In Which Captain Obvious Descended Upon Me, or why I have been doing productivity wrong all this time


I don’t have the willpower to be productive.

Productivity seems infinite, if you do one thing you /have/ to do more and how on earth is one supposed to achieve anything if whatever one does is not good enough and drowns in the infinity of „but you could do more!“ anyway?
With this view of productivity there cannot be any feeling of being rewarded by having achieved a success per definition.
If you weigh one minor achievement against the vast realm of More Things You Could Have Done, it is nothing.

Without success there is also no motivation to do anything, because why should you Actually Do The Thing if you’re never feeling rewarded by success? Anything seems like pointless labor.

This all-or-nothing attitude has many drawbacks: it does not make me productive, on the contrary, I have absolutely no motivation to do anything about the things I want to achieve; it gnaws on my self esteem, I ignore my achievements and just steam-roll over them in pursuit of The Better Thing.

It seems obvious, but I consciously noticed that only just now.


Actually it’s weird that I didn’t notice that for a longer while.
I mean, I’m more productive if I set clear, reachable goals for myself, like any other reasonable human being, why the fuck did I not notice that.
Instead of a vague „exercise more!!!!“ writing down a list of exercises I want to do and checking what I have done off that list gets me to accomplish more.
Instead of panicking about being too stupid to become a physicist actually trying to study what I can is more helpful.
Instead of wallowing in self-loathing about being a Bad Person because I am not a Paragon Of Goodness And Social Justice just moving on and doing what I can for good causes is more helpful for everyone.

This is pretty much what the concept of radical acceptance from DBT is, actually.
Or the growth mindset.

What this realization is also very helpful for is distress tolerance.
I often have trouble realizing that a distressing situation is not forever and thus just wallow in misery.
It’s awful because it’s bad and I’m hurting and I want to do something about it now but often I just can’t.
E.g. I have very strong gender dysphoria about some physical characteristics.
I have to wait until I’m legally of age to start physical transition and this is very upsetting to me because the dysphoria is too strong and it feels like I am doomed to feel that way the rest of my life.
And if I get a moment of clear thinking I can actually make it slightly better by going „Hey, I’m not doomed to tits and no body hair and a high vice forever, it’s only 8 months until I get on hormones and that time will pass faster than I think! And it’s half a year until I can apply for surgery cost coverage from then!“


So in more general terms, what I need to be happier and more productive is:

Radical acceptance: accepting the situation I’m in, not dwelling on the past, as in, not guilting myself for past deeds or decisions which I cannot change anymore, not dwelling in the future, as in being anxious about things that are irrelevant right now.

Quantifying the vast planes of Things I Could Do/the distress: setting concrete goals to achieve, as structured and detailed as possible. In case of a distressing situation reminding myself that the distress is not for eternity, if possible keeping the time when it will be alleviated in mind.

Starting with tiny steps and getting rewards: I need something easy and rewarding to get myself motivated to begin to do things, otherwise I just easily get overwhelmed and don’t even start.
I noticed that as soon as I have had a rewarding experience, I continue on a productivity streak so I can gradually start increasing the difficulty or the unpleasantness of the tasks to do.

However, some tasks are not really rewarding just by completing them or the reward seems too far away, but they need to be done, so I set up smaller steps and more immediate rewards, like being allowed to play a level of a puzzle game only after completing the task I set for myself.

To clarify, a reward can be anything, the triumphant feeling of finally being able to solve a math problem, getting to eat a piece of chocolate, going on Tumblr for a while, having a clean room after having cleaned, you get the picture.

Honoring past and current achievements: Just because there is an infinitely vast field of More Things You could Have Done does not mean the Things You Have Done are not valid.
I need to remember that in the past I also achieved success in some things and it is still valid and proof that I am not useless.
If I achieve something; I am allowed to feel proud of it, no matter how small it seems in comparison to the infinitely vast field of More Things You could Have Done or to somebody else’s achievements.
Which brings us to…

Not comparing myself to others: Comparing myself to others is fruitless, nobody benefits from it. Sometimes people just don’t start on even points and that’s okay and I am no lesser for achieving less than others.
While sometimes a bit of rivalry can be a good motivation, so far I also haven’t been able to engage in a bit of healthy competition without placing my self esteem on success.

Trying to be more structured and responsible: If I sabotage or neglect myself, I won’t be able to meet my goals.
Structure can prevent this.
E.g. staying up late so I am too sleepy to understand anything in math class the next day is sabotaging myself. Precomitting to go to bed so I get at least 8 hours of sleep would solve this problem and enhance my performance. that is an unrealistic commitment though
Studying until I worked through a topic and forgetting to eat in the meantime is neglecting myself. Planning meal breaks inbetween would make me more efficient and not neglect my needs.


I know these are really obvious but I have a very hard time consciously realizing any of this and following through with it.

Also I’d like to add that attaching worth to productiveness is wrong.
Everyone is inherently worthy.