I have, for as long as I can remember, had an idea in my mind that I should earn my rest at the end of each day; that the responsibility of a life well lived was tied, inextricably, to some meaningful level of output. For most of the years of my adult life, I was in the habit of mentally reviewing my day, of evaluating whether or not I had done enough, if there were still chores left undone, responsibilities left unmet. Some nights, I would get out of bed after this review and complete some chore about the house until I felt satisfied that I had met this nebulous personal standard.
It is only recently that I have even begun to shed some, though not all, of this obsession with productivity, and I have been musing more and more on how to strike a balance between avoiding laziness, and creating an unhealthy relationship with work or productivity. I think a balance is possible, and more so, I think it’s important, and like many of the relationships that I want to help you understand, there is no one right answer. Your relationship, the balance you strike, between productivity and rest should be a relationship that serves you, your goals and ambitions, and your loved ones.
When thinking about this idea, you need first to understand your relationship to productivity. I think about this relationship in much the same way that the ideas of introversion and extroversion are often explained.
For some, being productive depletes the tank. Much like an introvert stuck at a party, being forced to be productive requires a significant effort, an effort which is separate and often greater, than the effort involved in the task at hand. For these “productivity introverts,” there must be enough energy available at the outset of any task to overcome the inertial drain of beginning and maintaining focus on a value-neutral task.
For others, let’s call them “productivity extroverts,” the exact opposite is true. It is the act of production, of accomplishing things, often even minor or trivial tasks, that actually provides fuel in addition to, and often in excess of, the energy needed for completing the task itself. As a “productivity extrovert,” it is difficult to the point of unpleasantness to sit still and inactive for long periods of time unless there is some external diversion or motivation strong enough to overcome the desire to produce or accomplish something.
Very often, “productivity extroverts” view their “productivity introvert” counterparts uncharitably, not realizing or understanding that the gulf between how they are both energized and fulfilled is the real disconnect. Similarly, “productivity introverts” are often unsympathetic to the extroverts’ need for action and cannot empathize with a dislike of inactivity, rest, or “relaxation.” Simply put, it is not relaxing for some people to sit on the beach, nor for some is a long, taxing hike a way to unwind.
To understand yourself, you need to understand where you fall on this continuum, and as in most things, the answer for most people is contextual and variable. At some points in your life you may find yourself comforted by your ability to complete tasks and to be of use and tangible value to your loved ones. At other times in your life, you may find yourself depleted by these same tasks, needing respite from responsibility, and seeking rest and relaxation above any need for productivity. Both places are fine so long as you understand who you are and what your needs are. Think about how you spend your time when you have control of your hours. Do you putter about, happily crossing things off a to-do list, exercising, or completing some pet project or hobby that you’ve been meaning to get to, or do you prefer to curl up on the couch and watch a favorite movie and eat snacks in bed? This answer will help you begin to frame how you think of your relationship to productivity
Your obligation to understand this about yourself will have real consequences on your choices. If you are a person who needs a high level of activity to feel comfortable and satisfied, or if you need lots of downtime in order to gear up to be productive, this will affect your choices for work, for friendships, and for romantic relationships. As in all things boys, spend the time interrogating who you really are and what you really need.
Now here’s the rub on all this guys, as much as it is true that we all have some natural preferences around productivity and work, we still live in a world where things need to get done; meals need to be cooked, money needs to be earned, and emotional labor has to be done. Knowing your natural tendencies does not excuse you from your obligations to care for yourselves, for others, and to provide for yourself and for those you love. If we fail in our obligations to meet our own needs, we often foist those responsibilities onto others in our lives, creating undue burdens on those who might not be willing or able to shoulder that burden. If we are going to ask someone to take care of us, we must be willing and able to offset that ask with a value equal to or greater than what we take. Leveraging that discrepancy is actually what laziness really means. Laziness is not a function of the hours you spend relaxing versus doing, laziness is a willingness not to compensate others for the work they do for us. There is no more sure fire way to erode trust or create resentment than to weaponize someone else’s willingness to care for us.
I actually believe that, in many cases, some of the best relationships, be they romantic, friendship, or economic (work), are the result of joyful mismatches in these types of people. There are people who are pleased to be productive so long as they do not bear the burden of responsibility or the need to make difficult choices. There are others who are only too happy to take on this responsibility in exchange for not having the burden of daily production. For some friends, some people are happy to be the ones who make all the plans, pick up the phone first, while others are content to offer a limitless ear to bend. For some romantic relationships, some parties feel great pride and take real joy in providing the material needs for the household while another may offer their partner terrific access to their time and attention.
Rarely have I seen successful connections of any kinds between productivity introverts, though productivity extroverts can make fine partners in business and elsewhere. The point is not that any one productivity “type” is better than another, nor am I making ironclad claims that opposites must attract or complement one another. The point here is to know yourself well, to see fully those around you, and to understand the dynamic between the productivity types enough to meet your obligations, avoid resentment and abuse of others, and to maximize the joy you bring to your life and to others.