Productivity Is Not A Contest

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 

I recently clicked on an article titled “16 Moms Who Have More Productivity In Their Pinky Than You Have In Your Whole Body” because, honestly, I wasn’t feeling all that productive and was almost looking for a reason to continue my latest round of self-loathing and doubt. I was curious, resentful, and skeptical.

Let’s just see what these moms are up to because I have a feeling this shit is fake, shamey, or worse, real, and it’s going to make me feel horrible about myself.

Anxiety and depression are a blast, you guys.

I was baited, but the article wasn’t quite what I expected. I realized it was a dangerous depiction of moms doing too many things at once, sometimes looking miserable, and calling it productivity.

After scrolling through the photos, I realized I wasn’t feeling any of the things I thought I would. With each photo showing badass mamas working while breastfeeding, working out while being pulled on by a toddler, and cleaning, cooking, and working while baby-wearing, I got angrier. This is not productivity; this is life. This is survival.

Moms HAVE to juggle all the things, and it’s not that all of our energy or motivation is in our pinky, it’s that our entire beings are used to support ourselves, our kids, and our families. Productivity should not be about bragging rights. Nor should productivity be based on what one accomplishes in an hour, a day, or a week.

I have learned this lesson the hard way. And as my opening paragraph showed, I am still learning it. I struggle with cycles of depression and recently was reminded of the mania I used to experience. During my dark days, daily tasks are exhausting. Forcing my brain to focus on work and not negative chatter is nearly impossible. Fighting guilt from not being able to work at my usual speed or my version of quality is a battle I tell myself I shouldn’t be fighting. I spend more time judging my own thoughts and ability to check items off of a to-do list than I do being kind to myself. Because productivity. I get stuck in the idea of “shoulds.” Some of these are self-placed; some are placed by society and the notion that we can have it all.

Before I was properly medicated, I would have manic episodes. I would spend hours, sometimes days in a state of racing thoughts, high energy, and what I thought were super productive hours of writing, cleaning, and working out. While my baseboards were very clean and thousands of words were put to paper, I was so uncomfortable. I could not rest. I could not shut off my brain. I could not crawl out of my own skin despite feeling like it was covered in acid. What looked like productivity was peak mental illness.

Recently, I felt a surge of this old energy, but at first I didn’t put a name to it other than a sense of feeling good. If I feel off these days, it is because I am sad or slow moving. But when I wrote a 700 word essay in 30 minutes, I thought I was just feeling a flow. When I laughed uncontrollably with my twins at bedtime, I thought I was just happy. And when my body felt like it needed to run, to move, to sweat, I thought I just needed to workout.

But then my brain felt like all the windows had been thrown open to let in a rave. So many colors, sounds, thoughts. I couldn’t control my breathing. This had nothing to do with feeling good and being productive. Something old was stirring in my body, and my brain was trying to process it.

This old experience scared me, but a friend pointed out that this was not an old pattern returned; I have not felt this way for many years. And while my brain was on fire with ideas and I could have physically done more in a few hours than I normally could in a day, I forced myself to go slow. I didn’t need to do all the things. I didn’t need to take advantage of this energy surge. I needed to find my baseline.

For me, and I think for most, productivity is fluid. My baseline is a wave. I have too many roles to play to simply take one snapshot and call myself a rock star or failure based on what I accomplished in a day.

Whether you struggle with mental health or not, we are humans with big feelings, stressors, and responsibilities; it’s more than enough to take care of ourselves, but we also take care of children, spouses, coworkers, friends, and family members. I know the message in the article that started this reflection was meant to show that moms are badasses. And we are. But also, sometimes moms just can’t, and that’s okay too. Slowing down, having nothing to show but self-love, is badass too.

We need to create a culture that nurtures parents, moms especially, and not push them to feel like they aren’t doing enough. Because honestly, just making it through the day in one piece is enough. And our worth, our productivity, should not be measured by the list of things we can do all at once or even in a lifetime.

If we love ourselves and our kids in a way that feels safe and nurturing, then the rest will follow. Productivity, however we define it, is not a competition.

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