fear

The Emotions of Meaningful Productivity #2: Fear

In the first article of this Emotions of Meaningful Productivity series we took a look at the idea of whether "being a productive person" was a personality trait outside the realm of our control or more like a skill that can be learned by everyone. Now, I'd like to move into the realm of fear.

Fear and its various incarnations could probably be a series of articles in itself. For our purposes I'm going to focus on three primary types of fear that we often have to wrestle with when deciding to get organized or try to become more productive. There are certainly many other types (and they may make an appearance in this series later).

Last time we talked about the desire to do meaningful work broadly whereas this time I'd like to focus on the feelings of fear that can emerge when implementing some kind of productivity system like Getting Things Done. The specific system doesn't matter. What I'm talking about is the desire and effort to get a complete handle on everything going on in your life -- responsibilities, commitments, goals, aspirations, and day-to-day minutiae. Systems like GTD are great for that but they require us to come face to face with some pretty intense fears.

Fear of Completion

A huge component of GTD is getting your mind to 100% empty and relying on your external system to hold reminders of everything that's going on in your life. For many people, this imperative to get to 100% complete is extremely daunting. Not only is the sheer amount of information often intense but the emotional component of seeing the entirety of your life on paper can be unexpected. For some, looking at a complete record of everything going on in their life evokes feelings of, "Oh my God, how am I ever going to do all of this in one lifetime?" It's utterly overwhelming. However, some people often have the exact opposite reaction. They see the representation of all their responsibilities, commitments, and goals in front of them and think, "That's it? My entire existence has been reduced to a few pieces of paper?"

If you've ever experienced resistance to getting to 100% complete with any kind of productivity system then you might be wrestling with this type of fear.

Fear of Routine

GTD has always caught flak from a certain type of creative professional who argues it's incompatible with their type of work because it's too structured. People fear systematizing the various components of their life because they think it'll cause them to lose the spontaneity and serendipity they think they rely on to be effective professionals.

If you've ever felt this fear when contemplating some kind of overhaul around how you think about and organize your work I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Are you using this fear as a crutch for why you're surrounded by discord? Is it possible that there are better ways to nurturing and developing your creative career than by letting administrative details and other "boring" parts of your work and life fall through the cracks?

In fact, is it possible that when you have a complete organizational system or approach to running your life you'll free up attention, energy, and space to do truly creative work? Does having a handle on everything going in your life truly lock you into a soulless routine or does it potentially allow the mental space for more spontaneity and creativity?

Fear of Being in the Moment

A byproduct of being truly organized and on top of your game means you can give your attention to one task or activity at a time. With less chaos floating around in the background of your mind and environment there are fewer and fewer excuses for not diving deep into what you're trying to do. It becomes easier to truly be in the moment with whatever you're doing. Whether that's writing a report, hanging out with your spouse, or paying the bills.

Being in the moment can be a vulnerable experience. It can be mentally taxing. It can rile up emotions that are normally tamped down by layers of mental and emotional detritus. A lack of organization can result in a reality where you're comfortably numb with everything you're doing. You don't necessarily feel great about it but you certainly don't feel too badly about it either. Being in the moment can be like moving from the bland middle bit of the emotional continuum and toward the poles. That's not to say you'll swing from mania to depression but that what you're feeling will be clearer and more intense. Like cleaning a dirty lens or removing a filter between you and the world. Scary, eh?

It's not my goal to psychoanalyze you via the written word or give exceedingly general advice that may or may not apply to anyone reading this piece. The process for working through each of these fears looks very different and chances are not all three apply to every single person. Therefore, all I can say at this point is to try to spend some time in quiet reflection if you've ever had trouble "getting organized" and see if any of these three fears resonates with what you've experienced. If so, how did it manifest? What did it feel like? What might be a first step to overcoming that fear?


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Photo by Alyssa L. Miller