Updated: Aug 21, 2022
I Didn’t Do The Thing Today: Letting Go of Productivity Guilt. When I first heard of this book by author Madeleine Dore, the title immediately grabbed my attention. (Kudos to Madeleine and her publishing team for grabbing the attention of the target audience!)
I downloaded the audiobook so I could walk and listen. I recognize the irony in trying to be as productive as possible while listening to a book to overcome productivity guilt, but here we are… And as a bonus bit of irony, it took me nearly twice as long as the 7-hour listening time to get through it because I kept pausing and rewinding 30 seconds to re-listen and really take in what Madeleine was saying. There were so many things that resonated with me directly, from page 1 onwards.
Something that I am very excited for (but also incredibly nervous about) is carving out the month of July just for family. That means no work, no thinking about work, no thinking about thinking about work. It’s going to be a stretch for me, but the busyness and chaos that has rained in everyone’s lives the last two years has taken its toll on me. If you’re intrigued and you’d like to hear more about my ‘why’ and ‘how’ for rest this summer, continue listening after today’s interview (that’s why this episode is longer than usual).
I’m so excited to share today’s conversation with you. After finishing her book, I reached out on a whim to Madeleine, thanking her for writing such a poignant work and asking her if she’d like to come on the podcast and chat with a like-minded soul who is trying to not do all the things today. I was delighted when she agreed.
The conversation you’re about to hear took place in late March of this year. The time between when it was originally recorded and now when it’s released has been about three months; an entire spring season. I love the fact that there has been this gap from recording to production, editing and release. It’s giving me some time to be able to reflect on the conversation, as well as think about what it means to me in this slowed down season of spring, transitioning into summer. Back in late March 2022 I was doing all the things today.
In our conversation, Madeleine and I discuss why ‘perfection’ is a flawed concept (and what’s better than striving for perfection), the importance of taking productivity down off its pedestal, the bright side of not completing your to do list, the importance of being curious to question where our productivity guilt comes from, as well as broadening the measure of a day to celebrate the variances there within (as well as the variances within ourselves). Madeleine provides insight on the daunting nature of ‘space’ that rest affords us, practical tips for living presently in our days, the ways Madeleine chooses to measure her days beyond ‘being productive’, why the very ‘quantifiable’ measure of productivity is actually an imperfect metric too and what the term ‘precrastination’ means. Phew!
I really appreciate all that Madeleine’s work has opened my eyes to and if you’ve ever felt stuck on the world’s ‘hamster wheel’, going through the motions and being productive without really stopping to consider the bigger picture, this episode is for you.
Episode bonus material: My journey to rest.
Throughout the month of May, as my schedule began opening and breathing space settled around me, one of the greatest gifts the world offered me was stopping to smell the flowers. Literally.
Our local plant life invited me to slow down during the mid-May cherry blossom bloom, the maturation of spectacularly fragrant lilacs and the dripping scented blooms on the Solomon’s seals that sit adjacent to my front porch, greeting me each time I walked past them. Their scents remind me to enjoy their beauty and mystery and wonder for the short time that they’re here. They invite me to stop my forward momentum, engage my senses and slow my busy mind.
And everything I’m reading and watching these days seems to be pointing in this similar direction: rest.
For example, earlier this year I watched a TEDx talk entitled The real reason we are tired and what to do about it by physician Saundra Dalton-Smith. In it, she identifies seven types of rest, which was a revolutionary concept for me; to learn that rest is not synonymous with sleep and that there are six additional types of rest we can tap into:
Physical (sleep, etc.)
Mental (slowing our busy minds)
Sensory (removing excess stimuli)
Social (connection with others)
Emotional (embracing authenticity in ourselves)
Spiritual (religion, community, nature)
Creative (creative strategy or creative outputs)
It feels really important to me for a medical professional to identify these different types of rest, providing additional options to rejuvenate when I get the recommended number of hours of sleep, but still don’t feel rested.
To continue my exploration of rest, I’ve just finished reading the book Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving by Celeste Headlee and it has been an incredible resource to understand the systemic and societal factors that drive our efficiency-focused culture. Five stars. Two thumbs up. I 100% recommend it.
Now I love being efficient and I love being productive and I love what I do. But without the balance of adequate rest or the unhealthy, compulsive need to feel that my worth is tied to my to do list, is when efficiency is no longer a helpful means to an end. Within the conclusion of her book, Celeste shares these summative insights: “We can develop new habits that better suit our innate need to belong, our thirst for companionship, and our ability to imagine incredible things through a focused mind… Human beings are social animals who are at their best when they connect with one another. Collaboration is our superpower. Perhaps we can create a culture in which relationships are prioritized instead of productivity.”
I love that in our conversation, Madeleine spoke directly to this desire to make connection a new goal post for success. In working on this podcast, one of my favourite things is connecting with others who are outside of my established social circle. Actively expanding my circle for personal development, rather than for any type of strategic or ego-driven reason as it relates to the podcast, feels really great and authentic and right. For me, this podcast is the means and not the end. It’s the conduit through which I’m fortunate enough to have these conversations. I’m going to continue exploring connection as part of my restful journey this summer.
Circling back, Celeste finishes her earlier thought by saying this: “Human beings have a great capacity for joy. I would love to see us make joy a goal.”
And it was concept of joy that helped me better understand my own why’s for taking on new passion projects, adjacent to my day-job. Something clicked for me when listening to episode 48 of Glennon Doyle’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things. Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown said something that I felt compelled to immediately jot down. When she was asked about her thoughts on taking on opportunities versus when to say no because we have enough, she suggested asking yourself the following questions:
Do I want to do it? Is there joy in it? Or do I just want to prove that I can do it?
While I love what I do, I can think of having said yes to things that certainly weren’t rooted in intrinsic joy, but rather extrinsic stubbornness; proving that I could do something.
And as the universe would have it, Brene’s words and work continue to align with my increasing capacity for rest. On May 8, 2022, the one and only Brené Brown shared a blog post she wrote called “Creating Space”. In it, she describes the space that is required between stimulus and response for our growth and freedom. She says: “I try to keep that space wedged open with my sobriety, sleep, prayer, working out, practicing curiosity, therapy, and intentional breathing — to name a few.”
Brené then describes the way in which the last the last couple of years have been hard and she feels the space closing in again. As she explains it: “…the pause is suffering…”. Her solution? Commit to a 3-month sabbatical: “To reinvest in that space, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical this summer. I’ve never done it before, and just the thought of taking off 14 weeks is anxiety-producing for someone who can struggle to take a week off.”
I hear this, deeply.
And (as I’m learning) I don’t need anyone’s permission to take a break, but if there ever was permission to be had, I see Brene’s initiative as exactly that and it landed on my radar a few weeks after my commitment to take my own summer sabbatical. She’s leading the way and teaching through example that our hustle culture must strike a balance between doing meaningful work, while remaining open to the space required to take notice of the greater meaning that life as humans affords us.
And in all of this, I acknowledge my privilege — my massive, unusual, without a doubt privilege — that I can even fathom taking the month of July for my family and I. I know that this is not a luxury that’s not available to everyone. I really hope this episode is not perceived as a prescriptive “do this” or “don’t do that” of how to embrace rest, but rather a discourse about the nature of unhealthy work culture, which, in my case, is very much self-imposed. More and more, I find that I’m so focussed on the metaphorical trees in my work life that I rarely zoom out to take a notice of the entire forest around me. And what a shame it is to be so engrossed with the everyday to-do’s that I fail to notice the everyday ta-da’s.
So this July I vow to zoom out, to see the forest and to marvel at the ta-da’s. I haven’t taken a break like in as long as I can remember; maybe never in my adult working life, since I was 16 years old lifeguarding at the pool. I’ve always been a constant state of motion, forward movement, improvement but I need to carve out the necessary time for rest, rejuvenation, rejoicing. And that is what I hope for this July. I’m going into it with no expectations. My only criteria being that I take full advantage of slowing down and actively focussing on things other than work-work. Even though I love my work-work.
And I think this is why it scares me so much. Because I know who I am when I’m working. I know what will punctuate my days and I know that through the doing is where my new ideas come from. So slowing down or stopping means uncertainty, fear, the unknown as to who I will be without my work-work and I have no idea if I can actually slow down my brain. I fear getting it to stop and I fear if I do, it will never get up to speed again.
The other day a friend shared a video with me that beautifully articulated all of this, using flowers as metaphor, which I think beautifully brings us back to where this bonus episode material started.
Emmy-award winning producer and host Jenny Mai Jenkins shared this idea in a recent interview: “If a flower doesn’t bloom, do you blame the flower or do you blame its environment? Right. So imagine, if this plant didn’t bloom are you going to, blame the plant? Or are you going to check the soil? Are you going to check the light? Are you going to check the air around it, the humidity? Because that’s the reason why the plant grows, right? So we are that flower. If we’re not growing or we’re not sprouting or blooming the right way, what’s your environment?”
In short, I’m changing my environment so that I may continue to evolve and grow and thrive for myself and for my family.
Finally, here’s what my out of office will say for the month of July:
Subject: Out of Office
I am out of office (including the portable one I carry with me) and returning on August 1, 2022 with NO access to email. If you need to reach someone regarding GCM undergraduate program, please contact Xxxx Xxxx in the front office in my absence.
If you need to reach out to someone regarding the Graphic Communications Certificate through The Chang School, please reach out to Xxxx Xxxx.
If the matter is time-sensitive or an emergency, I can be reached at XXX.XXX.XXXX.
Cheers to summer!
Here’s what my out of office might say if it were socially acceptable to include an emotional and poetic account of my inner monologue as an out of office auto reply:
Subject: OoO: Stepping off the treadmill to take a breath
Thank you for your email but I wish to inform you that it will be a while before I get back to you. My tech and I are taking a break. Boundaries are hard, especially with an ever present supercomputer humming, dinging and pinging in my pocket. It’s hard for my brain not to synchronize with the speed and working hours of my devices when we’re so intimately connected.
So I will stop trying to try and remove temptation instead.
The Cult of Efficiency, paired with my black belt in strategic productivity that I’ve been diligently working towards my entire adult life, keeps me lingering in the past and planning for the future. Rarely is there an opportunity to stop in the present. Like, really stop. Do nothing. Take a breath.
But if I ever do get a chance to take a breath, it’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unfamiliar and all of a sudden that treadmill of work looks a lot easier to focus on than the winding, unfamiliar path that’s yet to be travelled in every other facet of my life. So I focus on the conveyor belt underneath my feet and the mileage ticking upward in front of me, stoically pushing forward without question so as not to face the friction, the discomfort, the fear.
But I have to step off the treadmill. There’s no other option. I must try to actively quash the Fear for the life changing possibilities present in Love. Choosing Love over Fear every day, every hour, every minute is the only path forward. I know this in theory, but it remains at arms length, seemingly impossible to practice in reality. But I must try. I must try to choose Love over and over and over again because Love is not default. Love is a choice.
Love is a choice that I am making this summer when I detach my psyche from my devices and live out my analog existence with fewer distractions, more focussed attention on relationships and a choice to move through my days with the connecting energy of Love. I will be powering down, stepping off the treadmill and taking a deep breath as I head out into the unknown with the people I care about most. I choose Love by stepping out into the unknown where I will be able to stop becoming and just be for a moment.
Here’s to long summer days made so through novelty of experience and intentionality.
Today is June 30, 2022. And in just a few hours it will be July 1. See you in August.
About Our Guest:
Madeleine Dore is a writer and interviewer exploring how we can broaden the definition of a day well spent. As a labour of love, Madeleine spent over five years asking creative thinkers how they navigate their days on her popular blog Extraordinary Routines and podcast Routines & Ruts. The lessons culminated in her first book, I Didn’t Do The Thing Today.
You Vintage by Ketsa, licensed with permission from the Independent Music Licensing Collective - imlcollective.uk
Where the Sun Set by Ketsa, licensed with permission from the Independent Music Licensing Collective - imlcollective.uk
Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle