Productivity as a Mental Health Tool

Productivity as a Mental Health Tool

I strive every single day to be productive. To do so, I read as many books and articles throughout the year as possible that will teach me the latest strategies (multitasking is out, bullet journaling in) so that I can increase my work output, finish projects more quickly, thereby advancing my professional career. Who wouldn’t want to be able to complete eight hours’ worth of work in four? As I was deep in analyzing some experiment data, it hit me that being productive has always been about increasing the amount of work that I can get done on a daily and weekly basis. It is a tool that allows me to focus on my work-tasks more effectively by minimizing distractions, allowing me to be more competitive. I never quite realized that being productive is as much a therapeutic tool as an efficiency tool.

One of the things that I struggle with is anxiety and one very common trigger usually comes in the late afternoon as I try to figure out what will be an acceptable time to call it a day and head home. As a knowledge worker, I am spared from having to clock in and out, and while I would not trade the autonomy that my job affords me, this does create a conundrum because it technically is possible to keep working as long as I have an internet connection and my laptop. In order to maintain my sanity, I make it a point to leave work at least a few times a week at a reasonable hour (for me). These hard stops in the workday can leave me fraught with worry because more often than not, everyone around me seems to be humming along. Even when it is clear that my colleagues are just physically present in the office, but not necessarily working (YouTube? Check.) I can’t help but feel like I am going to be judged by them and my boss for leaving first. If the anxiety is too great, I may just bury my head in my computer for a while longer, even if at that point, all I have energy for is going through Yahoo headlines. In trying to figure out a way to mitigate the feelings, I started paying more close attention to the times that I would feel the complete opposite of the anxious feeling stirring within me at the end of the day, when I was able to confidently pack my things up, say my goodbyes, and make it home before nightfall. The key piece of the puzzle missing on the days when I felt anxious? I had not felt like I had been productive. When I was successfully completing all my work for the day, and squandering less of my time on known productivity killers such as endless email checking or being disrupted by colleagues, I tended to spend more time deeply focused on my work. This focus translated into more time spent in that elusive state of flow. When I am in flow, questions like whether it’s time to leave for the day or go get lunch somehow seems less pressing. When I am more occupied by the actual meat of my work, I simply have less time to think about whether I am going to be judged for leaving first. I also feel a much greater sense of accomplishment. It is deeply satisfying to efficiently move through my projects, instead of feeling like I am just ticking the hours away doing less meaningful “busy” work. In that sense, all of a sudden productivity becomes much more than a means to getting more stuff done in a day, but a way to gain a greater sense of control over ones time, and reap the rewards, mental and physical that follow. Here’s to an uber productive (and mentally healthy) 2017!

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