Some Notes and Tips on Productivity Exhaustion
Monday April 16, 2018
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a productive person. Maybe you love to find more efficient ways to get things done. Or perhaps the thought of being effective and reasonably powerful when it comes to enacting change makes you feel warm and happy inside.
On the other hand, if we don’t feel like we’re productive, we can really start to beat ourselves up. A lack of productivity is something we may instantly and rigidly identify as the enemy. This becomes a problem when we’ve simply taken on more things than we can reasonably accomplish, for example. It is difficult to accept that we should let some things drop, or delay our productivity, so we attempt to become hyper-productive.
A common outcome of a hyper-productive lifestyle is what I call “productivity exhaustion.” The symptoms are very similar to depression symptoms: Fatigue, negative thoughts about self and others, lack of interest in life, and so on. I first measured and discovered this effect in my own life as I completed a variety of professional certifications and examinations, all at the same time. After documenting my experience, I set about finding ways to overcome this kind of outcome in the future.
If you are experiencing productivity exhaustion, here are some tips I have discovered that may help:
Keep a log of your experiences
In your log, note things that make you feel sad or depressed, as well as things that make you feel interested or excited. This log will help you understand the dynamics of your own productivity system. Over time, obvious answers and coping methods will emerge as you review your own measurements and past experiences.
For example: “2018-04-16: I feel no interest in anything. I guess a little interest in upgrading the OS on my computer. I feel depressed about everything.”
Structure your slack
Convert some of your structure-defining productivity energy into energy that provides boundaries in which you can slack off. Calendar in your rest breaks, your video game playing, and so on. Keep a “slack budget” of at least an hour or two a day, and use up the budget whenever you’d like. Weekly, budget at least a rest day or two if you can. Be as serious about rest as you are about working hours—INTJs often underestimate their need for rest, and they especially underestimate the expectations of their family or social group—we need to know that the people who are important to us are resting and recreating.
Study your slack
Watch and monitor the activities that help you relax and enjoy life. Can they be deepened? Or are they better kept shallow? Experiment and see what you like. Watch for new hobbies and interests that may emerge, because these can literally save your life.
Analyze the implications for your productivity
How can you work to reconcile these two halves—where can productivity and relaxation or fun be blended together? Attempt to intersperse relaxation and productivity more often. Since I’m interested in psychology, writing in this blog helps me blend the two.
Collect activities that help you recover from productivity exhaustion
INTJs are good at collecting information, advice, and tips. You may find it helpful to turn your attention to building a collection of recovery methods, so that when you are feeling exhausted you can choose from a wide spectrum of possible activities, to find those that “feel” good. Remember, since INTJs are thinkers, this feeling process can be used in times of stress to complete us in our recovery from stress.
Don’t cut back on your interests
It may seem tempting to get more “important” things done by cutting back on your interests. But please note that people who have “too many interests” are more likely to be successful. I believe this success is related to maintaining a deep feeling of interest in and excitement for life’s various experiences. In my experience, this interest and excitement can immediately cut down one’s chances of feeling burnt out or exhausted.
It is tempting to say “I just need to crack down on my hobbies so I can focus on my chemistry degree,” but this is a very rigid mindset that will almost always increase your chances of becoming exhausted. Better to keep the hobbies and find a way to attack the actual problem (for example: I am not as skilled at chemistry as I need to be; perhaps I need to change my major).
Elon Musk is cool, but it would really suck—comparatively speaking—to be the Elon Musk who thought that he should just get serious and focus only on Tesla.
Do cut back on your intensity
There is a concept in Chinese philosophy known as “yin deficiency.” In short, our masculine, productive, forward-surging energy (yang) overcomes our feminine, organic, unstructured side (yin). Imagine yourself as a whole made of two parts. One part of you is suffering, because it cannot feel comfortable, accepted, or capable of self-expression. It is a very individualistic side, the side of you that just wants to do whatever you feel like doing right now. As you study your productivity system, try to think of ways of giving that side of you a stronger voice in your life.
In extreme cases, look even closer at your circumstances
While it may be frustrating to feel so exhausted, you may need to explore an even more frustrating possibility: Your circumstances just suck. In such cases you are wise to use what little productivity you have to plan a sort of escape from your current circumstances.
Using the “change of major” example above, I think this is a possibility that would cause most INTJs to feel extremely reticent. “What do you mean, I’m not skilled enough???” However, when your mental and physical health are on the line, you are wise to consider all possibilities of creating an immediate change in circumstances. The feeling on the other side of that change is often completely different, less anxious, less depressing, and more fun. This is an environment in which you can exert your natural skills to bring about positive change on a daily basis. I would personally rather be a successful and happy IT guy who is working to better understand chemistry, than a depressed and anxious full-time chemistry student who is failing their chemistry classes.
Some of the happiest people in the world are happy precisely because they know how to say, “I just can’t live like this anymore—something has got to change.” It’s much better to change one’s major or some other circumstance than to give into feelings that life isn’t worth living, or that life has no meaning at all.
If you’re feeling productivity exhaustion, I hope the tips above help you. The process of overcoming it may not happen overnight, but it’s worth your time and energy.
BTW, about passion and capacity →
Where is humankind headed? The coiling accountability crisis →
How can I work less like an ESFP? And how can I get out more? →
A common sequence of interest-energy for me →
What NOT to do when keeping a journal →