Here’s Your New Year’s Resolution: Stop Depriving Yourself of Things You Love For The Sake of “Productivity”

You can still be productive if you wake up at 9, refuse to meditate, throw out your journal, and ditch the forced routine

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

With the new year right around the corner, we’re about to see an influx of “new year, new me” posts on social media. Self-improvement articles are about to flood our news feeds, reminding us of how inferior we are because we didn’t allocate our entire days to productivity. Just like always, we’re about to be told that the key to being successful and productive is to wake up early, meditate, journal, skip the coffee, watch the sun rise with bags under our eyes, and develop a routine from which we should not deviate.

In the words of Sheldon Cooper, this is hokum.

The actual key to productivity is acknowledging the things you have to do, making time for the things you want to do, and accepting that sometimes, you just need to be flexible.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter what time you wake up. Doesn’t matter if you see the sun rise. It’s fine if you never meditate and if you don’t give a crap about journaling. And it’s also fine if you like to stay up late, take a lunchtime siesta, forget to do your laundry, and have a carb-filled dinner and a late-evening espresso.

Worse than creating a strict routine, however, is depriving yourself of things you love for the sake of sticking to a routine that you don’t like.

A rigid routine does not make you more productive. It actually makes you less productive because you end up teaching yourself that the capacity of each day is limited by your routine.

“I have allotted 2.5 hours to writing and 1 hour to yoga and meditation.” Well… I guess that’s what you’ll be doing, since that’s what the schedule says.

“My baby kept me up all night, but I’ll wake up at 5:00 anyway, otherwise I’m not being productive.” Please stop. This is ridiculous.

If you are doing the things that need to get done and making time for the things you want to get done, you are already productive.

If you want to do even more — and I mean if you really, truly WANT to do more — you will. On your own. If you like to meditate and keep a journal, cool. If you don’t like to keep a list of your favorite motivational quotes, suddenly starting a quote board on your wall will not make you more productive.

Here’s the thing about productivity: if you feel like you’re not productive, but it’s because of a medical issue (e.g. you have ADHD, depression, a sleeping disorder, etc.), then you shouldn’t be taking amateur productivity advice anyway. Waking up at the crack of dawn and keeping a journal doesn’t cure excessive daytime sleepiness or brain fog.

On the other hand, if you feel like you’re not productive but it has nothing to do with a medical issue, I guarantee it’s not because you haven’t discovered the wonders of watching the sun rise and giving up your favorite TV show for the sake of self-improvement.

Instead of giving up the things you love and adopting things that are counterintuitive to your natural workflow, try the opposite: make more time for the things you love, and ditch the rigid routine.

Ditch as many time-boxed things as possible.

Instead of waking up at 6:00, meditating from 6:00–6:30, eating breakfast at 6:45, exercising at 7:00, working from 8:00–4:00, journaling until 4:30, and so on, make a list of the things you need to do each day and get them done whenever.

For example: I’m not working today. I need to write an article, finish a freelance project, make sure my kid does homework, take a quick nap (thanks, sleeping disorder!), have a meeting, make dinner, exercise, and then play Dungeons & Dragons in the evening (this is a need because I already committed to it).

I’m going to do all of these things, but I can’t tell you when. I don’t know when and honestly, I don’t care when. I’ll do them whenever, but I’ll do them before I go to bed. I woke up at 9:30 and I’m already 2 espressos down. I haven’t meditated (though my kid is doing yoga right now because she likes it), I don’t own a journal, and I didn’t see the sun rise or write down my schedule.

If I feel like writing another article before bed, I will. If I don’t feel like it, I won’t. It doesn’t change my level of productivity at all, and it doesn’t affect how I feel about myself. Maybe I’ll mindlessly scroll through Reddit instead. And no, I’m not giving that up.

Giving up things you love (like social media, coffee, TV, etc.) does not make you more productive. You make you more productive, and you are not supposed to be productive 24/7.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Unless what you love is detrimental to your health (e.g. a dangerous addiction, in which case you absolutely should give it up, but not for productivity reasons), listen up.

“Give up social media in 2021! Use that time for your business!” Interesting. You should not be working on your business all day and all night. Scrolling through Facebook for the first half hour of your day instead of meditating isn’t going to cause your business to tank.

“Instead of watching TV for 2 hours at night, work on your book.” Sure, if you want. Or you can work on your book and also watch TV. Giving up TV doesn’t make you a better author. Oh, but you can publish it a month earlier if you just ditched the Netflix subscription? Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to publish it a month earlier. Maybe good things take time.

“Spend 15 minutes every day organizing your desk.” Alright. And what if you don’t? You won’t be able to get through a Zoom meeting if you have a few empty mugs and a pile of papers on your desk? You’re a productivity failure if you miss your daily 15-minute de-cluttering routine? If you want to have routines like this, go for it, but if you can’t be productive without these things, then trust me — it’s not the pile of papers that’s stopping you from getting work done.

“Don’t play video games. It’s a time suck.” Yes it is. Lots of things are time sucks. We need these things. We need them because we aren’t supposed to be working 24/7. You can have a lucrative career or business and still play PS5 until the wee hours of the night because you don’t need to wake up at sunrise to be successful. If giving up Demon’s Souls is the only way you can be productive, then the 3 hours you spent playing a game isn’t the problem.

Still want to make a New Year’s resolution about productivity?

If you must make a resolution, consider the following: this year, I’m going to stop depriving myself of things I enjoy and I’m going to stop following productivity advice from people who aren’t me and don’t live my life.

If you are someone who likes to give productivity advice, here is a resolution for you: this year, I’m going to stop telling people that they would get more work done if only they tried essential oils, waking up at 5:30, and bullet journaling, because they are not me and they should do whatever works for them. You can tell people how to save time. You can show people life hacks that help them get things done more efficiently. You shouldn’t, however, tell them to give up things they love so they can use those hours to be more productive.

If you keep giving up the things you love and adopting things that other people love so that you can be just like them, you aren’t living your life. You’re living somebody else’s.

You are likely already productive. Whatever works for you is fine. You are fine. You are doing enough. If you want to do more, trust me, you will — and you’ll do it without dismantling the core of what makes you who you are.

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technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • kerisavoca.com 👩🏻‍💻

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