March 22nd marked my first anniversary at Railway—the first job I had after being indie for 5 years. As I touched on in my 2021 Year in Review, it’s been a struggle. Fortunately, I’m in a much better place now and I’d love to share a few things that helped get there.
Productivity is Cyclical
Most of my struggles with work result from the guilt of not producing quality output on a 9-5 schedule. I think this comes from being self-employed where effort and income are closely correlated. Having a salaried job feels more like I’m being paid for time rather than output, leaving me stuck on a downward spiral thinking:
- I have to work a consistent 8-hour day, every day 😬
- I feel guilty when I’m not productive every day 😥
- I have to work even when not productive 😫
- I wish I could be doing other things instead 😠
- I resent work because it’s wasting my valuable time 😡
The weird thing is that this guilt is actually fabricated by my own subconscious. No one is actually telling me to be productive every hour of every day. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. The asynchronous nature of my work means that it can be done any time, as long as it gets done. So I stopped working when I felt unproductive.
Unproductive work is not worth it
Once I understood that the only thing that mattered is output, I realized that if I only work when productive I can actually work less, conserve energy, increase happiness, and accomplish more as a result. 🤯
Now when feeling unproductive I try to do something else like go for a run or hike, or even simply end the day early if it’s a real dud. The key is to realize that 2 hours of extreme productivity is more valuable than 8 hours of unproductive work.
I’m still getting used to the fact that it’s okay to act and feel this way, but talking about it more as a team has definitely helped.
Communication is key
A large part of my general anxiety stems from projecting my own thoughts onto others. If I’m critical of my work output, I believe that others are too. And, while I’m not exactly sure how to resolve this behavior, I think it ultimately comes down to communication.
One routine we started at work is to share how we feel at the end of every day. This quickly illuminated the fact that I wasn’t the only one who felt bad about productivity, and that made a huge difference. This increased vulnerability also made other discussions easier as well. It turns out honesty and openness can solve most problems.
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m happy to finally feel like I can remove the “unemployable” badge that I was wearing. I still have some work to do, but I think it generally comes down to figuring out what works for me and being confident that it’s good enough.