I've learned that, for a productivity strategy to work for me, it needs to be flexible. Hard rules like scheduled times of day, mins and maxes, and other strict constraints often generate more frustration than satisfaction; not living up to the rigor brings me down more than living up to the rigor makes me feel successful.
So my productivity strategy is gentle. It's patient. It's loose. It gives me room to exceed my own expectations, without giving me any anxiety if I don't.
There are two fundamental rules for Gentle Productivity:
1. Rest is productivity
2. All progress is progress
Rest is Productivity
No one can, or should, work non-stop. Our bodies come with cadences of high activity, low activity, and sleep built right in. And for most of human history, we trusted and honored those built in cadences, and we thrived off of that.
But in more modern times, the fetish of productivity has crept into culture and made us afraid of our inability to maintain that high activity state for superhuman amounts of time. Dangerous ideas like "hustle" leave us thinking that time we spend caring for our bodies and minds is a waste, a cost, a subtraction from our value as people.
That is, of course, bullshit.
When we honor our body's need for rest, when we give our minds peace, we maintain the cadence of high activity, low activity, and sleep that enables us to continue indefinitely. We are able to do work and make meaning with our high activity periods precisely because of our times of low activity and sleep. We are not productive despite those times; we are unproductive without them.
That is why rest is productivity. Rest is sustainability, and creation without sustainability isn't productivity, it's just a byproduct of an impending burnout. If we maintain high activity for too long, our bodies forget how to do the cadence completely, and we end up needing long breaks before we can pick ourselves up and try again.
Rest is productivity.
All Progress is Progress
A lot of work is measured in goals and results. Whether it's measured in time, words, lines of code, boxes, dice trays, cupcakes, etc, we often have a definition of success that's countable in one way or another.
And here's the key to Gentle Productivity: every unit of progress you make toward that goal is a victory, because all progress is progress.
It's great to have ambitious goals! This is not a case against ambition. But when the situation demands gentler goals, that work still counts, and it still matters.
Here's a simple example. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word story in the month of November. To fully achieve that means averaging 1,667 words per day for the entire month.
Some days, that might be pretty easy. The inspiration comes and the words flow out of you like water. But other days, you may feel stuck. It's hard to decide what to do next, maybe it's just hard to start. A common response in a situation like that is to stress out, maybe make a few half-hearted attempts, and then not start, because the specter of 1,667 words is looming over you. And honestly, that's reasonable; some days, writing 1,667 words just isn't in the cards!
But, instead of giving up entirely, imagine saying, "Okay, today I will write at least 100 words. And it's okay if I stop there. All progress is progress!"
By setting a much smaller goal, you make the idea of starting a much less daunting thing. You give yourself a benchmark you know you can hit. And, if you manage to shake off the nerves, you might end up doing far more than that minimum goal you set! Maybe you unstick yourself and suddenly you're doing the whole original task, because now you're in the zone.
However, this isn't just a trick to get yourself to do the original hard thing! Some days, that tiny version really will be all you can do. And that will still be a victory, because all progress is progress.
All in all, Gentle Productivity is about caring about yourself first, and what you make second. It's about valuing your ability to create, and to make meaning in the world, and recognizing that you make the most meaning in the world if you protect yourself. You are not disposable. You are important, you matter, and you deserve to stick around and keep making the world a beautiful place. So be kind to yourself.