Basics of healthy productivity
There is a pretty intense irony in all productivity pursuits. You work towards something, and once you achieve it, you are likely to be unsatisfied.
The tension with the current state of things (which by the way valuing is integral in mindfulness) and acquisition of your future self (which is what is exciting in pursuing anything) are always at odds with each other.
Like many things in life, I learned to be comfortable with this irony in order to continue pursuing my dreams guilt free.
Motherhood is full of ironies. Guilt is always there while I'm pursuing my interests and also fulfilling my responsibilities.
Not everything aligns all the time. I gently come back to my goals after natural human failings.
When things are completely misaligned and I'm having a hard time focusing, I like to retreat to some productivity basics. I like to re-evaluate if what I am trying to achieve is even worth achieving.
A core principle in productivity for the modern world is to let go of trying to accomplish big things in one setting. If you are able to do that, likely the thing you want to achieve is not "impossible" enough of a goal.
I prefer to work in what Tiago Forte terms as slow burns.
I put deliberate effort and a reasonable amount of time (sometimes not that much time at all) on a daily basis in order to move me one step closer to the thing I wish I had.
I avoid heavy lifts. Working on something a little bit at a time is extremely practical. This method also works because it is habit forming without anticipation of obvious reward.
The corollary for slow burns, however, is what if I die?
Life is pretty short. Does it make sense to do long-term planning and incrementally hack away at the steps necessary to achieve my goals if I can't even determine if I'd be alive?
I would argue that you must be in love your slow burns. Even if it has a strong chore-like quality, you will need to find the beauty in it.
After some time, even if it is painful, an incremental hacking can be intensely satisfying.
But if I'm not going to get anything out of it, like fluency in Japanese, why bother?
Of all the people that have influenced me, I have noticed that they generally disregard the effort to reward ratio.
It's as if they know that worthwhile things are hard and that returns are uncertain. That is part of the game of life.
After enough testing and iterating, they either improve their current pursuit or switch out of it.
Many productivity teachings center around identifying your long-term goals and passions. I summarize them as impossible dreams. Even my favorite productivity books preach about the need for a long term vision, because of the motivational energy that is supplies in maintaining incremental habits.
I acknowledge working daily on a fraction of the reward and simultaneously appreciate that this fraction in this moment is the reward.
Being indifferent to goals can be very costly. However, I prefer honoring the present while hoping to be more evolved than my past self. In addition to the pure fun of learning Kanji, for example, I also am rewarded other benefits. The days I am able to practice, I find myself more mindful and focused. I engage in some mental exercise over puttering my life away on social media. It gives me momentary flow that comes from intense concentration. I find it thrilling in the present because, in contrast to how my children experience language learning, it seems nearly impossible to do at this stage in my life.