What’s the Point of Focusing on Productivity? aka, My Story

I’ll just start at the beginning of the beginning. I had this chair in my room. It was a large office chair – an executive chair, with a high back, very tall and imposing. Also, incredibly comfortable.

This chair sat in front of my desk, where a desk chair should be. And most of the time, it was covered in clothes. Piled up to almost the top of this already-tall office chair. Things would get lost in the pile, and I would forget about them until I decided it was time to clean my room.

The chair and its pile made me feel terrible. Anxious and shameful and immature and stressed out. It wasn’t the only thing that made me feel that way, either; I was surrounded by things that made me feel that way in my home, signs of ways I did not have my life together. There was nowhere in my own home I could turn that didn’t make me feel unhappy.

Then I realized something. I felt so dumb when I did, too, like, how did I not think of this before?

(It’s not actually dumb to not think of this, I just felt that way.)

If I never piled clothes on the chair, the chair would never have a pile on it. 

So simple. Hard to do, it turned out, but after a few weeks, I had the full grasp of it. And it had a domino effect on the rest of my room: what else could I keep clean just by cleaning as I went along?

All of a sudden, my room was in order all the time. Then my apartment.

Even more important than that, I no longer felt that anxious-shame-stress-selfhate feeling anymore when I thought about/looked at my apartment. I was no longer carrying a black hole inside my caused by my out-of-control home.

Did my depression go away? All my anxiety? No, of course not – those things are hardwired into me. They are me. But I had removed a bunch of triggers, which helped me manage my mental health (I am not a healthcare professional, this is just my story).

A lot of religious-y productivity/self-help/lifestyle movements like to say that we all have control over how we feel, and if we feel bad, it’s because we’re thinking bad thoughts.

That’s a really convenient way to sell a book/online course/in-person motivational retreat, because it makes puts the blame for your current and future states on you, conveniently ignoring anything real, like oppression, mental health, genetics, economy, culture, etc.

So I am not a believer in all that, and I won’t tell anyone that. What I will say is that, I made a conscious decision to take control of the things that I could control within my physical space, because I was tired of how they made me feel.

What amazed me when I made that decision was that I had felt for so long that nothing was within my control. That I had convinced myself (or my mental health issues had convinced me) that feeling bad was just the way things would always be, there was no way out.

Again, getting my self together around cleaning my bedroom did not make my problems go away. I didn’t get a job for another few years, I still struggle with social interactions, I spent many, many nights with insomnia because of my depression.

But I could look around, even in the worst moments, and I didn’t have that feeling about myself, that I didn’t have it together. That one thing that had always plagued me was gone, and it allowed me to feel smart, strong, and capable.

It reminded me that my mental health stuff is a physical thing with a mental effect, and that maybe the thoughts and feelings I was having were not actually “true”, e.g. – the voice telling me I am a failure is not actually my own brain, not actually a real thought.

After awhile, I was able to wake up in the morning at a normal time (instead of noon or 2 PM), start work, do all my work throughout the day like other freelancers, and then be done at a normal time (instead of midnight or 3 AM), and have a normal evening playing video games or watching TV or going out with friends.

And my day would not feel wasted. I couldn’t blame myself for things not getting done, because that stopped happening.

This was over 5 years ago now, and I am still using the guiding principles I taught myself back then (which are more than just putting things away, but that was a good start!).

So what’s the point of focusing on productivity? It can take one (huge) thing off your plate, so you can focus on other things that are maybe harder to deal with, and might be out of your control.

Think of it this way: if you had enough money that you will always be comfortable- enough to ensure you had food, shelter, clothing, and money for life and health expenses for all time- would there still be things in your life that would bother you or make you unhappy? Probably, but if that one thing- worrying about money- was off your plate, the other things would definitely be easier to deal with.

Taking control of personal productivity can have a similar effect. It removes one thing from your brainspace, and gives you more room to breathe.

Doing this is different for everyone, it is not a short process, it requires long-term maintenance. But once you see/feel it in action, it is worth it.

How To Adult Starter Kit, Item #1: Sleep Well

This post is the first in a starter kit for anyone who wants to become an adult, and is wondering how the f to do that. The starter kit will be the bare minimum requirements for getting one’s life together, and it’ll also be useful  for anyone who has their life together, but wants to up their game a bit.

Some of the items may seem too easy, or obvious, or even unnecessary. Everyone is different, and needs different things, so I’ll try to leave it open wherever I can.

What I do know, however, is that successful people do all these things (and more, of course, but this is the starter kit, you know?). And by “successful people”, I don’t just mean the Lady Gagas and Hilary Clintons* of the world; I mean that chick at your work who always seems so together; your friend who makes 6x what you do, but is still so down to earth; your family member who has traveled around the world more times than you can count while working a day job at Walmart.

So your mileage may vary, and I encourage you to find what works for you and rock that as hard as you can.

And also… it might be worth it to at least try these things for at least a month, and see how you’re doing before writing them off.

It can’t hurt, right?

Without further ado, I give you…

Item #1: Sleep Well

When I was started getting my life together, this was probably the thing that made the most difference, and was also the thing that I most did NOT want to do. For whatever reason, our culture codes staying up late as “cool”, and sleeping late as “luxurious”. Frankly, I hear both of those because going to be is for nerds, and sleeping late is for Beyoncé.

But actually, sleep is like food: our bodies literally need it to survive. Sleep isn’t a negotiable thing, including the amount of sleep we need, so figure out when you have to go to bed to get at least 8 hours of sleep, and stick to that schedule. 30 minutes (or more, preferably) before going to bed, put away all your screens – TV, computer, cellphone, whatever. Read a book or magazine, or listen to music. Or just take an extra long BM, whatever fills the time.

Then, when it’s bedtime, get in bed, and stay there. If you’re like me and you have Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome that might keep you awake worrying about your day, get some melatonin or Tylenol PM or whatever, and let it carry you to Dreamland. All this will help train your body to go to bed when it’s bedtime, so in a month or so, you’ll just be tired at the right time.

Now, if you can’t imagine going to bed without looking at your cellphone or watching TV or whatever, try switching to something like music, white noise, or even old radio shows or new podcasts or something. Make it something you only do when it’s bedtime; so if you listen to a certain podcast, don’t listen to it any other time but beddy-bye time.

And if THAT doesn’t fit your needs, get familiar with your TV timer. Set it for 30 minutes (no more than 60), and make sure that it goes off completely then. That way, you get your TV time, and it doesn’t keep you from REM sleep by being on all night.

And on top of the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, getting up early in the morning will make you feel like a badass. No joke; because getting up early gives you more time to get stuff done, you mentally feel more accomplished and motivated. You don’t even need to leave your house! Just the act of getting up early and doing something can act like an Awesome Enema in your system the whole rest of the day.

So start with getting to bed on a schedule, and then work to getting up early. I personally am still working on that one, but just getting up and eating breakfast instead of trying to do breakfast at work has revolutionized my productivity.

Next Up: Eat Well

* – and Jesse Jacksons, if he’s important to you. Back up ?