“More” is not enough: Finding Balance, Self-Worth and the True Meaning of Productivity

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Before I started developing my business I was a freelancer. I handled social media, podcasts, blogs, and a documentary and knew about a bunch of productivity tools like Asana, Trello, and Google Suite apps. I tried them all for work, and saw people even use them for life goals like “drive to cottage,” or “drink water.” For me, that was just too far. I didn’t even add Zoom links to my Google calendar until I had missed two dozen public events. I would only recall hours after they ended.

Then, in 2021 I was selected for a journalism business bootcamp with LION Publishers. They talked a lot about the importance of being organized, but also honouring and taking care of ourselves. At some point I learned about productivity methods like the 10k framework by Khe Hy, which introduced me to this incredible database app called Notion. I learned about the Bento Method, the Getting Things Done method, a book on the power of “Atomic Habits,” and the Lean Start Up method. These approaches helped me do more meaningful work and find balance in my life.

But first they led me down a productivity trap.

Quantity to Quality

At first, I focused on getting more things done. Goals were set, spent more hours planning and designing, and with every task I completed I felt less and less inspired to do the work. I added tasks to my checklist, checked off the next thing on the list, yet there was no sense of fulfillment despite getting plenty done. I was filling time so fast and didn’t have time to question whether the tasks actually needed to be done in the first place. During one instance, I had spent over 30 hours designing a landing page that I eventually threw away. At another point my calendar looked like a colourful Jenga tower about to topple down.

A Google Calendar displaying multiple calendars with customized colors for different schedules aimed at productivity. Personal activities represented by pink, business calendar by green, and kids' schedule by lavender. The calendars can be mixed on the main calendar and toggled on/off for better visualization based on individual preferences.
An example of an organized but crowded and unrealistic Google calendar. (https://www.dragapp.com/blog/google-calendar-guide/)

I just wanted to push past limits of time and space to achieve something no one had done before. But true productivity is about knowing and honouring your limitations as well as your deepest desires. True productivity takes place in the mind, body, and spirit.

Setting healthy and realistic goals is harder but more effective in serving your true wants and needs. First, I had to embrace digital tools so I could learn the importance of making the tools work for me, and not the other way around. Then I had to separate my self-worth from how much I produced.

You prevent that by questioning the norms of capitalism (which are rooted in white supremacy) and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. If you believe you have to work twice as hard as anyone else, ask yourself why. Is that a law of nature, or a destructive belief you were conditioned to accept? Productivity tools can serve us so well, as long as we don’t let an arbitrary system define our desires and goals.

When you give radical acceptance to your desires and limitations, you will graduate to exclusively doing work that fulfills your purpose; not chasing tactics recommended by experts, not struggling to keep up with a to-do list that scrolls endlessly.

Embracing Change

These lessons led to me to explore ideas that challenged traditional thinking on work. I listened to audiobooks like, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price, and Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey. These books taught me how to resist the pressures of capitalism and white supremacy in my everyday life by simply listening to my body and pursuing my real purpose.

After a while, the way I viewed work and my value as a person both evolved. My calendar became more reasonable, reflecting my true commitments and needs. Now I make calendar events for journaling or daydreaming, walking, or watching crap on TV, and even playing video games. It’s a way for me to make sure I’m honouring my needs regardless of how much ‘objective’ value it produces.

A Message of Kindness

While I have a business I’m also fortunate to have a job with flexibility and remote work options. Whatever your own circumstances, it’s important to be kind to yourself and work within the time you have available while taking care of yourself and your loved ones. Whether you have a job or run your own business full time, don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t downplay your worth, and listen to your body’s needs. If you wouldn’t do it to an employee, don’t do it to yourself!

Infographic presenting five ways to achieve productivity 1. Record your energy levels throughout the day for a few days in a row 2. Block time for important things and never plan to do thinking work for more than 2 hours at a time 3. Use a pen and paper to record tasks in the moment 4. Listen to your body 5. Avoid due date for tasks
Photo of blog author contributor Sandra hannebohm

About the Author

Sandra Hannebohm (she/her) is a journalist, digital producer and founder of Twice As Good, a Black multimedia newsletter that helps you better engage with the news by slowing down. She also hosts and produces The Lion’s Roar Podcast from Lion’s Roar magazine.

Instagram: @twiceasgoodmedia
LinkedIn: Sandra Hannebohm
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