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a blog by @captainsafia

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Some thoughts on “productivity”

Howdy! So I’ve really been enjoying writing these blog posts where I write answers to questions that I often get from folks at conferences, in direct messages, through email, and more. Today, I thought I would answer some of the questions I often get about… productivity.

For some reason or other, people think that I’m quite a productive individual. I’ve mentioned in other blog posts that I think productivity is a subjective benchmark. “Productive” looks different to different people. I don’t consider myself productive, but I imagine that someone who saw that output of my work would perceive me as such.

Alright! Time to answer some questions.

How do you do so much?

This is the one I get a lot. Most times, I sugarcoat it and talk about my passion and my enthusiasm and the goals I have. This is all true. But can I be honest with you? One of my biggest motivators is the fact that I am impossible to satisfy. I’ll never feel like I’ve done enough conference talks or written enough blog posts or submitted enough pull requests. Admittedly, this is a dangerous ideology and one that I would not recommend other people follow. How do I do so much? My definition of “much” is pushed forward every day. What was enough for me yesterday is not enough for me today? Some people might judge this negatively; others might look at this worldview with envy. I don’t much care about those opinions. It’s a perspective I derived from my experiences as the daughter of immigrants (and an immigrant myself), the eldest child in a low-income family who held all the promise, and the girl who was expected to get perfect scores.

So that’s the answer to that question, the complete-no-bullshit answer. For better or worse, I’m addicted to doing more.

Do you even sleep?

Oh gosh! This question. I will admit. I’ve had long stretches of time where I didn’t get enough sleep (and was quite proud of it). I’ve since grown wise and learned my lesson. I’ll admit that between school and some of the other stuff I have to balance, my days have to start early and end late. I haven’t tried to fight this. Instead, I embraced the awesomeness of the nap. This is something that, in retrospect, my mother did quite often. Between raising her children and working and getting her second university degree, she also had many early days and late nights. Regardless, she would often settle for a pre-dinner or post-dinner nap. I’ve started to do the same too. I find that it increases the number of hours I sleep per day, increases the amount of time I spend in deep and REM sleep and helps clear my mind at those foggy moments in the middle of the day. Thanks, mom!

Do you check off everything on your to-do list every day?

Ha! No. I’d say that by the end of the day, there are usually one or two things that I haven’t done. They are often the things that I want to do least. I try to not beat myself too hard for it and just prioritize those things the next day. Although, to be honest, I slip up on that also.

How do you stay motivated?

Depending on the day, different things motivate me. Somedays, I’m motivated by the haters. Other days, I’m motivated by the sacrifices made by my family. Other days, I’m motivated by the sacrifices that I made yesterday to get to where I am. Other days, I’m motivated by the fact that a girl’s gotta pay the bills. My motivations are often determined by the events of the day, the things I experience, and other subtle aspects of my environment.

I don’t believe that motivations have to be consistently altruistic or positive. It’s OK if your endeavors get a little selfish sometimes (as long as that isn’t always the case and you’re aware of the selfish nature of your present motivations). Some days you feel a little selfish. Other days you feel a little selfless. As long as you know what you want and why you want it (and you aren’t hurting anyone with your motivations and a couple of other caveats), you’re fine.

When do you go to bed?

Around midnight.

When do you wake up?

Between 6:45 AM and 7 AM.

How do you get over the afternoon slump?

A warm cup of Black tea.

Why do you keep your to-do lists on paper?

It makes it easier for me to write my daily tasks without having to get on a web or mobile app and be distracted by all the goodies on the Internet. It also serves as an excellent record of the things that I accomplished. Most to-do list apps don’t give you a way to see what tasks you completed on which day. Writing my to-do list on paper gives me the ability to know the history and progression of my work and get some motivation out of it.

Why are you so sarcastic when talking about productive?

I feel some type of way about a world in which everyday tasks are increasingly automated, and the only way we can derive value as people in a capitalist society is by checking things off a list. I try to be introspective in examining my desire to do more and aware of how much of it is because I don’t want to feel like a useless waste of space. “Productivity” is such a loaded term in the tech industry, and I feel like it carries a lot of classism and sexism in it. Usually, the things that are considered productive are the things that make you more money. Raising a child (a traditionally maternal task) doesn’t count as productive, although it is a massive undertaking. Creating public art (an endeavor that is purely altruistic) isn’t often seen as productive. I stray away from using the word productive, and the system of concepts stemming from it because I think it’s a socially harmful and limited concept. Sometimes, my distaste for the word, the concept, and its impact on society comes out in the form of sarcasm.

What helps you blow off the stress that can arise from being a task-oriented and ambitious person?

This changes. During the summer months, I liked to go to the beach near my apartment and just stand by the waves and look out into Lake Michigan or clean up the beer bottles and cans that wash up on shore. During the fall, I like to go on long evening walks. As of recently, I’ve been getting into high-intensity exercise. I’m talking drenched in sweat, can’t talk, can’t breathe exercise. Who knows what I’ll get into as a form of stress relief next.

And that’s all I’ve got! To be honest, this blog post is running a little long and as my Zarf-related research shows, asking for more than five minutes of anybody’s time is a tall order in the web!

Catch you on the flip side!