Miscellaneous

Beyond “Productivity”

I am at the age when self-help books and motivational videos are the most appealing. Although I am content with where I am now, I know that someday I will need a “real” job. I will need to have employable skills. Knowing the minute details of late medieval French history is not exactly employable outside of academia. And I am perfectly aware that I probably will not get a tenure track position once I finish my dissertation. Self-help is currently teaching me how to accept failure and to better resolve conflicts in my personal and work life.

There is, however, a negative side to the self-help industry. First, the obvious. The time spent consuming motivational content could be better spent learning a new skill or developing a side-hustle. For self-help authors, “motivation” and “productivity” are products to sell. They make a living from presenting their ideal selves to the world. A full-time motivational YouTuber is literally doing her job when she shares her morning routine whereas your morning routine will not earn you a single penny.

But the aspect of self-help that I find the least helpful is the obsession with “productivity”. When I think of productivity, I think of a factory churning out as much product as possible at the lowest price possible. I am turned off by its capitalist connotation. A productive writer, publishes a book a year regardless of quality because nothing matters more than the bottom line for the author and short-term gratification for the reader. I recoil at the term “productivity” because I don’t want to be a cog in a machine.

Furthermore, focusing on productivity alone is…well…unproductive. Why should I be concerned about churning out a lot of product? What is in it for me? A person can only obsess over productivity for a limited amount of time before he experiences burnout and a lack of motivation. This is especially true for academics and those in the creative industry. There are so many financial and personal sacrifices that we make to remain in these sectors. If I wanted to make a lot money I wouldn’t be in a French PhD program. Instead of focusing on how to do more, maybe self-help gurus should focus on why someone might want to do more. What motivates an academic, an actor, or an artist to do all of the extra work necessary to get ahead?

Academics know that it is important to publish a lot to be in the running for a tenure-track post, but telling graduate students that they need to be productive is not enough. We need to have passion for our subject material, otherwise we will throw in the towel. Graduate students and early career researchers with low productivity might be behind on their deadlines because they no longer care about what they do.

I would like self-help and motivational speakers to teach others how to maintain passion for something after the buzz has died down. Passion matters the most because it drives everything else. When you are passionate about something – when you feel called to do something – you will necessarily be productive.

If we are deeply convinced that we are in the right sector, productivity will follow.

Reflections

Creating Self-Motivation

To remain motivated in my day-to-day life, I try to perform actions during the week that remind me that I have the capacity for self-control. Take this blog post, for example. It’s currently 12:30 am, but I just began writing my 500 words for the day. I will count this post for Sunday because I haven’t slept yet. I could skip a day, accept my failure, and resume the daily writing challenge tomorrow. But I won’t because I gain self-confidence whenever I successfully complete a personal challenge, however small.

In our lives, we often feel controlled by others. We have to obey the rules others set for us. But when we set our own rules, we become our own masters. I love the feeling of having completed the goals I set for myself; I feel like I can do anything. Our friends and coworkers can motivate us, but our greatest motivation can only come from within. We have to be our own motivators. I have to truly believe that I have the ability to overcome my weaknesses otherwise I will give up on my goals. I need this conviction after I have received harsh criticism or when I feel overwhelmed by deadlines.

I have decided to write this post because I want that feeling of satisfaction of having completed a challenge I set for myself. On November 30, I will be proud of my small accomplishment. Not only will I be less intimidated by the idea of writing, but I will have more self-control. Self-control contributes to our personal freedom when we know why we are abstaining from something or taking up something. I know why I have taken up this writing challenge. It’s an exercise with many benefits and few drawbacks.

There are other ways you can develop self-control and the resulting self-motivation. You could finally complete the household tasks you have put off for the past month. You could commit to a weekly exercise schedule. Or maybe you’re like me and you never exercise, so you decide to exercise twice a week for a month. Choose a task and complete it. The feeling of having completed a task is the best feeling in the world. When I face obstacles in other aspects of my life, my past achievements remind me that I have the capacity to overcome any obstacles in my path.

The millennial generation is popularly known as the “snowflake generation”. We grew up with external motivators. We received trophies for participating in sports games and smelly stickers for average grades. Because we are accustomed to receiving motivation from external sources, we are easily disheartened when we don’t receive positive feedback for something we’ve done. We interpret silence as criticism even though we know that it is unreasonable to expect constant praise in our lives. My generation, especially, needs to learn to develop self-motivation because people don’t praise you all the time in the “real world”. You have to learn to move on from failure and try again.

So many of us search outside of ourselves for motivation, but we need to convince ourselves that we have what it takes to tackle the large projects in our lives.

It’s 1:30 am. I have completed my daily word count.