The Internal Productivity Struggle

How do you stop constantly assessing if you’re doing “enough” work?

Society plugged us into this capitalistic machine of wanting to do work and feeling satisfied when we do more work, or the most work. When have you truly done “enough?”

It feels like some kind of learned behavior that makes us feel uneasy or stressed when we feel unproductive. No one knows what to do with themselves when they’re not working on something – at least I don’t. Difficulty arises from not knowing how to relax, how to unplug from work.

I’ve been working on that lately, trying to settle down and read a book or just “be,” letting myself be bored. As a kid, sometimes I was just bored. I didn’t feel the need to work in order to fill that void. I didn’t have a phone and therefore didn’t push myself to do something with that free time. I just wanted to have fun.

Now it’s like constant anxiety if I’m not working – even if I’m trying to have fun at a party or on a lake or wherever, my mind wanders back to what I “have” to do.

Instead, I’m trying to focus my thoughts elsewhere, like on the moment at hand. It shouldn’t be so hard to live in the present moment and yet sometimes it feels like the hardest thing in the world.

When I worked in film, I worked as much as humanly possible. When you’re starting out, it takes a while to build up to steady work, so when you get it, you need to pounce on it in case you can’t find work for a few months. That’s what got me into this mindset. If I wasn’t working, I should be networking. If I wasn’t doing that, I should work on a side project, something creative. I never did any of those things. I was way too exhausted.

Then I made myself even more exhausted by overthinking and stressing over everything.

At first, I would meet people who were starting out too and they would brag about how much they worked. It was weird at first, but people would actually brag about working 16hr days for a week straight. They would boast about not having any days off. Claim that “omg it’s such a great project and such a wonderful crew” and maybe that’s why they weren’t dying of exhaustion?

How is working yourself to death some kinda noble?

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Then I would meet people who had worked in the industry for a number of years and finally figured out the “meaning of life:” relaxation. They could relax, maybe they had worked “enough,” and they would brag about how they bought kayaks or took a whole month off to backpack in Asia. This was also strange – always to extremes.

Sometimes I wished I had my own reality show with a camera crew following me around at parties where people would say the strangest things:

“I’m not saying I’m best friends with Barbra Streisand. We’ve worked together for 5 years, at least. She knows my name. She’s more like a mother to me, really.”

“I know we’ve only known each other for 10 minutes, but I just feel so connected to you. You’re like my soul sister. We totally need to get together for the next new moon. Oh my God, I was pulling tarot cards before this party and I swear to GOD they predicted that I would meet you.”

“I really want to rebrand myself on Instagram. Can you take a photo of me holding this coffee? I’m going to do a few poses. Please take photos of each pose.”

and it seemed like cold brewed coffee from an Instagrammable new spot in Silver Lake ran through their veins rather than their own blood.

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But enough about Los Angeles.

When do people stop working and start “living?” What does a work/life balance even mean?

If you think about it, work takes up the majority of your life. If you work at a “normal” office job, you’ll work 8 hours every weekday. That’s 1/3 of your day, so you get 8 hours to yourself, 8 hours to sleep, and 8 hours of work. Not too bad.

But what if you work 12 hours a day? That leaves you with 4 hours of free time if you want to get 8 hours of sleep (and you’ll need it from working for that long). So it takes up half your day. So in a week, you have 168 hours. If you work a 40 hour week, that’s 128 hours of free time with 72 of it not asleep. Cool. If you work a 60 hour week, you get 52 hours of free time. Does that mean that out of 168 hours, only 52-72 hours of it is yours? Is that your life versus your work?

To me, it seems like work and life are so closely intertwined that the phrase “work/life balance” is absurd. Your work is your life. It takes up around half of your waking hours during the week, if not more. Why, then, would you throw out half of your life? For money? To make the other half “easier” or better?

It makes no sense to me that people would willingly work a job they hate to “live” in their free time with more money. Do people really think that random stuff brings happiness? Sure, if you don’t have enough money and it’s a struggle to find food or housing, having money would be nice, but after that, doesn’t the thrill wear off?

What kind of recognition do you think you’ll get from others by working more than they do? No one cares. No one is jealous or appreciative of your working harder minus your boss who you make money for. Why live for your boss? Why not live for yourself instead?

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It’s so important to enjoy your job. Not everyone likes the same things, too. Some people get enjoyment and a sense of purpose from helping hurt animals, bringing people food, climbing trees, and others just want to fix leaky pipes. I don’t know! It doesn’t matter, but it is your life. Just because something is work and that you get paid (and that you like/don’t like it) does not mean that it is not your life.

Regardless, I’m trying to live more, even if I’m remaining present in my work, or play, or whatever. It’s my life, and I want to live it in a mental presence other than an anxious yearning for remaining active and productive.


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