On being productive: Why we can't do lazy Saturdays anymore
A few Saturdays ago, I was struck by an uncomfortable realization: my husband Dan and I do not know how to lazily lounge anymore. We had not even had lunch yet, and Dan had gone down to the garage to work on a home project (one that we did not have on our project list, but which he created for himself) and I had several drawers' contents strewn out on the floor and was organizing the items into smaller boxes. What resulted from our efforts was good, no doubt: we had a cleaner, more functional, more organized home. But I wonder if our Saturday morning might not have been better spent on the couch reading or even watching television.
This near-compulsive need to always be making something, to have something to show at the end of the day, whether through social media statistics, fitness trackers, or crossed-out items on "to do" lists, has overtaken our culture. Reading now seems less worthwhile an activity than sending emails or cooking my way through many recipes--or, if I do read, it is in fast snippets, by skimming blogs and new stories rather than slowly digesting novels and beautiful prose. I must will myself to slow down as I read before bed at night, reminding myself that I need not race to the finish. I am not quite sure when it happened, but quantity came to trump quality somewhere down the line. How many books can I plow through? How many likes can I receive on my social media post? How quickly can we finish our house projects to come one step closer to having the picture perfect home? How efficiently can I make it through my prayer list so I can move on to the next activity?
This hamster wheel has always existed, fed years ago not by the internet but the comparison trap that still is at the root of the frenzy. The internet intensifies our feelings of insecurity or inferiority because we now have access to both friends' and strangers' carefully curated presentations of themselves. In a matter of seconds, we find evidence of people exercising their gifts and talents to seeming perfection. One friend has connections with the President, another acquaintance bakes like a professional but has a full-time job and four children, and our uncle ran another marathon all the while writing a novel and throwing the party of the century for his spouse. And so many of us ask, How do I fit into this world? Do I measure up? Why am I not more interesting or accomplished?
I must do more, that must be the answer, we think. We fill our days and much of our nights with task after task aimed at self-edification or escape. As long as we are busy, we do not need to entertain very deeply or very often the existential questions that catch us off guard in those rare quiet moments. We numb ourselves to doubt or uncertainty as we play with our phones or check boxes off our to do lists, never needing to question our self-worth.
Most of the time this tactic works: productivity effectively absorbs us into its promises to make our lives better, more efficient. That is, until we realize that we productivity does not provide us with meaning or purpose. We must supply those.
Why, oh why, are we doing in the first place?