Rethinking our ties to productivity: Is it worth it?

If my one word this year wasn’t ‘Sharing’, it was going to be ‘No Lists’. At any one time I have more than 5 To Do lists going. I’ve come to realize that a lot of my self-worth is tied to these lists and how much I can check off. I wear the number of projects and things I can take on as a badge of honor – more work must mean I’m more valuable. But if I don’t get enough of my To Do list done, I feel like a failure. When I let the lists define me, it snowballs into a constant subtle anxiety, always thinking about what’s next on the damn list. How exhausting.

Lists aren’t the problem. We need them to operate successfully in life. Without calendars and post-it notes, how would we remember when our next dentist appointment is, when we need to submit that project to our boss, or to schedule that call with Kevin. But when our sense of self is directly influenced by how much we cross off our lists, they become dangerous. When we start to believe that falling behind on our lists means we’re not enough as a parent, employee, or human being, it’s time to reevaluate.

In The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn Schiraldi, Henri J.M. Nouwen says,

  “I do not want to suggest that productivity is wrong or needs to be despised. On the contrary, productivity and success can greatly enhance our lives. But when our value as human beings depends on what we make with our hands and minds, we become victims of the fear tactics of our worlds. When productivity is our main way overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression. Productivity can never give the deep sense of belonging we crave. The more we produce, the more we realize that success and results cannot give us the experience of “at homeness”. In fact, our productivity often reveals to us that we are driven by fear. In this sense, sterility and productivity are the same: both can be signs that we doubt our ability to live fruitful lives.”

To disassociate myself from the lists, I’ve started to put them away and instead use a single sheet of paper to write my calendar and daily to dos. But again, an unhealthy relationship with lists is just a symptom of a larger problem. That problem being how we frame our self-esteem in relation to our perceived productivity.

“Your worth is not measured by your productivity”

Are there things outside of your SELF that you tie your self-esteem to?


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