Being a productive woman does not mean doing all the things all the time. This week we’ll talk about doing it all versus doing enough.
What if doing it all is wearing us down?
One thing I worry about sometimes in hosting a podcast about productivity is whether I’m contributing to something a lot of us as women struggle with, which is the feeling that to be productive women we have to be doing all the things, all the time. Even though we often talk about productivity being more than getting more stuff done, still this urge to fit more and more into our days is an issue that comes up often in discussions with other women and in the materials I read about productivity.
Whether it’s working long hours to build our career or our business, or trying to manage motherhood, relationships, a career, and a side hustle at the same time while also maintaining the body shape and appearance we think we should have, or whatever other opportunities come across our path, sometimes we struggle with feeling like we need to do it all or else feel like we’ve failed. And many of us feel like we’re regularly falling short.
I wanted to talk about that today, both because it’s something I deal with pretty often and because I know I’m not alone. The question I’ve been pondering is where’s the line between pursuing our endeavors with excellence and taking on the impossible ideal of “doing it all”? When is enough enough?
Doing It All
Many of us, no matter how much we’re doing at work, at home, in our relationships, or in the world, feel like we should be doing more. Often can’t even define it; just this sense that we’re not doing enough, or not doing it right.
In a Psychology Today article, clinical psychologist Diana Hill, Ph.D., talks about a concept called “toxic productivity.” She asks: “So the question is: When does productivity become toxic? It can look different for each of us, but feeling burned out or having feelings of low-self worth (i.e., people-pleasing or never feeling good enough and not living our truth/acting authentically) are really good indicators that productivity has turned toxic.”
She quotes a poem called “Productivity Anxiety” by Rupi Kaur:
“i have this productivity anxiety
that everyone else is working harder than me
and i’m going to be left behind
cause i’m not working fast enough
and i’m wasting my time”
Doing it all is an epidemic
In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, the writer cites a study by psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill, noting that:
“The two psychologists studied more than 40,0000 American, British, and Canadian college students between 1989 and 2016 and found that perfectionism has increased dramatically over the last few decades — 33% since 1989. We seem to be internalizing a contemporary myth that life should be perfect, when, in fact, that is an impossible outcome and can contribute to serious anxiety and depression. Those who become preoccupied with perfection set themselves up for failure and psychological turmoil.”
We may feel inadequate and less than. We cannot bring our best selves to the world if our minds are preoccupied with condemnation for perceived shortfalls.
We wear ourselves out trying to “do it all”, maintain a perfect, spotless home, hold ourselves responsible for the happiness and well-being of our kids and spouse, do all the things at work, and even take on a side hustle because we feel we should.
Dr. Diana Hill, in the Psychology Today article mentioned earlier, says,
“Thoughts that we aren’t doing enough can drive us to act in ways that don’t align with what really matters to us. We subconsciously keep ourselves busy by compulsively working so we might avoid dealing with issues in our current reality. The paradox of productivity is that being productive helps us reach our goals, but also can derail us from our dreams.”
The cure — learn to set more realistic and reasonable expectations for ourselves
We don’t have to go through our days feeling like we’re falling short. As one busy professional mom puts it in a Harvard Business Review article:
“I’ve come to believe that the difference between going to bed feeling content or disappointed at the end of the day has a lot to do with the expectations we set for ourselves.”
She recommends that “Instead of aiming for perfection, we need to aim for happiness.” That, she says, is her goal every day, and she reminds herself of it often.
This starts with becoming more conscious and aware of your feelings in this area and where they come from.
When you feel like you should be doing more, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What is the more you feel you should be doing?
- Why do you feel you should?
- What benefit would come from doing it–to yourself, to others?
On a bigger-picture level, do some thinking about the expectations and standards you set for yourself. In each area of your life (professional, mothering, marriage, personal, etc.), ask:
- What does success in this area mean to you?
- Where do you think that definition came from?
- Do you like the definition, and can you achieve it?
Following this is managing your thoughts and guarding your heart.
Avoid comparison. Advice from one entrepreneur (in How to Get Over the Feeling That You’re Never Doing Enough):
“If you’re feeling especially rough, avoid inspiration from others. Get off the inspirational blogs, websites, and YouTube channels. Temporarily delete Instagram from your smartphone. Hide the smartphone – shove it down the sofa. Don’t go to creative talks to hear from people you admire or who run successful design agencies. Yes, really. Hide for a little while. Give your brain some breathing space. Be alone and ignore everyone else to stop the endless comparison. You’ll find your anxiety starts to lift when you’re not constantly being bombarded by “greatness”.
She reminds us that, as Pablo Picasso has said, “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Learn to be okay with doing enough
Believe that enough is enough and focus on what’s most important. Quality matters more than quantity.
“Even though we feel constantly compelled to do all the things because of external pressure, instead of asking ourselves “How can I cram more into today?” what if we instead asked, “What is most important for today? or What could I remove or not do that would give me some relief in this moment? When we take the pressure off of ourselves and focus our attention on what really matters, it opens space for more creativity and for our inner wisdom. We don’t need to do as much as we think we do.” [from Dispelling the I’m Not (Doing) Enough Myth]
Appreciate and internalize the value of small actions. Making a life that matters doesn’t have to involve filling every minute of every day with big, audacious achievements.
“In the book, The Power of Focus, the authors talk about how everything in life is built on tiny little actions. Good friendships flourish from small efforts – sending a text, sharing a meme, or meeting up for coffee. Over time, these little things build a closer relationship. Other relationships dwindle because you stop texting, stop checking in, or get into an argument and don’t attempt to smooth it over. Each positive action you take is a building block. The small things you’re doing – no matter how perfect or imperfect they are – actually are worthwhile. Whatever you’re doing is enough.” [from Feel Like You’re Not Doing Enough? Read This.]
Give yourself credit for what you actually do; celebrate what you do instead of focusing on what you don’t.
“Every time you think that you should be doing more is actually a beautiful opportunity to shine a light inside yourself and ask, “Hmmm, in what way am I not honoring or believing that I am enough right now?” Try taking a few deep breaths and repeating an affirmation, such as, “I’m imperfect and I’m enough.” Then, acknowledge and appreciate what you’ve done that day by thinking of three things you did do or three things you appreciate about yourself. Include things such as “I made my daughter laugh,” or “I sent an email back to that person who reached out last week.” These might seem like small actions, but we deserve credit for taking the action.” [from “I Feel Like I’m Not Doing Enough.” Why That Might Be a Good Problem]
The purpose of learning about productivity tools and techniques isn’t to be able to cram more into every day but to help us work efficiently and effectively to do the things we choose on purpose to do as part of making a life that matters as we each define it for ourselves.
No matter how full your schedule is, if you are satisfied and happy with how you’re spending your time, my point isn’t to tell you to do less. What I’m hoping to encourage us all to do is to be aware and intentional about the expectations and standards we set for ourselves in our personal and professional endeavors, so that the life we’re making is a life we actually feel good in.
What do you think?
Are you doing it all or doing enough? And are you happy with what you’re doing? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Link
- Am I Doing Enough?. When we wonder if we’re doing enough… | by Hannah Moyer | Medium
- How To Handle The Fear of Not Doing Enough – The Blissful Mind
- Dispelling the “I’m Not (Doing) Enough” Myth
- What to Do When It Feels Like You Never Do Enough | Psychology Today
- “I Feel Like I’m Not Doing Enough!” Why That Might Be A Good Problem
- How To Know When You’ve Done “Enough”
- How to get over the feeling that you’re never doing enough | Creative Boom
- Lessons from a Working Mom on “Doing It All”
- Does ‘Having It All’ Mean Doing It All? – The New York Times
- The Hidden Cost of Doing It All
- Juggling Act: Why Are Women Still Trying To Do It All?
- ‘Women can do it all, but not all at once and not without help’ – Neos Kosmos
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