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How We Feel Impacts What We Do
The Productivity Scam, Pt. 2
This is the second installment in a series on “productivity.” Read the first entry here.
DK asked for “thoughts on what you do when you’re having a week where you don’t feel good enough, productive enough, etc. Looking for ways to manage.”
Last week, I was able to go to Shoshana Bean’s holiday concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The experience — both because of her magnificent voice and the palpable sense of gratitude, longing, nostalgia in the audience — felt miraculous. No one in that room took the gift of live performance for granted. Before she sent us out into whatever was waiting for us outside the glow of that stage, Shoshana talked about how difficult the last couple of years have been for all of us, especially during the holidays. She explained that often, when we’re struggling, a vast gap exists between how we feel in the moment and how we want to feel. I’m paraphrasing but Shoshana basically explained that she’s trying to focus on “just getting to the next better feeling.” Think of it this way: instead of trying to leap all the way across the existential canyon from “hopelessness” to “joy.” Take it one step at a time. Try to get from “hopelessness” to “grief” to “outrage” to “anger” to “sadness” to “frustration” to “irritation”… There are still a lot more steps between “irritation” and “joy.” But each of them is an improvement, missteps included. And any of them are better than feeling hopeless.
Rather unexpectedly, Shoshana’s insight has been on my mind as I’ve been thinking about productivity. The initial question that kicked off this series was “what do you do when you feel like you aren’t being productive enough?” I’ve realized that “feel” is an essential word in that question. At least speaking for myself, how I feel impacts what I’m able to do. Sure, there have been times when I’ve been able to work under duress or toxic circumstances, but that kind of dynamic isn’t sustainable. And I think we can put the “next best feeling” practice to work in two ways when it comes to those difficult stretches where, for whatever reason, we are struggling to follow through on our intentions.
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The first is fairly direct; I’ll use myself as an example because — shocker — I haven’t been feeling very productive myself lately! When I don’t feel productive enough, I feel like I am failing or flailing. I feel aimless. I feel like an imposter. I feel like I’m letting others and myself down. It sucks. As I homed in on those feelings, while also trying to write about how to get away from them, I started to feel embarrassed. And then I realized that “embarrassed” was, for me, the next best feeling! It’s not exactly fun feeling embarrassed but it’s incredibly familiar (lol) and relatable. We have all been there. Before long, “embarrassed” helped me reach “humbled.” And baby, I can work with being humbled! In fact, if I’m my own work-in-progress, then embracing humility is essential to any work and any progress.
It didn’t happen within minutes or hours; in fact, it took me about two and half days to arrive at “humbled.” But once I was there, it felt like being able to catch my breath, look at my surroundings and think, really, think about what I could do next. I wasn’t failing or flailing any more. I had a sense of agency. I was returning to myself.
The second application of the “next best feeling” practice is more broad, but something I think we should enact for ourselves anyway. Generally speaking, I think “productivity” is about quantity. It’s about more. I can create more. I can do more. I can accomplish more. But sometimes — or often! — we find ourselves lost in the canyon between goals. We want to be more productive, but just can’t squeeze more tasks or pages or emails out of ourselves. That happens; we need to recharge. In the meantime, what can we be instead? Maybe I’m not productive right now. But can I be curious? Caring? Kind? Attentive?
In other words, is this perceived canyon actually an opportunity for you to take a worthwhile detour? You can think of it as finding the “next best feeling,” or as finding the other feelings we need to be at our best. Again, how we feel impacts what we are able to do. So, maybe it isn’t a question of being more productive so much as homing in on who and how we want to live in the world in order to tap into and support the feelings that enable us to do our best work.
I’ll see y’all on the other side of the holidays. We all need a break — to say the least. Wherever you are, I hope you find that next best feeling.
And, of course, Caesar sends his love.