A (Brief) Meditation on Productivity Obsession

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
 — Annie Dillard

I’ve lived by this quote for the last five years.

In moments when I’m straying from “what’s important” and “my commitments,” I remind myself that one day feeds into another. If I’m procrastinating writing today (or not actualizing whatever is most important) then that day may very well spread throughout my entire life.

But recently, I’ve begun viewing this quote through a new lens and asking myself a very different question:

If I spend my whole life doing-doing-doing, what kind of life am I actually living?

Living in Buenos Aires, my U.S. created mentality of “doing” and constant scheduling often does not work. It is my ideals of how time should be spent that are the outlier opinion and even come off as being hasty. And then I ask myself:

Is the Western focus on individual purpose actually pulling us away from being HERE and present to our lives?

Time spent with family is paramount here in Buenos Aires and for all ages. It is the priority, and I’ve never witnessed such a family-focused culture.

Unlike the skip-your-lunch work culture in many large U.S. cities, a three-hour lunch with friends is not viewed as a waste of time or an interruption to the day. It is viewed as important time, which creates the sentiment of a culture focused more on “we time,” rather than “me time.”

When I was living in San Francisco, CA, a city I still love deeply, this was certainly not the priority. Instead priorities among my generation seemed to fall into a few similar focus areas:

  • Having the best and most fulfilling job possible.

  • Having time for a slew of personally-fulfilling activities and hobbies.

  • Building a life full of your passions.

  • Seeking self-purpose and pursing that first.

This is a hyperbolized perspective (and having the privilege to even have these as opportunities is another huge conversation) but what I am calling into question right now, today, is whether

Days of constant “doing” in fact add up to a life of never “being?”

To test this question I have been experimenting with reducing my rigid scheduling, lessoning the focus specifically on productivity, and stepping away from the mentality of constant doing. At times, this is certainly uncomfortable and striking the right balance is an ongoing process.

When you find yourself simply “doing” pause and try calling into question what you are actually doing, and why. Try asking yourself:

  • Are you “doing” as a reaction to a fear of not-doing?

  • Are you doing because you fear that if you relax the grip on your life that the whole thing might crumble? (It won’t.)

Often times when we let go of certain commitments and mindsets we open up a new space for other more authentically important things to get “done.”

Alison Berman