How to Trust Your Process While Living in a Productivity Culture
It takes work to recognize the remarkable softness inherent in the creative process.
It’s fair to assume that by now you’ve most likely been bombarded by articles, influencers, or coaches instructing you on how to “pivot” your business, create structure, and be more productive while working from home. The pressure to be creative, efficient, and productive during a global pandemic is loud and real. With this extra time we now have at home, expectations to be your most productive and creative self are amplified even more than usual. What’s holding us back?
Seeing every spare moment as a chance to enhance our lives and work has been ingrained into our modern lifestyle. Time is money, as the adage goes. We’ve been programmed to maximize our time and make our workflow more efficient in the belief that this is how we achieve success. Our society puts its worth on productivity to the point where to be continually productive has become normalized and expected.
"We’ve been programmed to maximize our time and make our workflow more efficient in the belief that this is how we achieve success"
It’s important to recognize, however, that this expectation is not just unrealistic – it can be detrimental on a personal level. We feel let down when we compare our achievements to others, and when we don’t meet the grand expectations we set ourselves. We feel burnt out when we give 110% every day, and we’re left feeling unsatisfied when we didn’t create a masterpiece after our first go. It’s like we’re expected to develop and advance at the same rate of technology, which is deeply intertwined into our lifestyles. Since we’re all just humans, what’s wrong with our productivity culture – and very importantly, is it sustainable?
What’s happening right now is affecting us all on a personal level; in different ways, and to various degrees. Within this pause there are a bunch of paradoxical emotions at play, where quiet time can also be noisy, or you can be feeling grief, loss, and hope and once. This profound jolt to our once-normal lives has us inevitably trying to navigate a rollercoaster of feelings. At the same time, it’s also posing a great opportunity to contemplate what's truly working for us – and, inherent in that line of thinking, what’s not working for us.
"This profound jolt is a great opportunity to contemplate what's truly working for us"
There are several reasons why productivity culture is not helping us be our best. The pressure puts unnecessary strain on our time, bodies, and mental health. It affects not only our individual wellbeing, but our relationships as well. We also experience productivity shame – the voice that encourages us to keep busy every hour in the day, that which is self-critical when we don’t create something original and perfect – and exists in a society that’s obsessed with perfectionism. When we’re unable to meet the unrealistic expectation of producing on-demand but are understandably unable to, we thus feel defeat, shame, and disappointment. Burnout, anxiety, and stress are all symptoms of a culture that deeply values productivity.
How do we fix what’s broken here? Each one of us possesses a different style and capacity for what works for us on an individual level. Finding a conscious, prosperous, and sustainable work culture and lifestyle lies in understanding the nature of the creative process.
"Finding a conscious, prosperous, and sustainable work culture and lifestyle lies in understanding the nature of the creative process"
“As an artist, I need a lot of time to get into a state of peace where I can feel grounded and connected,” says artist Fabrizio Sclocco. “Interests and activities can quickly become competitive, and people are praised for being able to be productive while balancing infinite tasks.”
Fabrizio Sclocco; Photo by Anastasiia Levchenko
At our essence, we are all creative beings. Remembering the process of creation is a key part of understanding and realizing our potential and capacity. As an artist by profession, I’ve come to know, honor, and trust the creative process. It’s uncertain, messy, and unexpected tensions inevitably arise from its organic flow. The pace and spirit of creativity resists efficiencies, rendering productivity futile. It’s also a deeply individual process. Each of us are growing at different speeds, at different stages of our respective journeys. The only person who knows which boundaries to set is you. Embracing your unique creative process reveals what works for you, including how to navigate and set realistic expectations for your workflow and process.
"The pace and spirit of creativity resists efficiencies, rendering productivity futile"
There is a remarkable softness in honoring the creative process. One that genuinely teaches you what holding space looks like. It reminds you that creativity flourishes in the simplicity of slowness and curiosity. It humbles the ego in acknowledging that imperfection and inefficiencies are part of the process that leads to growth and progress.
It’s crucial to release the societal pressure and illusion that we need to function like machines to be productive, and more often than not, social media exacerbates this feeling of inferiority. “Productivity culture’s been fed to us through social media more than ever before. All we see are people living amazing lives, creating the coolest stuff, and being their best selves. But remember: social media’s exactly that — a display of people’s best selves,” says photographer Siamak Abrishami.
Photo by Siamak Abrishami
Sclocco agrees. “Our indulgence in social media also adds to the pressure we place on ourselves. What would happen if we shifted our focus to understanding our true selves, as opposed to constantly chasing our potential?”
Equally so to embrace your creative rhythm will build you up to a place where you can feel productive and proud of your work. Productivity is a part of everything, and intertwined, but not synonymous, with process and progress. The work we do that can be measured – by the activity, hour, completed checklist – is all necessary and yes, valuable work. But where we spend a lot of our energy, and where we require space that is often hard to quantify, is in our process of being creative, imagining, developing, dreaming, playing and inventing. Being conscious of how our society has given accolades to productivity and hustle culture, in and of itself, is part of learning to let go of unrealistic pressures and expectations. In doing so, it opens the way to a mindset that is fertile for your unique creative journey.
"Productivity is a part of everything, and intertwined, but not synonymous, with process and progress"
In this pressurized time, may we be brave enough to go inward and trust that our intuitive being knows what best serves us and what doesn’t. That we may shed society’s false expectations of our productivity and process. That in a culture that has trained to be forward-moving, may we take this time to truly be present.
Main photo by the author, Ashley Klassen.
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