Pressure to stay productive

An image of a cat

It’s been three months since the worldwide lockdown. I cannot thank enough to the people working in the medical industry or infrastructure. My life has been lucky, being able to continue working from home as long as I have my laptop, not needing to squeeze myself into a packed train. A small inconvenience aside, it’s relatively comfortable. However, there is one thing that has been judging my mind — it’s pressure to stay productive.

Working from home works well when I need to concentrate on a simple task. However, I also find collaboration slowed down extensively. Even my cat keeps interrupting me (well, it seriously breaks my concentration), I can imagine how challenging it could be for someone who has small kids. Then I continuously hear my voice in my head – “Such slow progress…”, “Ah, I have been so unproductive”, “What are you doing? Why are you so slow?” This voice keeps going on and on during holidays too. Even during the lockdown – “I should read more” “I should write a blog post” “I should tide up my room” “I should take an online course to learn something new” – It keeps nudging me, and can never relax my mind.

I have experienced depression twice in my life. The first time was just before moving to the UK, and the 2nd time was the three years before coming back. Luckily enough, I found a good counsellor and a doctor, who helped me learn how to deal with it. Perhaps I’ll write about it in another post, but the most challenging aspect of depression was how to deal with the negative inner voice in my head. This voice repeatedly urged me to do something whenever I found myself unproductive, which consequently fueled depression. My habit of viewing “doing nothing” as “wasting my life” was the hardest thing to get out.

Taking rest – I mean, taking genuinely rest – can be challenging. Mindfulness or meditation helps me be aware of myself not resting. However, resting — meaning that not doing or even thinking — requires training. Especially if you are born and raised in Japan — the country of hard, long-hour working culture — you will find it almost impossible to stop.

When I first went on a holiday in Europe with my colleagues, I was culture-shocked by the people reading books at pool-side, without going for sight-seeing or keeping schedule filled. I thought “That’s a pity we are not using our time efficiently!” However, gradually I leant that not needing to do anything and just lying down on the beach was such luxury when my day-to-day life is full of work and social events. Realising this point changed my style — these days I focus on the accommodation to stay rather than sight-seeing. Picking a little more superior room, choosing only the places I want to visit, I spend a lot of time getting chilled at a park or reading books in my room.

Applying the same principle, when I have a week holiday but no plan to travel, I have a set of things to do. To be precise, I do nothing, unless I absolutely feel like. I just follow my gut-feeling. I stay lazy. I even skip sometimes eating, if I feel like so. (It wouldn’t kill me, and I’ll be hungry again.) The important thing is to be aware of a critical inner voice in my head. If the voice tells me “Isn’t it around the time to start moving?” then I reply “Well, I have no obligation.”

Interestingly, if I give up to my inner criticism, it gets difficult for motivation to come back, and I end up laying still longer while feeling guilty. If I could genuinely enjoy staying lazy, magically a little “want to do something” comes back – then that’s the sign I shouldn’t miss. When fresh feeling kicks in, I become more and more motivated towards the end of holidays and happily enjoys a refreshing time.

The golden week this year was still tricky because of the COVID situation, however. The news didn’t help me to get out of the anxiety. Sigh. When would be the next time I could spend that luxury time in my favourite European city…