hospitable towards ideas and projects along with the uncertainty and risk that come with them.
If I’m going to be a receptive human, that means that things like getting good rest and taking breaks are not wasted time. It means showing up consistently, expectant to be surprised in the best way. Because being receptive acknowledges that things aren’t only up to me. I’m invited into collaboration—with others, with Inspiration, and The Creative One.
Being receptive requires paying attention to the present moment with open hands. It means letting go of expectations and accepting my limits. (The paradox is that I am often able to accomplish far more when I’m not obsessing over productivity, however.)
This morning, I choose to close my computer screen, choosing to put the to-do list on hold for a second. There’s still a gap between what I’m learning and processing about receptivity, and the evidence of freedom in my reality.
I am slowly learning to retrain my thought patterns–because a receptive heart has to believe in its enoughness. And freedom happens in a collection of small moments.
The dog looks over at my big sigh as I set my computer on the coffee table. “What do you think Maddi, want to go for a walk?”