I really resonated with Rachel Syme’s article in this week’s New Yorker magazine. She writes about our collective fetishization of setting and meeting deadlines, with the cult of productivity types who wake up at 5am and meditate and write in their bullet journal and drink spinach smoothies and do yoga for an hour before they’re ready to tackle their day. It’s all bullshit. “Everywhere you look,” she writes,
people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines. This may seem like a sly way of marrying procrastination with productivity (you’re biding your time learning how to better manage your time), but, no matter what, it’s an exhausting treadmill of guilt and ostentation, virtue signalling, and abject despair at falling behind.
I’ve been trying my hardest to slow down recently, to savor life, to battle my ghosts and fight for the life I want to live, so it was a breath of fresh air to read that I’m not the only one who sees it all as an “exhausting treadmill.”
I was also a bit giddy to read this section on Jenny Odell, the author of one of my favorite books of the past few years, How To Do Nothing:
Odell has her moonier moments, and she isn’t always stating revolutionary ideas. Her goal is to bring back patience, which she sees as our most neglected and underappreciated virtue. Still, she has a surprisingly fresh rationale: being patient isn’t just about changing how we do things, it’s also, more fundamentally, about changing how we see things. Breaking the “cycle of reactions” we’re usually beholden to, she explains, opens a “gap through which you can see other perspectives, temporalities, and value systems.” If the common fear is that a lack of productivity will narrow the possibilities of our life, Odell is here to tell us the opposite. With our eyes always fixed on a prize, we’re missing the bigger picture. What good is “the deadline effect” if it’s blinkering us, keeping us from a more expansively defined potential?
Bringing back patience is an honorable goal, and I’m better served practicing that than working my ass for a deadline that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to become the Red Queen.
Fortunately, Jenny Odell has a new book coming out called Inhabiting the Negative Space. It comes out in August. Can’t wait.