What Does it Mean to be Productive?

Updated: Oct 11

Productivity comes naturally when you take care of yourself first. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

On the last day of December 2019, I found myself staring at the Goals page of my bullet journal with a depressing realization: I hadn't accomplished any of the goals I set out for myself.

I had many goals for 2019. Among them, I wanted to get a full-time writing job, pay off my student loans, and lose weight. These goals all formed part of a list that, by the end of 2019, only served to taunt me.

My sense of disappointment was enough to motivate me to get back up and try again. I decided that I was going to take 2020 by storm and nothing was going to stop me. So I did.

I redesigned my personal website, worked on my resume, and applied to countless writing jobs. I even started working with a nutritionist about my unhealthy diet.

Then March came and the world started falling apart. COVID-19 took our sense of normalcy and turned it on its head, forcing us to adapt the best we could.

I was fine at first. I convinced myself that it would be easy to stay at home and wait things out, simply because my introverted nature made me a homebody. I was sure it would be easy.

But, of course, it wasn't.

As the mass panic ensued and people began fighting over toilet paper, I sat at home, eating my anxiety away and worrying about the future. Slowly but surely, I started to abandon my personal goals.

Before I knew it, I had less chances at a job (thanks to the pandemic), gained the weight I had lost, and was suffering a setback in my mental health.

Shame started to seep in. How dare I not put in double the work now that I had double the time? I was locked at home, so what excuse did I have not to be my most productive self?

This mindset went on for months until I realized how much worse I felt, not because I hadn’t achieved my goals, but rather because I was shaming myself for not achieving them.

Everyone was having a hard time with the situation, but for some reason, I expected myself to be fine. I was bullying myself into being productive while in the middle of a global pandemic.

I hadn’t realized that when it comes to self-development and productivity, context should always inform your expectations.

When I think back at 2019, it’s easy to say I had quite literally failed myself in every aspect. But that’s not true.

The context of my ‘failure’ was that of a busy year full of life changes. I spent the first half of the year finishing my senior year at college. During June I got married, had my wisdom teeth removed, graduated college, and moved from Puerto Rico to Texas in the span of a single week.

The second half of the year was spent supporting my husband in his new job and trying to make sense of what home meant to me now that I was no longer in the land where I was born and raised. The year was full of life changes and successes, but I could only see failure.

My motivation to become more productive seemed positive at the beginning of the year, but only because I had no major inconveniences to stop me. And when life happened, I blamed COVID-19 for my ‘failures’ and went back to feeling sorry for myself.

Until it hit me:

If I wanted to cope with this situation in a healthy way, I had to change my definition of productivity.

The perfect version of a productive person doesn’t exist, and it’s unfair for anyone to expect themselves to reach that standard. Now more than ever, the concept of productivity needs to include self-care.

Destroy the idea that you’re supposed to be your perfect productive self no matter what. While you’re at it, rethink what productivity means to you.

My goal could no longer be about losing weight, it had to be about nourishing my body. It couldn’t be about applying to jobs because I felt like a failure. It had to be about applying because I had career goals I was excited to accomplish.

Productivity to me no longer means acting on the idea that something is inherently wrong with me that I must fix. It no longer means shaming myself when I need a break. Productivity now means doing as much as I can, when I can, to achieve my goals.

This change in mindset has taken me a lot farther than my previous one, simply because shame is no longer my source of motivation. I treat myself with compassion and understanding, and I am truly my best self for it.

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