You can get addicted to checking off boxes and completing things. This is the compulsive inability to go to bed at night until you have completed everything on your list. Getting addicted to productivity and achievement means that you run on a sense of responsibility, of impending doom if you don’t successfully operate within boundaries.
Where would you be likely to find people who are addicted to getting things done? Where do they hang out? Not in monasteries or meditation centers: those are the awakening addicts. You won’t find them in artist studios: those are flow addicts. People addicted to productivity are to be found in offices, in banks, in corporations, managing output in factories. As soon as you get a job where your responsibility is to make sure that the product or the project gets completed with all of its components in place, you are in the world of production. The corporate world employs people to perform within budgets and deadlines. “Where’s the report? I want it on my desk by 11 a.m.“
You can get addicted to the endorphin rush of completing something. Your entire life becomes about accomplishment, and often also about making money, tidying up… dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Everyone has experienced that. I don’t like completing a book, I much prefer talking about it in its inception. But I realize I have to, unless I just want to be a wannabe writer. I also know the feeling of elation when I type the last period, and hit send. There is a tremendous rush of endorphins. We can get addicted to that, too.
When you are stuck in getting thing done, it creates an aspiration to rest and unwind, but also the burdensome sense of, I just need to get this finished first. So the only way a true productivity addict will finally move through into letting go is through a burnout or a breakdown.
In large corporations, burnout is a huge problem. There is always another box to check off. You move a little bit on toward rest and recovery, when you have to, but then instead of following the cycle through to awakening and back into fresh impulses at flow, you loop between work and inadequate rest repeatedly.
When people feel they are going to burn out, they instead medicate or manufacture energy artificially through power drinks, or even cocaine. The more we keep looping, the more the stress builds up, until we simply cannot push ourselves any more. The addiction to productivity often means that you keep adding unnecessary extra activities to the to-do list, simply because of the addiction to a feeling of being under pressure, as well as an addiction to the high of checking off another box. It is an addiction to the urgency of having something to complete within limits.
An Antidote to Addiction: “What Did I Discover Today?”
To let go of this addiction, try the following simple but powerful practice. I do it every evening, writing in my journal. It encourages self-reflection: dwelling upon where you might have missed something, where you might be unconscious, where you might have hurt someone or let someone down, so you can learn and grow and evolve. This phase is about feeling the limitations of your humanity, your inadequacy relative to the bigger force that gives us all life. It allows you to recognize your limits and then to forgive yourself.
First, ask yourself these questions. Take a few minutes to journal:
What did I discover about myself today?
What did I notice?
What did I learn?
You might even like to add the question: Where did I make a mistake today?
The second part of the practice is to write answers to these questions for a few minutes:
What do I intend to do differently in the future?
How would I like to create different outcomes?
What support do I need to be able to do that?
Here is a real-life example that is true for me in the very moment that I write this for you:
What did I discover about myself today?
I got distracted halfway through the day, and lost focus. I spent time not really getting anything done, but also not really deeply resting or enjoying myself. I was spinning my wheels for a while. I learned that once I get tired past a certain point, not only do I lose the ability to focus but I also lose the ability to make good choices. The mistake that I made was not checking in with myself frequently enough to know when it was time to stop and change gears.
What do I intend to do differently tomorrow?
My intention for tomorrow and the days that follow is to set a timer to go off after one hour of focused activity. Then, my intention is to check in with myself and see if I need a change of pace or a walk or rest before going on.
What can you do differently tomorrow?
You just read an excerpt from my latest book, Radical Brilliance! If you like what you just read, and want to explore these themes more deeply, you can read more excerpts on my website, or grab a copy of the book here.