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My New Year’s resolution? Be less productive. Here’s how and why I’m doing it.

The author, Angelica Malin.

Courtesy of Angelica Malin

  • I’ve been self-employed for 10 years. During those years, I’ve become obsessed with my productivity.
  • But my New Year’s resolution is to be less productive, because I’m missing out on the joys and creativity of life.
  • Here’s how I plan to accomplish it.

I’ve been self-employed for 10 years. In that time, I’ve become productivity obsessed. 

Every year when January 1 rolls around, I make resolutions toward being faster, more efficient, and agile at work — whether it’s smashing through admin at lightning speed, going to the gym before daylight breaks, or using “focus” apps to limit any distractions during the day. I never check messages before 1 p.m., and I write all my to-do lists the night before. I have two different kinds of journals for keeping track of habits, tasks, and my mood. My life is one big Excel spreadsheet; I color-code my week so I can see all my workouts, meetings, and social events planned. 

I’ve become obsessed with my output, but I’m exhausting myself

I use a habit-tracker app to keep consistent with all my “good” daily habits, ticking them off for a dopamine hit at the end of every work day, and I never miss a run or networking opportunity (even when I’d much rather be on the sofa with Netflix). Over the years, I’ve learned to squeeze every minute out of my day — often doubling-up on learning during leisure time, whether it’s a business audiobook on my dog walk, listening to a personal development podcast in the bath, or racing through self-help books on holiday. 

Like many business owners, I have a complicated relationship with rest. I know, I know — you don’t need to earn rest — but frankly, like many self-employed people, I’ve struggled to believe that. My time is wrapped up in a sense of earning; I find it hard to take time off, often feeling guilty for a lack of output when I’m not working. Girl-boss culture has seeped into my soul; I find it hard to stop the hustle, with the looming fear that I’ll become bankrupt — or, even worse, irrelevant — if I take some time off. 

So this year, I’m doing things differently.

My New Year’s resolution is to be less productive, or at least to be less focused on being productive

I want to stop using productivity as a yardstick to berate myself. Why? Because in the midst of my goal to become more productive with every passing year, somewhere along the way I’ve lost sight of two very important components of a happy and successful career: joy and creativity. 

Firstly, on creativity. You can’t plan to be creative; creativity simply doesn’t work like that. Creativity happens when you give yourself breathing room — space to pause, think, reflect, and daydream. Creativity happens with long walks, being in nature, soaking in the bath, and listening to your own thoughts. If, like me, you’re constantly multi-tasking, you don’t really give your mind time to wander. Somewhere deep down, leisure time is wrapped up in fear — fear that if I stop “doing” for one minute, I might feel restless or bored, so I plan, plan, plan some more. 

Creative problem-solving is at the heart of entrepreneurship — every million-dollar business started with a creative idea. Creativity is so important for business-owners in order to bring a creative energy to the products and services we offer. Without creativity, we end up with careers that feel flat and two-dimensional — and businesses that reflect the limits of our own thinking. 

And what about joy? Simply doing things for the joy of it. Joy was my north star when I first started my own business — writing when I felt inspired, following a sense of curiosity and focusing on what I felt like in a day, not what my to-do list told me to.

As we get older, it becomes harder to justify doing things for the joy of it

As adults, we’re weighed down by a sense of needing to earn, meet targets, and progress our careers. It makes chasing joy feel self-indulgent. 

But joy is so important — joy can take you to unexpected places, unleash a new passion, and bring a fresh energy to your work. If you stop working toward a set goal every minute, you give yourself back the freedom to dream, play, and explore. It’s important for entrepreneurs and freelancers alike, to capitalize on a feeling of fulfillment at work. Otherwise, the sacrifices aren’t worth it. 

So my 2022 will be about reconnecting to joy and creativity. Thinking about all the things I can take out of my week, not the extra things to squeeze in. Saying no more. Working out less. Reading for pleasure once again. Finding space to explore, play, and dream. This year, I’m taking the focus away from goal-setting, list-ticking, and habit-tracking, and I’m putting it toward finding a place of calm and fulfillment. 

If you’re suffering from productivity anxiety, I suggest you do the same. 

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