Judging your worth by productivity

Judging your worth by productivity

American culture is obsessed with productivity.

You can look to apps (another obsession of ours) for proof. There are all kinds of apps dedicated to tracking, managing, organizing, rewarding and inspiring productivity. You can make lists, set reminders, coordinate your schedules, color-code emails, schedule tweets and more—all in the name of productivity. Ironically, you could waste a lot of hours trying to decide which out of the thousands of productivity apps are worth your time.

As for us writers, when we talk about productivity, we’re talking about progress in the form of putting words on the page. Simple and gut-wrenching as that.

The problem is, our sense of self-worth is often closely linked to our productivity (or lack thereof). If we fall short of even the most arbitrary of goals, it can be devastating not only to our mental health, but to our work as well. Thus creating a cycle of suckiness, or the “I Suck Spiral,” as my boyfriend calls it.

I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend when updating my five-year diary every night. I’ve completed almost three full years of it, and looking back on the past couple of years, so many of the entries refer to how productive I was or wasn’t on any given day. The more productive days reflect happy moods with exclamation points. But on some of the days I deemed unproductive, I go as far as spelling out a few sighs. So dramatic, right? I can practically see the roller coaster of emotions in my jittery handwriting.

Here’s the thing: It’s so much easier to get down on ourselves for not writing enough than it is to write one book, one blog post, one sentence that feels right. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be, but if we stopped attaching our self-worth to how much we haven’t written and instead celebrated every crappy sentence or shitty first draft we did write, we’d all be better off.

The label “writer” is a part of our identity. Word counts and rejections and bad days are not.

Now, I’m documenting only the little victories and things I’m grateful for in my five-year diary, even—and especially—on bad days. And I don’t need an app to be productive. All any writer needs is someplace to put the words and the faith that those words will come.



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  1. This is definitely something I’m grappling a lot with right now… Both with my writing, and in other areas of my life…. and it’s even more pronounced now that I don’t have a full time job. I tend to be much kinder to myself on days when there was something tangible that got done, than on days where I just needed to be still and quiet and not do anything… when in actuality, sometimes that’s what you need to be productive later.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I can totally relate. I’m freelancing from home right now, so I feel extra pressure to be productive or else I feel like I’m just being lazy or not working hard enough. I need to remind myself on those days that I’m being a terrible boss!

  2. This is definitely a struggle I have across so many areas of life right now… I was just saying to a friend last night that, even though I’ve been super productive whilst I’ve been on exchange (having a lot more work thrown at me, requested of me — both written and photographic), instead of feeling only good things about this, I’m thinking of all the writing and photography work I *didn’t* get done when I was at home back in Auckland. And how I’m scared that I’ll revert to being unproductive once I get home again. So wow. Your post really, really resonated with me.

    Do you also find that we tend to define ourselves with the last piece of work we produced? (There’s that p-word again, ha!) Back at jazz school, and even when I’m trying to write songs these days, I often become crippled by perfectionism and unable to let something go. It feels like the last solo you take, the last piece of writing you did — it feels like that is a current definition and representation of you, when it really isn’t. It’s scary how cruel and dissatisfied we are with ourselves…

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Glad this resonated with you! I’ve definitely experienced the same feeling you describe. And that everything I’ve written in the past doesn’t matter if it’s been too long since I last published something. I can’t imagine being a successful debut author who’s expected to follow up with another book but is, you know, a human who needs more than six months to churn out another hit.

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