Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
This is lesson number six from Maria Popova’s Seven Lessons in Seven Years – seven things she has learned from seven years of reading, writing and living.
It was the phrase “the cult of productivity” that really stood out for me. I’m in my own phase of de-programming from this cult as I’ve shifted away from corporate life to my own work. But the altar is still there, the “9 to 5” still deep as a pattern.
A friend asked about joining a series of webinars on a topic that I’m really interested in. They run on Tuesday mornings for four weeks. My default response was “no” (because, you know, we work on Tuesday mornings). It took me a week to realize that I now have autonomy over my schedule, and in fact I can participate and not have to explain my Tuesday morning commitment to anyone except myself!
Then there is the shift in the overall evaluation of productivity and efficiency, the mantras of doing more with less, more, more, more, longer hours, work harder. If I have gotten a full eight hours of sleep (which I have learned over the years is best for this person’s overall health), meditated, ate breakfast sitting down, journalled while having a cup of tea, written a blog post, been on a few project calls calls, made a healthy lunch, gone for a walk with my sweetie and our dog Maya, made a heathy dinner, done some design work or other client/to dos in the evening…. this feels like a good day. I am busy, and my life is full, with lots of items on my to-do list – but the pace and flow is differently. I am (or try to be) more present. I suspect someone worshipping at the altar of productivity they would likely raise their eyebrows disapprovingly at me, or say sarcastically “well isn’t it nice you get to have that kind of day”.
Which I am okay with, and I don’t look back at them with any judgement. This is a choice I’ve made, to re-evaluate the kind of life I want to be living. To simplify and reduce where I can, to expand in other places that help me live my authentic life. To start my day off cultivating presence and then practice falling out of it over and over throughout the day (life is an ongoing practice, I think). I’m inspired the words of Annie Dillard, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” By experimenting in designing a different rhythm and pattern to my days I’m shifting the experience of my life.
Side note: This concept of the cult of productivity has huge relevance to the world of meetings, gatherings and conferences. And it is at the expense of presence, relationship and connection. It doesn’t have to be a dichotomy – an either or – but requires us to reframe that presence, relationship and connection is the work. And the more we can be centred from that concept, instead of the productivity concept, wiser action will flow.