can't pin me down

Don't take my advice: productivity, inclusivity, and shame

One of the things that keeps me up at night as a coach is: I cannot possibly give fully inclusive advice or recommendations. I can try and write up my thoughts, tools, and resources, with the most generous framing as possible, and seek out experiences unlike my own to consider and test my strategies, but it still won't work for everyone. And when your goal is to HELP ALL THE GRAD STUDENTS, this can be so frustrating. 

Academia is obsessed, just like the rest of the world, with productivity, life hacks, systems, and strategies to make work easier. But the message underneath all of those tools (which I peddle too!) is the idea that time not spent working is time wasted, except for the time set aside purposefully for self-care, which should be productive in restoring you to enable more work. We are all looking for ways to get more done ever more quickly, so that we can do more. 

Just imagine: you've accomplished all of your work that you set out to do for the week. Isn't there a little pull to do more, to get ahead, so you can fit in extra work? If I'm ahead on my dissertation chapter revisions, I'll have more time to work on that journal submission. And if I publish three journal articles while I'm a grad student, I'll have more time as a new junior faculty member to work on my book manuscript, so that I'll already have a second book under contract by the time my tenure file is being assembled - if not my second book! 

Even our hobbies need to be productive! Recently, I've begun knitting, and I love it (and the new independent yarn shop that opened two blocks down the street....) As I was sitting, watching a Ken Burns documentary, I was looking at my knitting and I caught myself thinking "well, if I can knit a blanket this quickly and they're of high enough quality, and the yarn costs this much, how much reasonably could I sell these for?" Here was this hobby, that I explicitly started because I had a bad habit of working on my computer while watching TV at night, and I can't knit and write content at the same time, and I was still feeling an urge to make that time profitable. 

I want to be clear - if you feel called to get ahead in your work so you have more flexibility - go for it! It feels great to have choices about how to spend your time, rather than only ever working on the thing that was due four days ago. And if you want to spend your down time knitting the world's most awesome hats, or sewing up cosplay outfits, and selling them, do it! Side gigs are awesome! But if you get real quiet, and you hear from yourself that the real reason you're obsessed with efficiency and usefulness is that you believe your time only matters if it's spent in service of your future goals, I'd encourage you to question why that is. 

As a coach, I've dedicated myself to learning how and why people use their time, and how they wish it would be different. I believe strongly in the power of doing things that do not serve your professional goals, on purpose and regularly, to reflect in your schedule that not every part of your life has to serve your professional advancement. I also often discuss the importance of self-care. Not necessarily the bubble bath and treat yourself shopping sprees, although those have their place, but the sleep, diet, movement, fun, and creativity that can so often fall by the wayside. But, the constant "self care is important!" refrain can be alienating and guilt inducing as often as it is helpful. 

Early on in my Twitter career, someone thoughtfully asked me what they were supposed to do when there was literally no time in a busy, full life for the time intensive self-care strategies I was championing. The guilt was overwhelming, they said - knowing that all these things could help, but not having the resources to enact them, and still having to deal with burnout, exhaustion, etc. Ultimately, advice like that was alienating - good for someone, but not for everyone. 

I replied then, and stand by the idea now, that in some circumstances, self-care is ignoring advice, however well intentioned. If you know, in your gut, that the way someone is suggesting just won't work, let it go. Stop trying to force yourself into a habit, routine, technique, or strategy that was created by someone else. Their life isn't your life, so it's okay if what works for them just won't work for you. 

So, don't always take my advice. Or anyone else's. Take the time to know what is important in your life, in your value system, in your future planning, and then only use the strategies that align with those things. Use your time wisely, but define what that means for yourself.