PRODUCTIVITY: a habit worth breaking? - Eat Smart Be Well


PRODUCTIVITY: a habit worth breaking?

You may not think you’re an addict, but you probably are. It’s not drugs or coffee, or even dark chocolate calling you, but a uniquely North American craving: productivity. And the new year can cause us to look for our fix more than ever.

Research shows that checking things off your to-do list releases dopamine, just like any other addiction. It also can leave us with an urge to accomplish even more. Checking our phone or email at short intervals is a sign we can’t wait for opportunities of productivity to come to us — we compulsively seek them.

The anecdote? Re-learning to do nothing. Or rather, to just see what happens, without any expectation of achievement or getting ahead. It’s very possible to be comfortable, have fun, rest and enjoy others while arguably important things sit undone. While it’s not easy for all of us, an important resolution for productivity addicts is to go cold turkey and start being…well, a little ineffectual, at times.

Looking at other cultures can help us. Many Europeans still regularly leave work in the afternoon to nap, have a drink, or sit in a café. The idea of coffee to-go is something they find ridiculous. Coffee is made to be consumed where it’s prepared, ideally in a communal setting. People are made to be human, rather than machine-like soldiers of multi-tasking.

Trying to be obscenely productive for too long may lead to some of the following symptoms: falling asleep over work, compulsive technology-use, an absence from important family events, an inability to savor silence or spend a couple hours alone—all things that may make you more productive in the short term, but will never make you a better or more content person later in life.

As a productivity addict myself, the most motivating argument to slow down was this: if you do nothing sometimes, you will actually be more productive later. “Delay your gratification and you’ll be more gratified” is a rationale that productivity addicts hold dear. Just like children need time for unstructured play, adults need unstructured mental space to foster new ideas, power down from the modern world, and simply rest.

This may not be for you. We’re all wired differently. If you’re reading this thinking, “My way of life has been right all along — ha!” then you might consider making a productivity addict a casserole. But if you’ve been scurrying around trying to “do more” as a part of your New Year’s resolutions, then give yourself a break. If that sounds torturous or impossible (because “There’s so much to do!”) then all the more reason.

What is productivity anyway? Do we really want to measure the quality of our lives by how many small, meaningless tasks we complete? Or is making our lives productive more about relationships, ideas and appreciation? These questions are important to consider… and the answers can be realized when you allow yourself some.