On productivity and peace

It is November 23, a full month after the last post went up.

My husband is on home IVs for an infection (fuck cystic fibrosis), my back is healing from two epidural shots last week, and my morning started with the puppy bursting into the bedroom and my husband yelling, “Don’t let her lick your face, she’s been eating squirrel.”

It’s a reasonable miniature version of the way the whole month’s gone.

I got up, threw all the dogs in the shower, dried everyone off, got dressed, grabbed some laundry, and started chores.  I straightened the first floor, booked the dogs for various “camp” dates when we’ll be out of town, started a grocery list, covered the deck chairs with their new cover, put some things away upstairs, moved laundry, ate a granola bar and took my pills, updated some apps on my phone, and started using the pomodoro method to chug through my to-do list.

In fact, I used it to rotate through three separate project sets: my chores, my novel (it’s National Novel Writing Month), and because I missed some hours yesterday with medical shenanigans, some work projects. Oh, and I helped my husband with his medical routine.

And sometime around 7pm my brain said “NOPE”. I needed a 36 hour day to even make a dent into my planned work and I did not get one, but my brain was too tired to keep up the pace.

I wrote to some close friends on a Slack:

I have totally utterly run out of motivation to do anything.

The part of my brain that’s actually been listening to my counselor for the last 7 years requires me to also point out that I’ve completed 7 items on my to-do list and started 5 more.

My sister wrote back:

Good brain. Also, there’s no requirement for being productive on a Saturday. So since you’ve done all that overachieving, now you can sit and play video games, or read, or just sit.

And I did sit, for about an hour, mostly thinking about the idea “there’s no requirement for being productive on a Saturday”.

Of course there’s a requirement for being productive on a Saturday, my brain railed. Otherwise how are you supposed to catch up on all the things you didn’t get done over the week? How are you supposed to keep up if you don’t use most of the weekend to try?

And that’s when I realized that, actually, there was no requirement to be productive on any day, short the hours that I personally commit to someone else.

I committed to work for my employer, so I need to accomplish the things they request in a reasonable time (assuming they’re making reasonable requests). But in The Year of My God Why 2019 even that doesn’t mean I necessarily have to productive during certain hours, and it definitely doesn’t mean I have to chain myself to my work-based to-do list. I already have enough work in my work to-do list right now to keep me busy through March and that doesn’t include January-March’s actual work. Dylan was right when he said burnout is like shooting zombies: there will always be more of them and you don’t have to be the hero.

But here I am at home, trying not just to be the hero of the zombie movie, I’m trying to film three of them at once. And even when I’ve been relaxing, it’s been “relaxing” by writing my book, reading for work, knitting (I have three different projects on needles right now…), even turning my Minecraft game into a daily blog for a damned long time.

Realistically, yes, it’s a good idea to run laundry because certain key elements are no longer clean. And we’ve got to stay on top of home IVs, eating meals, and probably finish the grocery shopping. But everything else, even my book, is optional.

There was a point over the summer where I was threatening to write a post on how so many of us in UX don’t know how to unplug from UX, and how some of the worst offenders are also our biggest names in the field (looking at you Jared Spool). I was out just trying to convince the tomatoes that blooming was a good idea, and what felt like my entire Twitter stream was having a verbal slap-fight over the UX Drama of the Week. Some days I just wanted to scream “Good god people don’t you know how to unplug?”

…while simultaneously mowing the yard, weeding the gardens, feeding the birds, turning the compost, bringing in the harvest, planting more stuff…

Pot calling Kettle, Pot calling Kettle, come in Kettle…

We are the beginning of Thanksgiving week here in Pennsylvania, which is supposed to be a chance to gather with family and friends and give thanks for what we have. Very often it gets wrapped in chaos: prepping the meal, cleaning the house, making plans for all the time we’re supposed to be off, and beginning the Christmas holiday shopping.

And yeah, none of that is UX work, but good gracious is it work. Even the bits that are fun and productive.

So I wish you the opportunity (even if you have to schedule it) to take some time off to honest to all do nothing, even if that “do nothing” is play video games or read something fun or watch a movie or a sunset or rain patter against the sidewalk.

And I wish you peace, in whatever form you find it.


Also published on Medium.

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is Principal UX Designer and general troublemaker for a big/small technical company outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things.