Obsessive Productivity Disorder
Do you ever have a day where you get into bed at night and your legs hurt because you have literally been running around for 15 hours straight with the possible exception of two small breaks sitting down while eating in front of the computer?
This actually happens to me all the time. It is a phenomenon that often goes by the names Saturday, Sunday and “working from home.”
My brain, like a ghost flying above, pities my body as I shuffle about my apartment, sorting through school papers, doing laundry, checking email, retiring outgrown clothes, monitoring the status of dog food reserves and usually dreaming about some sort of DIY project that will finally achieve peak coziness in my home.
But then there are those conspicuous times when no alarms are blaring, no one is asking me for anything and I am staring at a blank to do list, perplexed.
This is when bad things often happen. My obsessive productivity disorder brain takes over, trying to find things to put on my list, conjuring chores out of thin air and confident in the calculation that getting something – anything – done right now, will surely save me some work/anxiety/difficulty later.
I sometimes have enough self awareness in these moments to at least acknowledge to myself that I should pick up a book, write, meditate, or, especially, do a craft with my little one, who loves nothing more in the world. Sometimes, I even do. But often, it’s like I’m running on some sort of perverse factory setting that makes me positive that there should be things on my do list. I’m certain they are there. I just haven’t figured out what they are yet.
Many, many bad things come from this 21st century urban working mother brain disorder that strives, above all, to “get ahead” of life’s responsibilities. It is a fantasy about being finished.
THE DARK SIDE OF PRODUCTIVITY
Yes, of course there are always more things we can be doing or accomplishing at work or at home. The to do list never truly ends. But I know that is an important thing to understand. It never ends, so if I don’t manufacture breaks and relegate some chores to the “fine to do later” column, I will never, ever stop. Adding unnecessary or not urgent projects to my to do list is bad and I know it is bad.
It’s the difference between buying a month’s worth of toilet paper, and 20 years worth of toilet paper. Yes, you are going to need all of the rest of that toilet paper at some point. But your family would starve if you spent half your annual salary on long term toilet paper needs. I mean, I guess it would be ok if you had unlimited money to allocate to the stockpiling of toilet paper, which I don’t. But no one can stockpile time. We can only take it as it comes.
Equating spending money with “getting things done.”
This leads right into another problem, for me at least, with my need to be productive almost all the time. It’s something I have spoken about before. When my list gets confusingly short, I start thinking, do I need two decades worth of toilet paper? Not exactly, of course. More like, “What do I need? Surely there is something, and I am here sitting at my computer, so seems like a perfect time to get… whatever it is I need.” This is always a bad thing because spending money is usually not the same as accomplishing important things. Dreaming up a need and filling it is not the same as “getting something you need.” Another productivity malfunction…
Doing things that can be finished and crossed off, rather than things that are incremental in nature, or more valuable.
This is a common issue at work, like when you check email all day instead of actually, you know, working. Because then you can delete those emails! Delete. Is there any more beautiful word in the whole of the English language? I suffer from this productivity self delusion at home also. I need to clean my bathroom, which is actually very hard to do because everything is old in my bathroom and scrubbing with bleach while trying not to pass out from toxic fumes is necessary for it to even begin to appear clean. Thus, I do not to it as often as I should. Thus, it is always a big job. Thus, my decision to vacuum again instead.
Productivity, real or imagined, also stops me from taking every advantage to be purposefully unproductive with my children.
When I am not completely under the gun with some specific chore, I tend to be running back and forth from room to room returning all manner of detritus whence it came. Papers, books, glasses, socks… back and forth, back and forth. This repetitive action eventually becomes as subconscious as breathing. And it fills the air when nothing else is on my list. It is almost my default state, trying to clear things from our table. And it is bad because if I don’t recognize the little lulls I’m allotted, I won’t sit at that cleared table and color with my son.
I think I might have accidentally trained myself to not know how to relax at home.
Aside from the moment after my children are in bed and I have about an hour left of consciousness to pay the piano for a bit and watch 45 minutes of television before reading in bed, I don’t know how to relax when I am in my own home. My brain is always anticipating the next thing – meal preparation or shower the kids, or call my mom. If I know I only have a short period unaccounted for, I can’t relax. I rush to get on with my next chore. I am only able to relax when I know I have a decent stretch where nothing is expected of me. But that is not good enough. I need to be able to collect those small periods throughout the day instead of rushing to the next task. Because there is always another task.
HOW TO QUELL THIS AWFUL INSTINCT
I know this is an issue I have only when I am home. When I am outside or at someone else’s house or on vacation, I don’t have this issue. The “getting things done” disease is really about home. So I know that getting out is always helpful. I am also starting to pay attention to some other triggers.
Reading the news or Twitter often leaves me with an unsettled feeling that I look to fix with the dopamine hit of accomplishing something for my family. Apartment Therapy is a bit of a problem for me as it inspires too many project ides, such as deciding that I absolutely have to make this thing (which I will as soon as I have a moment!). I know that, ultimately, just being aware is probably the most important solution. And while I always hate to see the holiday season end, I know that the pressure I put on myself to create untold Christmas magic for my children is always somewhat a relief when it is over.
January may suck in many ways, but it is the time of year when it comes more naturally to stop spending, stop eating, just take it all down a notch. I am ready for that. And a week home from work with my family.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends…
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