big questions, productivity, questions, systemic problems

Scheduled Up

Scheduled Up

My high school had kind of an unusual schedule—or at least I think it was unusual, but maybe you can tell me. There was no such thing as a lunch period or study hall. Instead, each class only met four days per week instead of five: for example, maybe your French class didn’t meet on Tuesdays, your Geometry class didn’t meet on Thursdays, your Biology and P.E. classes didn’t meet on Fridays, and so on. This meant that you usually had one or two free periods—or “X periods”, as they were called—built into your schedule each day, and during these periods you were allowed to do whatever you wanted. You could eat lunch, work on your homework, wander the halls, check your email at the email station (I went to high school in the late 90s, guys), or simply walk out through the front doors of the school and go off-campus.

However, if you were in any type of trouble at all, these privileges were immediately revoked: instead of having actual free time during your X periods, you were required to report to a sort of silent study hall to do work. This punishment was referred to as being “scheduled up”, as in, “Sorry, I can’t go with you to get ice cream during our History X because I’m scheduled up.” If you were scheduled up, in other words, your free time wasn’t actually free.

I was a goody two shoes in high school, so I never actually got scheduled up. But now, 17 years later, I think I finally understand what it feels like.

Allow me to explain.

Here’s what my current schedule looks like over a 24-hour period. I spend about 10-11 hours a day working or traveling to/from work and 6-7 hours sleeping (or trying to fall asleep). Let’s add in another 2-3 hours for other necessary activities like showering, dressing, cooking, eating, and basic cleaning. That means that altogether I’m spending somewhere around 20 hours a day on tasks that are relatively non-negotiable. Geez, that sounds like a lot of hours.

Then again, if my mandatory responsibilities only take up 20 hours of my day, then I should have four whole hours left over in each 24-hour cycle that are totally free, right?

Well, not right now.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve gotten through a single day in the past six months without running across one or two or twelve articles on how to maximize productivity. There are articles on how to fit more activities into a shorter period of time, articles on how to minimize non-productive tasks like answering emails, articles on how to avoid distractions so you can get more work done, articles on how to track your minutes to make sure none are wasted, and of course, articles on how to spend your free time making extra money/starting your own business/embarking on a creative project/reaching your goals/achieving your dreams/changing your life.

These articles can be very inspiring. After all, if I have 4 free hours every weekday to devote to productive tasks of my own choosing, that’s 20 hours per week! Add in the weekends, and I’m up to about 40 free hours! That’s like a whole work week! Just think of what I could accomplish!

And honestly I’ve been planning my time over the past couple of months according to this principle. I’ve created a sort SuperSchedule for myself in which the majority of my early mornings and late evenings are devoted to one or more of the following: blogging, working on a freelance writing piece, working on any of several research projects left over from my PhD, reviewing research papers that other people have written, participating in a research study to make extra money, working out, attending a Spanish class, or (if I realize I have nothing left to wear the next day) lugging my clothes to and from the laundromat.

But here’s the thing. Even if the SuperSchedule checks out in terms of math (10 + 7 + 3 + 4 = 24!), it’s simply not sustainable, at least not for me. Nor is it conducive to mental health. I’m not a productivity robot, I’m a human being, and I simply do not function at peak performance levels during all waking hours.

So after a couple of months of trying to spend the majority of my free time accomplishing tasks that help me save money, make money, get ahead, or better myself in some way, I’m exhausted. I don’t think I can keep it up much longer. In fact, I’ve already sabotaged my SuperSchedule twice in the past week: once when I quit my Spanish class (Ack! So embarrassing to admit this after I claimed I’d never quit a class I’d pre-paid for!) and once when I paid for a laundry service to pick up my laundry, wash it, fold it, and bring it back.

Rather than berating myself for deviating from the SuperSchedule, however, I’m taking this as a sign that I need to make some changes. The more I think about it, the more I think the Productivity Assumption—the belief that we should all be striving to squeeze every possible drop of productivity out of every day—is worth questioning. There’s a reason why being scheduled up was considered a punishment in high school: it’s because for many of us (all of us?), having no free time to truly relax and let our minds wander and just do what we feel like doing IS a punishment. In fact, I’m starting to realize that in order to feel healthy and rested I need to spend several hours pretty much every day doing…absolutely nothing. And by “absolutely nothing” I mean reading a non-educational book, listening to a non-educational podcast, taking a nap on the couch, taking a walk outside, listening to music, watching TV, or getting sucked into the Internet in a super unproductive way.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m on an ongoing quest to find ways to love and appreciate my life right now, rather than always striving towards the future. And I believe that questioning the Productivity Assumption is an important part of that journey. So as strange as it feels to write it, I hereby declare that I am trying to find ways to preserve more of my precious time for being unproductive. I want to give my brain more time to rest and reset, I want more time to let my mind wander, I want more time to get absolutely nothing done.

I’ll leave you with a few great articles I’ve read recently that question the Productivity Assumption—I definitely suggest checking them out:

  • This wonderful post by Jennifer from Simply+Fiercely contains some fantastic suggestions on how to find balance between self-care and working hard.
  • This fabulous piece by Chelsea Fagan is about what capsule wardrobes have to do with productivity and efficiency, and why she doesn’t have one.
  • I am getting a huge kick out of this recent interview with Vanessa Bayer (the amazingly talented Saturday Night Live actor/comedian). It’s part of a series that The New York Times does called “Sunday Routines”. Please note that Vanessa Bayer is not spending her Sunday working at a second job or learning to code or starting a business, nor is she aspiring to do any of these things.

What do you think about the Productivity Assumption: motivating or exhausting? Did anyone else go to a high school with X periods? Any other Vanessa Bayer fans out there? Anybody horrified that I used a fancy laundry service?

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64 Comments

  • Reply Lindsay @ Notorious D.E.B.T. May 11, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    I’m one of those people who always tries to be super productive, especially within the past six months or so. And it IS getting exhausting, but for now, I don’t see any other way around it for myself. Me and my husband are simply in too much debt, with too little savings, and with too little of an income. 🙁

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 9:43 PM

      Exhaustion from overwork is no fun. 🙁 And I definitely have moments where I feel the “too much debt, with too little savings, and too little of an income” thing very strongly. I think that part of what’s driving me to try to work a little less right now is the fact that I know the quality of my work goes quickly downhill after a certain number of hours, i.e. if I push myself to the point of what ought to be uber-productivity, I actually end up reaching a point where I’m not actually being productive after all because I’m too spaced out and fatigued. There must be a happy medium there someplace, but it’s a tough balance to find, and I think it’s different for everyone. I hope you can find some opportunities to get more rest, even if it just means taking a day off now and again to do something special (or just sleep!).

  • Reply Des May 11, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    Honestly, it sounds like you *totally are* squeezing every last drop of productivity out of your days already, even if the remaining four hours are filled with nothing more than starfishing on your bed in sweatpants and being too tired to hold up a hardcover book (… not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything? That got very specific, lol.) One of my friends writes an amazing blog about productivity (http://alifeofproductivity.com/) and even he notes that the amount of good, focused, productive work time you have in a day is *limited*. There’s no such thing as a productive 24-full-hours-of-work, haha. He even ran experiments on himself to see how productive he was working crazy hours, and the answer was: not very.

    There’s only so much you can accomplish in a week and I’m so glad you’re going to start giving yourself a break! Enjoy those four hours a day!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 9:47 PM

      Starfishing in sweatpants and being too tired to hold up a hardcover book, haha! This made me literally laugh out loud on the bus. Also, hardcover books are heavy! I went to barre this evening and I can barely type, let alone use my arms to pick up objects.

      Your friend’s blog sounds cool, especially since he’s a productivity blogger who mentions that there’s a limit to productivity! That’s a phenomenon I’ve definitely noticed — the quality of my work quickly diminishes once I reach a certain point (and that point is often 4pm, or sometimes like 2pm if I’m going to be super honest).

  • Reply Emily @ JohnJaneDoe May 11, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    People need time to goof off, and our society doesn’t value that fact enough. Even little kids are losing their time to just be, and it’s resulted in stressed out underexercised kids who lack basic coping skills. (I read a lot about the sad state of American Early Education. Kids need time to hang by their knees from trees, dang it!) Boredom and idleness often lead to bursts of creativity because the mind has time to make connections it might not otherwise make.

    So protect your time to goof off. It’s important for your soul!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 9:49 PM

      Oh gosh, yes, it does sort of scare me to see how scheduled up children are. When I was growing up I feel like I went to gymnastics once a week and played in the backyard the rest of the time, and I think it was probably for the best. Oh, and YES to your point about idleness leading to creativity! I definitely have my best creative ideas when I’m zoning out rather than working hard.

  • Reply Kate@GoodnightDebt May 11, 2016 at 10:26 AM

    Hey! Slow down. You are trying to do everything at once and it’s not working. You’ve got the hustle, but you are so over scheduled you are wasting money. How much do you have to hustle to pay for the Spanish class and the laundry service? And that’s just to get back to even.

    Breathe. You don’t need to do everything.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 9:53 PM

      Yeah, I definitely need to quit some stuff. Actually I think I lucked out on the laundry thing because they appear to have forgotten to actually charge me. I know that ethically I should alert them to this fact, but I might just…not. The Spanish class I’m considering a sunk cost. I did go to almost half the classes, so I got some of my money’s worth. (I was also really disappointed that it turned out to be a grammar-exercises type class rather than a conversation class; that was part of my motivation to quit.)

      Anyway. Yeah, I need to reevaluate a little. Maybe I’ll have this stuff figured out at some point, but I haven’t gotten there yet! 🙂

  • Reply Jessica May 11, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    My high school had block scheduling. We had three days a week we took all 7 of our classes, one day a week we took only our odd classes (period 1, 3, 5 & 7) and one day a week we took only our even classes and on that day we got out of school early. I thought that schedule was pretty nice since we weren’t stuck in the same class every single day, but your high school sounds awesome! I’ve never heard of X periods before. As far as the productivity assumption goes, I find it particularly exhausting. In college I used to have every minute of my day scheduled, which lead me to crash and burn. One day I just decided I didn’t want to live like that anymore so I stopped the excessive planning. I allow myself to be productive during my 8-5 work day and the rest of the day I try to go with the flow. I found that meal prepping on Sundays allows me to have more “free time” during the week because I know exactly what is for dinner and I can quickly whip up something tasty (or it’s in the crock pot already) and then I spend the rest of my night doing whatever I feel like. I refer to myself as the lazy perfectionist. I have zero motivation and absurdly high standards, like I’m never sure if I should fulfill my adult responsibilities (laundry, etc.), or just sit back watch Netflix, Netflix usually wins. Life is too short, everything seems to eventually get done.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 9:59 PM

      The lazy perfectionist, hahaha. Love it. I actually was super lazy in college and didn’t really do anything other than attend class, which is why it’s taken me well into adulthood to realize, oh hey, I can’t actually fill up every minute of every day! I’m finding that I like to cook/prep my meals for the week on Sundays too — it can be a bit time-consuming, but it’s definitely easier than trying to cook each weeknight. I’m also really into mason jar salads these days, which are good because they can be quickly assembled.

      I’ve heard of these block scheduling high schools! I used to think two hours sounded like a long time for a class, but actually that’s pretty typical for a college class, so it probably did a lot to prepare you for college!

  • Reply Kim from Philadelphia May 11, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    The X period is fascinating to me; new concept I have not previously heard of. I think it’s brilliant- it allows students to get used to time budgeting in a (relatively) controlled setting- much more like college!

    My suggestion would be to consider less hours devoted to side hustle/writing non career related stuff at this time. I’m sure the e tea money is nice, but your mental health is more important.

    Another thought- I know you spend time walking/biking/public transiting during your work day sans car.
    Would having a car trim off 1.5 hours from your workday? If so, it might be something to consider. I’m very pro alternate transportation sources, however if it’s greatly extending your work day, purchasing a solid, previously owned car might be something to consider. Just a thought.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 10:02 PM

      It’s a good question about the car thing. At this point I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t be sure it would shave *that* much time off of my day. I actually think there’s a possibility it would make my rush hour commute significantly longer (!) because when you take the subway as I currently, you get to skip all the traffic. I think right now I’ll stick with the subway/bus/bike/walking, but it’s something to keep considering for sure.

  • Reply Kim from Philadelphia May 11, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    P.S. I read the Vanessa Bayer “routines” piece and laughted all the way through it! Much if her day centered around sleeping, resting, and having her couch be her command center. The bagel comment also cracked me up!

    As another poster mentioned- your outsourced laundry is s clear sign that things are already getting a little out of control for you.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 11, 2016 at 10:03 PM

      I’m so glad you liked the Vanessa Bayer piece! I think it’s hilarious too, especially the bagel part and the part about how she feels too tired to go upstairs to get her slippers.

  • Reply Broke Millennial May 11, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    That’s quite a unique high school set up! We had 4 classes a day, but it went 2 periods, lunch, 2 periods. I’m 100% in agreement with you that you’re a human not a robot. There are some people that work on the intense every minute scheduled mentality, but I’m not sure how that balances well with mental health. I too need moments to unplug, unwind, try to turn off my brain from always planning and working. This seems to be a challenge in of itself. And don’t feel bad about the laundry service! Sometimes it makes sense to pay in order to off load little chores so you can be more productive. Even if being more productive means taking that hour to reboot so you can produce better work.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 6:15 AM

      I actually don’t feel that bad about the laundry service, surprisingly. 🙂 It’s a nice occasional option when I’m super overwhelmed. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who needs to shut their brain off on a regular basis!

  • Reply Fervent Finance May 11, 2016 at 11:18 AM

    I’m not one of those people that can be fully productive in that “free” time. Work takes up anywhere from 40 to 50+ hours a week usually. And in a week where I travel as well it could be 60 or more. Then you factor in personal upkeep (showering, laundry, eating, etc.) and working out which is a non-negotiable for me – and there is not that much time left. Even if there is a couple hours – my body/mind may not want to be productive. I NEED REST! Whether that’s a Seinfeld re-run or reading a book or some blog posts… I am definitely not one of those people that can be at 100 all day, every day. But that’s okay with me.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 6:18 AM

      Yeah, I didn’t really talk about this in the post, but working out is a non-negotiable for me as well. I definitely would have more free time if I didn’t exercise, but I would also have poorer health and be more stressed out, so it’s kind of an easy decision. Luckily you don’t have to think too much while working out (or at least you don’t think in the same way you think while at work), so it provides kind of a mental rest.

  • Reply Kelsey May 11, 2016 at 12:27 PM

    I think this is why “early retirement” appeals to me so much because I have just come to terms with the fact that I am really only capable of doing my 9-5 job on weekdays. I have no energy left for side hustles when I get home and I am definitely not willing to wake up early to work more. So being able to set the full-time job aside would allow me to do all those other projects I’m interested in…I just need to get there financially first. In the meantime, I’m on the slow boat, but I’m also not that stressed with time management, so that’s the trade off I guess.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 6:22 AM

      Interesting, yes, that does make sense to try to create more time for yourself in the long run by retiring early In the meantime, I really respect that you’ve decided not to allow yourself to be pressured into taking on a lot of side work if that’s not the right thing for you. There’s so much pressure to fill our free time with extra work that it can be hard to take a step back and think, ok, is this actually a good thing for me right now?

  • Reply Maggie May 11, 2016 at 12:52 PM

    I am always reading these things like: “Just stop watching TV. Just stop reading. Spend that time being productive.” And I think: “Yeah, with a job, a blog, and three kids around me most of the time, I need time to detox and shut my brain off before I”m actually able to be PRODUCTIVE about even sleeping!” Figure out what works for you. And don’t kill yourself. It’s not worth it.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 6:24 AM

      Haha, yeah, sleeping is definitely productive in its own way! And honestly, I can’t imagine how you are able to post on your blog as often as you are, especially given your other responsibilities. I’d say some TV and reading in your free time is definitely in order!

      • Reply Maggie May 12, 2016 at 11:32 AM

        Some days it catches up to me! 🙂

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach May 11, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    Preach sister! I could have kept up several side hustles and accumulated wealth quicker, but I could see the handwriting on that wall and I’m terrible to be around and also feel terrible when I do not have balance. Plus then you start spending money on extra things like you said with laundry, cleaning services, eating out, etc, BTW, how much is that laundry delivery service? Man I’m so over going to the laundromat but I’m sure it will be too expensive for my taste. Anyway, I need lot of regrouping time, but I also find when I do that I actually feel pretty calm and settled and don’t crave spending as some kind of antidote. I was really annoyed with those productivity books which said successful people plan every second of every day. And in case you didn’t see my video about this very subject…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMu03uJCwZI

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 7:48 PM

      Haha, I suspect I also am terrible to be around when I don’t have balance.
      Ok, so the story with the laundry delivery service is that they have apparently forgotten to actually charge me! I used it once or twice before, about a year ago, and it was around $35 each time, and they always sent a receipt instantaneously, but this time they didn’t, so I wonder if I might be off the hook! (Although I suppose ethically I should tell them.) Anyway, the company is called Washio and they’re great in laundry emergency type situations. Oh, and I will definitely check out your video!! 🙂

      • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 7:50 PM

        Oh wait, I did see this video! I think when I originally saw it I wasn’t quite so busy and scheduled up yet, haha. Thanks for reminding me of it — just watched it again and it’s great!

  • Reply From Pennies To Pounds May 11, 2016 at 5:35 PM

    I totally agree with you Sarah – I was just thinking earlier that I could get more done if I woke up earlier – but would it be worth it? No definitely not. If you try and do too much then you burn out. Keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 7:53 PM

      Oh gosh yes, the getting up earlier thing is never something I want to do either; I am totally with you on that!

  • Reply Norm May 11, 2016 at 6:43 PM

    This reminds me of Parkinson’s Law – Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion In other words. if you’re given one day to do a job, it gets done in a day. If you are given five days to do a job, it takes five days.

    A friend of mine once studied how attitudes towards cleanliness have changed as technology improved. Hundreds of years ago, all clothes were washed by hand, so it took much longer. Today we have washing machines to do all the work, but instead of freeing up so much time, our attitudes about cleanliness changed, and now everything has to be washed after being worn once. There’s probably been a net loss in time spent washing clothes, but not as much as you would think, because we made up more reasons to wash them.

    Anyway, this is why no one ever seems to have enough time. It’s human nature to schedule more things to fill up the time, and occasionally those tip over into taking too much time. Add with the ever-present competitiveness gene in Americans, and you have a burgeoning “productivity” industry. With technological advances, we could soon have the 15-hour work week that Keynes talked about, but only if people take a step back. Personally, I need lots of alone or down-time.

    Big Vanessa Bayer fan, and my wife can’t stop referencing “my hungry guys” from the Totino’s commercial.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 7:58 PM

      Oh man, is there ever a productivity industry. I’m assuming it’s a bubble that will pop someday though — there’s a limit to how productive we can get before we all go insane! 🙂

      I definitely agree that the task expands to fill the time allotted. I wish it worked the other way too so we could shrink tasks into whatever teeny-tiny spaces we have available…but unfortunately I can’t get my laundry done in 5 minutes no matter how hard I try!

      Hahaha, the “my hungry guys” bit is hilarious. I am also a big fan of Jacob the Bar Mitzvah boy.

  • Reply eemusings May 11, 2016 at 6:47 PM

    My old boss worked full time, was doing her Master’s, and was out of town hiking, skiing or diving every single weekend.

    I am not one of those people. Super productive at work, useless in my spare time.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 7:59 PM

      Yeah, I’m right there with you. I don’t know how people are able to keep up those kinds of schedules!

  • Reply our next life May 11, 2016 at 7:02 PM

    I can totally relate to how you’re feeling, and I’m sorry! I was feeling super scheduled for the first quarter of the year, and I was spending my rare free moments (mostly the time between when you have to turn your phone off because they close the airplane door and when the plane hits 10,000 feet and you can use your laptop — seriously, that was my only real free time for three months) trying to find ways that we could quit our jobs ASAP. For exactly the reason you said, because it just felt so unsustainable. I’ve certainly learned to manage busy periods, but there’s busy and there’s BUSY. And I’m SO GLAD that you’re committing to leave more unstructured time and time for self care. That stuff is so important for people of all ages. Thankfully in my case things are back to a more manageable pace again — still busy, but with enough free time that I can function. But even still, I schedule very little outside of work (meaning I haven’t seen friends in a while) because I’m actually pretty terrified of feeling overscheduled again. The “productivity” stuff is so insidious — it makes us feel that we’re doing something wrong if we’re not accomplishing everything on the list every day. But we’re just not wired for that! I read some new research recently that humans are best with a six-hour workday, and after that productivity goes down. And yet here are more and more articles from “experts” making us all feel bad for not being able to achieve some ideal that’s totally contrary to our biology.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 8:13 PM

      I’m pretty impressed that you get anything at all done on planes. I usually have like a 30% headache the entire flight so am pretty much useless (or at least I tell myself I am…). 😉

      I’m glad to hear that your crazy-busy-ness has subsided a little. It sounds like you were really at your limit. And I hear you on the question of whether or not you can handle scheduling in more social interaction. I can never make up my mind as to whether spending time with friends counts as “free time” or not, which is why I didn’t talk about it in this post. I feel like it’s kind of in its own category: you’re definitely not using the same type of energy as you are at work, but you’re also definitely not in zone-out mode. (I don’t find the “introvert/extravert” categories to be particularly helpful, personally, since I don’t feel like I’m completely one or the other.)

      Amen to “we’re not wired for that”. Or maybe some people are, but I am not one of them. And I definitely like the idea of a 6-hour workday. 🙂

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor May 11, 2016 at 9:49 PM

    I’m so glad you wrote this. You expressed the problems of this assumption so well. First of all, as a parents, it’s kind of wrong to be assessing your time with your kids on whether it’s “productive” or not. I realize that’s not what people are trying to convey but if productivity is the big goal then it’s easy to feel guilty when you’re not “productive” in a traditional sense. My mom friends and I talk about being intentionally unproductive–clicking around random BS on the Internet or looking through our phone pictures or whatever. Lastly, I’ve found that some of my best ideas come when I’m not forcing myself to do a certain task. It’s often when I’m walking, biking, driving, or chatting with someone. I’m glad you a choosing to embrace some down time for your mind and body.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 12, 2016 at 8:02 PM

      I LOVE the term “intentionally unproductive”!! And I totally agree that the best ideas appear when you’re not looking for them. I tend to have a lot of good ideas while I’m running and when I’m in the shower, oddly enough. This is definitely something I’ve had to learn over time, as it’s pretty counterintuitive! And I can totally see how as a parent you would need to consciously set aside the productivity goals on a regular basis so you can just be with your kids. 🙂

  • Reply LydiaP May 14, 2016 at 9:59 AM

    There is only one specific statement from my Peace Corp training over 10 years ago that always stayed with me. One of the Owambo (Nambian) trainers commented, “Americans are not Human Beings. They are Human Doings.” I found it an extremely perceptive comment. Two years in Namibia taught me a lot about what truly being looks like for me – I hope you enjoy exploring what it means for you.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 15, 2016 at 11:32 AM

      Hey Lydia 🙂 That is indeed a perceptive comment. I definitely feel like a Human Doing these days. I’m trying to find ways to extricate myself from this so I can just Be, but am finding it challenging. Or, to put it another way, it’s an ongoing journey. 🙂

  • Reply anxiousmoney May 14, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    Yes! Your point on not being at peak productivity during all waking hours is a great one.

    I get caught up in these cycles of trying to eek out as much productivity as possible out of each 24 hour period and it wears me down. Quickly.

    Over the last year I’ve slowly developed a meditation practice that is helping me to slow down, and recently I’ve cut down on listening to podcasts. I was using podcasts as some sort of fake productivity to fill up empty moments, or to get the most out of moments when I was doing something else. It’s taken a while, but it really seems like time has slowed down for me. Every day seems a bit longer, and a lot more enjoyable, than when I was pushing so hard.

    Love your writing and really enjoyed this article!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 15, 2016 at 11:35 AM

      Coincidentally, I actually just meditated today after not attempting it for many months. I used to have more of a regular practice but had gotten out of the habit. It’s something I want to start making a part of every day, since I know it really does help me to slow down and take a break from trying to be productive all the time. I’m starting with just five minutes and hope to increase it once I get used to that. I’m hopeful it will help!

  • Reply J May 14, 2016 at 6:43 PM

    The other day, my best friend asked me what I’ve been up to and if I’m still planning to go back to school. I told her my daily schedule and my plans and she sighed after my spiel and said “I got really tired listening to you.” I think I’m a task hoarder – I always want to do something on my spare time and I always want to learn something new – but it’s finally getting to me that it’s not sustainable, and it’s impossible to do one hundred things at the same time. So thank you, for writing this, at least I know I’m not alone in this battle. I stopped my plans of studying (something new again) until I’m done with my Mandarin class. And as much as I want to read more books, I put reading on hold too, until I finish reading Your Money Or Your Life and after I’m done crocheting my mermaid tail blanket. Please don’t judge. Haha!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 15, 2016 at 11:38 AM

      Haha, definitely no judgment here! I actually think reading and crocheting are probably more relaxing than a lot of other tasks that often end up on our to-do lists. In any case, it is definitely not possible to do 100 things at the same time. We are just not wired that way (or at least I’m not!). And I can relate to it feeling like a battle, as you say. I hope you can find some more time for yourself in the near future, even if it’s just zoning out while crocheting! 🙂

  • Reply Thias @It Pays Dividends May 15, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    I’ll admit it. I’m terribly lazy. As much as I want to be productive with every hour, I know that if I don’t take time to be lazy, I am going to crash. A person can only be so productive before it begins to negatively impact their life!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 15, 2016 at 4:33 PM

      I wouldn’t call you lazy, Thias! I would just say you’re taking care of yourself. As you say, being productive can get to a point where it’s negatively impacting other aspects of your life. I think it’s important to take time to rest! 🙂

  • Reply Jef May 15, 2016 at 10:26 PM

    Cool and thought provoking question Sarah! My thoughts on this are that it’s important to be “productive”, while being productive can mean literally doing nothing and recharging the batteries, going out for a hike etc..

    I feel like balance is something I’m not sure I’ll achieve & that’s fine, it’s really about managing my energy & focusing on the things that matter at that particular time 🙂

    Cheers & have a great week!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 16, 2016 at 7:17 PM

      That’s interesting to think of resting as a form of productivity, Jef. That hadn’t really occurred to me before. Though it is funny to me how sometimes I find myself actually pencilling free time into my schedule, as though it’s a sort of task of its own. 🙂 In any case, a hike sounds like a pretty nice idea — maybe I’ll try to fit that in this weekend!

  • Reply Monday Motivation – From Pennies to Pounds May 16, 2016 at 6:29 AM

    […] The Yachtless – first of all, I love her blog name! So clever. Sarah posted a thought-provoking article about productivity. If you count up the hours in the day that you dedicate to certain tasks and you have some left over, should you work extra hard during that time? See her article for her thoughts. […]

  • Reply Amanda May 16, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Holy heck I am 100% on the same page right now. My post for today is even titled “The Goal-less Life,” because I’m in a strange place of freedom…and I’m not sure how to be my “most” productive, or if I want to be. I’ve realized recently, too, that I need blank time, and I tend to feel guilty if I’m not doing something for more money or another line on my CV. I’m taking some time to re-evaluate some of the stuff I think I need to be doing. Because you’re right: it is not sustainable. One of the reasons I gave myself a one year experiment in paying off the debt is because I knew that if I was going to work A LOT to make extra money, I couldn’t do it for much longer than that. I love the term “Productivity Assumption,” and the story about your high school. Being “scheduled up” IS a punishment. Aren’t there studies now about kids who have a ton of classes and activities becoming depressed…because we’re not giving their imaginations time to wander?

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 16, 2016 at 7:20 PM

      Oh, I will definitely check out your post! I’m pretty impressed that you were able to work so hard for an entire year — ten weeks of this and I’m pretty much at my limit. It’s funny because in some ways I was busier during my PhD, but since it was all focused into one goal (getting the PhD) it didn’t seem like quite as much. Whereas now I have all these tasks and jobs that are not related to each other at all. I think it’s great that you’re taking some time to reevaluate, especially after such a crazy (and super productive) year!

  • Reply Kara May 16, 2016 at 11:49 AM

    Over scheduling leads to burn out, which leads to quitting things. I think you’re 100% right to make room for non productive stuff. I didn’t for awhile and now I am making A LOT of room for nothing. And I’m happier! Happiness is more important than always being on IMHO.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 16, 2016 at 7:22 PM

      Yes, I agree that happiness is more important than being “on” all the time. After all, why are we working so hard if not to eventually reach more happiness. Like that proverb about the Mexican fisherman. I hope you’re finding some more peaceful, nonproductive moments these days. 🙂

  • Reply Ms. Montana May 16, 2016 at 4:52 PM

    I constantly get sucked into this drive to be ever productive. (Even though we are taking a year off for Sabbatical!) I have to plan for rest, fun, and adventure or I will just work on my to-do list instead. And with 5 kids, there is always a long list. But my life becomes nothing more than laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, and cooking if I can’t pause to recreate. This weekend I went to some hot springs for 5 hours with a friend! 5 hours! I went out to coffee with a friend this morning for an hour and a half.These are the things that make life awesome. I have to make space for awesome. Or it’s death by laundry!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 16, 2016 at 7:24 PM

      A sabbatical sounds great! And I love that you were able to spend time at the hot springs and have coffee with a friend without feeling bad about it. And hahaha, I can totally relate to the “death by laundry” possibility! It’s definitely important to consciously find ways to spend our free time that are truly fun and freeing (rather than just using the free time to get more chores done). I hope you have some more fun adventures planned! 🙂

  • Reply Claudia @ Two Cup House May 16, 2016 at 5:57 PM

    There is something about work-ethic and the Productivity Assumption that drives me crazy: when do I get time to think? Where is there space in the day to dedicate to creativity? We’re prioritizing a little better now, but we were definitely super scheduled this winter.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 16, 2016 at 7:21 PM

      Creativity, yes! I actually find that I have my most creative ideas during moments when I’m not really doing anything, just zoning out and letting my mind wander. It’s counterintuitive, but I guess that’s just the way our brains work. I hope you can have a little more down time now that you’ve finally gotten rid of the big house!

  • Reply Sarah @ Couple of Sense May 16, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    I think that’s an interesting thing that your high school had – I never had that. I like being productive but like you mentioned there is a dark side. I really like to accomplish something every day (I’m a to-do list person) and I feel that when I have a lot of things on the go I’m more productive. That being said there is risk for burn out. I’ve had a lot more projects on the go lately but I’m trying to listen to my inner voice if I’m just not feeling it. It doesn’t matter how much I think I need to write if my brain is shutting down I’m not going to be turning out good quality work. For me there is a sense of guilt that comes along with down time and there are times that I feel like I’m slacking. But some of my best ideas are when I’m focusing on something else like washing my hair or doing the dishes. Sometimes I jump in the shower to clear my head if it’s foggy. Keep up great work and maybe schedule some down time into your super schedule? Thanks for sharing and being open that you can’t do it all. None of us can but most of us don’t want to admit it.
    Thanks for sharing the interview with Vanessa Bayer; after throwing so much energy into 1 day it makes sense to balance that off with a lot of relaxation the next day. I loved reading it.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 18, 2016 at 9:58 PM

      I have definitely used that jumping-in-the-shower trick to try to clear a foggy brain too! Surprisingly it does seem to work sometimes. 🙂 I can also relate to having good ideas when I’m doing chores or random other activities rather than when I’m actually doing focused work. It’s strange how our brains function!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the Vanessa Bayer article; I thought it was such a nice (and funny!) antidote to all the productivity articles out there.

  • Reply Elle @ New Graduate Finance May 18, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    I see it as something that it always a work in progress.
    Every time I shift to a new role or location, I need to adjust to become decently efficient.
    My goal is just to get as efficient as possible in each role.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 18, 2016 at 9:55 PM

      That’s an interesting point, Elle — it does make sense that adjustment can play a role. I’m currently in a new job, so maybe I’m still in the adjustment phase. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply Jen @ Frugal Millennial May 18, 2016 at 6:23 PM

    I can definitely relate to this! I could increase my side hustling income if I worked nonstop, but it’s more important to me to have some balance in my life. Rest is essential for mental health 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 18, 2016 at 9:53 PM

      Rest is definitely essential for mental health! As is balance. I am trying to have more of both. 🙂

  • Reply Vic @ Dad is Cheap May 19, 2016 at 2:50 AM

    I’m TERRIBLE when it comes to productivity. While I do a good enough job at work (and life) to get by, I know that there is plenty of time wasted doing some nonsensical things. I’ll read all these things about being more productive, but the fact that I’m reading all these things contributes to my lack of productivity!

    Is it terrible that sometimes I just want to VEG out and watch pro wrestling? LOL.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 19, 2016 at 6:15 AM

      Hahaha, Vic, I don’t think it’s terrible AT ALL that you want to just veg out and watch pro wrestling sometimes! 🙂 Though I can’t relate to the pro wrestling part, I definitely have evenings where my brain is not up to doing anything except vegging out and catching up on some late-night comedy shows. I have no idea if watching TV is truly the “best” or “healthiest” option, but it sure does help my brain to rest sometimes!

      I’m also totally with you on how reading articles on productivity actually means you are spending less time being productive…lol.

  • Reply My Top Five Reads of the Week #18 - Dream Beyond Debt January 5, 2017 at 5:31 PM

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