On Productivity and Not Wanting to Do Anything

You know Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”? No? Well, if you’re not familiar with this 2010 pop gem, it goes a little something like this:

Today I don’t feel like doing anything

I just wanna lay in my bed

Don’t feel like picking up my phone

So leave a message at the tone

‘Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything

Yesterday, that is exactly how I felt. Except…I have a toddler. A curious, energetic, nonstop toddler. So it didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like doing anything – doing nothing is not an option when you have a small child in your house. Because even lying on the floor while he plays, is not “doing nothing” – believe me, I’ve tried it, and it’s more work than playing because I’m in defense mode, protecting my head and neck the whole time. 

Anyway. While my son naps, especially on weekends, my husband and I do have a few hours to ourselves. We usually spend that time cleaning, organizing, getting caught up for the week ahead, and then each take a little bit of time to relax (for me, that’s usually writing or reading in bed). But yesterday? Our house was a mess, there was a basket of laundry waiting to be put away, and I had a lot of unanswered emails, and I just…didn’t want to do it. I wanted to lie in bed and read. 

You might be asking, so what? It’s the weekend, do what you want! Which I would agree with in normal times. But we are not in normal times. We are in pandemic times, and our son is home with us all day, every day, with no breaks, so two hours during naptime (three if I’m really lucky) is all of the productive free time I get, no matter the day of the week. Because of this I often feel like I need to use up every second of it. 

But yesterday, I was just not feeling it. The productive “but you should…” side of me was losing a battle with the “but it’s Sunday, relax!” side of me, and in the end, I let the latter win. I told myself to take a breath, think about what would happen if I didn’t do those things (uhh, nothing), and channel pre-pandemic Heather, who had fewer qualms about squandering her free time on a Sunday. With that, at 1:30pm, I jumped in the shower, put on clean PJs, and flopped myself into bed with the book I had been trying to finish all week. And it was lovely! 

During this time of relaxation, my mind started wandering to my definition of productivity, and how I assume it means I always have to be on and doing, instead of simply being and resting. Because really, aren’t some of the other things I’m doing right now (not including scrolling Instagram), on top of taking on some consulting work, productive? Isn’t trying to raise a human being to be a good, well-rounded person productive? Isn’t doing something for myself, like reading a novel or working on my writing passion projects, productive? And isn’t simply resting productive?  

So yes, yesterday, I let myself do nothing. But I engaged my brain and was productive in a new way, not in spite of the fact that I was trying to rest, but because of it. Perhaps we would all be more productive, if we stopped trying so hard to be exactly that? 

Five Things I Have a Hard Time Following Through On

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

As a person who constantly overcommits, and then probably underdelivers (mostly to myself, since professionally, I unnecessarily beat myself up about what I’m achieving and who I might be letting down while still usually producing a good final product), I can tell you that I really wish I were better at following through. I set very lofty goals, and then when I fail to meet them completely, I struggle to stay motivated. This is definitely related to my all or nothing personality/outlook, but here we are. Below is an incomplete list of things I have not been able to stick to that, honestly, just hang over my head all the time. 

  1. A regular exercise routine. For a former personal trainer, I sure am lax about my fitness. Don’t get me wrong, on most days I move my body in some way – I do at least 15 pushups and squats almost daily, and I take my son for two walks around the neighborhood a day, weather permitting. But beyond that? It’s pretty hit or miss. I keep starting routines (full body workout, MWF! Two runs per week!), but the second I’m derailed by something like a busy day or a minor illness, it feels like I have to start over.  I’m constantly battling between two selves: the one who has been type A and very regimented all of her life, and the other who wants to live and not lapse back into the unhealthily strict behaviors that plagued her throughout college and a good chunk of her 20s. Would I like to improve my cardiovascular health and feel like I could do 50 jump squats without being out of breath? Sure, but I also really would like to read this book while I have two hours of peace while my son naps, so….
  2. A consistent writing practice. When I left my full-time job, I said I would set up a schedule to write every single day. But… it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes when my son was napping, I needed to get stuff done or run errands that I couldn’t do when he was awake. And sometimes, I just wanted to read and decompress for a bit while I had a break. And almost every day, I needed a minute to switch over from mom mode to writer mode, so I didn’t have the full amount of time I expected to have. I have journaled almost every day for the past year, but while I’ve gotten a few exciting ideas from jotting down my thoughts or daily happenings, sometimes it felt like I was simply going through the motions and not really writing the way I thought I should be. I have been able to write here a little more consistently lately, which I’m proud of, but I’m still working on what an ideal writing practice would look like. 
  3. Good sleep hygiene. I have always been a night owl, but I also really love sleep. Now, with a child and a job and a partner I want to spend time with, sleep has been less of a priority, even though I know getting more of it will improve my life pretty much all around. But I am always trying to squeeze in more hours to my day after we lay our son down to sleep at night, which results in me going to bed much later than I would like. I try to set up goals for myself, like “in bed by 10!” but then I get in bed and stay awake reading for two hours or looking at TikTok until I drop my phone on my face. To be fair, I haven’t tried the more extreme things like putting my phone in another room, but that’s probably where I need to go from here. 
  4. A long-term career. To anyone who has met me in the last couple years, I seem to have a career. I work in health communications and PR, and I’ve steadily moved up the ranks, even as I’ve had a child and gone into freelance mode a couple times. But this is not my first career (or even my second), and I don’t think it will be my last. I’m hoping I can make one move transition smoothly into the next, without having to start over, but I really have no idea what my “career” will look like five, ten, or 20 years from now. Knowing myself and my curious nature, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like I’m in the one right career for me. But as I write this, maybe I’m OK with lacking follow through here. 
  5. Keeping up with friends. I feel like everyone feels this right now, though, right? We’re all socially (and physically) distanced, so our normal methods of seeing one another, whether it’s a couple times a year or a couple times a month, are not available. I had hoped, though, with the pandemic that I would find time to catch up with friends I had previously felt too busy to reach out to, since we were all suddenly video chatting and calling and texting more. And that happened for a bit in March and April, but then…we all got Zoom fatigue, and as we learned that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, I (along with a lot of people) started to retreat and turn inward. I felt like I had done that so much in my early and mid-20s, thanks to a long bout of depression (more on that another time), that I didn’t want to repeat it. But this pandemic is tough, and putting more pressure on ourselves for certain things isn’t worth it – it still bothers me that I wasn’t able to follow through on this one, though, because I miss people! 

I’m not writing about this because I am asking for solutions (but hey, if you’ve been there and have tips, I’m open), but because I figure, aren’t we all struggling to follow through on one thing or another these days? And as much as I feel like I struggle with following through on certain goals and commitments, I’m proud of the things that I’ve been able to follow through on: a solid relationship with my husband (despite a pandemic, a toddler, and stressful jobs); my dedication to my role as a mother, even though I never felt a super maternal pull growing up, and I sometimes I take a few extra minutes when I run upstairs for “one quick thing”; and for taking the time to remember that I am a whole person, who is always curious and thinking of ways to bring more creativity to my everyday life.  

Where do you struggle with following through? Or are you one of those people who meets all of your goals all of the time? (If so, what is your secret and are you human?)

I Need Space

Of all the things I’ve learned about myself during this pandemic, the most astounding is how much space I need. Though it shouldn’t be so surprising that I learned how much breathing room I require when the world of almost everyone I know has shrunk so significantly. 

Photo by Sharmaine Monticalbo from Pexels

While some people have found more time to devote to leisure and side projects lately, around here time is precious. We now have a very active almost-two-year-old son at home with us full-time (and have since March), and any free moment we had during our work days is completely gone – part of the reason I transitioned to freelance work. Two adults working in high-pressure jobs while trying to alternate on childcare (and now attempting to teach colors and numbers and letters!) was tough. But even with a reduction in work hours (and a three-month complete break, which I was lucky to be able to take), time is scarce, and a two-hour window during naptime usually gives me just enough time to quickly clean up from our tornado of a toddler and write or work for 45 minutes. Of course, we’re not unique in having less time – I think every working parent who does not have childcare or does not feel comfortable using available childcare feels the same way. 

And we’re also not unique in feeling trapped in our space. Before the pandemic, our 1000-square-foot home in DC felt like plenty of space – after all, we had the whole city to roam, with different neighborhoods to explore every weekend and what felt like endless options for culture and food. But now, with three of us at home at all times, it can feel like… a lot. Our bedroom is now a makeshift office, and the kitchen table in our one-room main floor is taken over by laptops, pens, and toddler board books (open concept is a little less appealing when everyone is home all the time). When our son is napping, we can each find our own space, either by heading to different rooms or one of us going on a walk, but the rest of the day, it feels a bit like we’re breathing down each others’ necks, especially when we’re not used to working in the same space, let alone with a child, no matter how happy he is. And if we have any visitors (very rare these days and only after they’ve quarantined), our house seems to contract even further, even though I love having people we’re close to around, especially in these times, which makes me feel conflicted and guilty and ungrateful.  

I wish I had a solution for this space issue, but I really don’t. I share all of this because I know we’re not alone in feeling too much togetherness, too few moments to ourselves, too little control about… everything. After six-plus months of this, I’ve only come up with a few workarounds that keep me feeling like I’m hanging on by more than a thread. Things like…taking an extra five minutes when I say I have to use the bathroom, which I mostly use to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. Or making sure that, if nothing else, I at least do a few squats and pushups a day to get my blood pumping. Or not feeling as bad if I just want to lie down for an hour after putting our son to bed, because I want our fluffy comforter all to myself for a bit. Because the things that worked before – getting out of the house to go to the gym or get coffee, taking the occasional day off from work while my son was at daycare, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine – are no longer options, so I have to make do with what’s available to me now. 

During this pandemic I have learned so much about what I need to maintain my mental health, my relationships, my productivity. Mostly because I haven’t had as much of it as I require to really thrive. 

I need space. 

To care.

To connect. 

To create.

To speak.

To think.

To be my whole self. 

For now, I’ll keep finding little ways to make space, but here’s hoping 2021 is a little more wide open. How are you carving out space and time for yourself right now? Is it working?

If I Could Go Anywhere

I want to be out of my house, in a place – any place – alone. 

Photo by One Shot from Pexels

Specifically, I want to go to a coffee shop, with a book, my journal, and my laptop, and just be. I imagine walking into a bustling cafe, probably Takoma Bev Co, standing in line to order a latte and one of those delicious almond bars. Behind me is Takoma Park’s main drag, full of people sitting on the patio or running errands in downtown Takoma, perhaps walking from the post office to ACE Hardware. At the counter by the window are two strangers reading next to one another, a young woman alternating between her hardcover book and her laptop; an older man, likely retired, mostly looking out at the sunny fall day, intermittently flipping a page in his well-worn paperback. 

As I step up to the counter, the twenty-something cashier, who is equal parts cooler and nerdier than I am (we are in DC, so both have more appeal than my mid-30s mom vibe), definitely wearing a knit hat and glasses, asks what I want and hands me a little metal stand for my order number. I wait by the counter for my latte (perhaps I didn’t need the table number after all), while I crinkle a brown wax paper bag, dreaming of the pastry I’m about to savor alone. I take a peek into the always-crowded larger seating area and spot a small table on the far wall. While they’ll do in a pinch, I hate the tables in the middle of the room, where my bag inevitably tips over, and then I’m in everyone’s way in the never-empty dining room. But the tables at the edges of the room let me nestle in and leave me feeling protected under the rotating paintings of local artists hung on the wall. 

After I grab my latte, I settle in, getting out my laptop, book, journal, and pen, as if I’ll use them all at once, prepping for a few hours of caffeinated bliss. The espresso machine and milk frother make themselves known every now and again, punctuating conversations while also giving me the ambient background noise I love to write to, both boosting my concentration and mellowing me out. 

A few neighborhood moms are sitting on the couches nearby, one idly pushing a stroller a few inches back and forth to keep a child asleep, another nursing her baby, another lamenting the current state of the world for the one hour she has away from her child at home. Other people work nearby, camped out at the long communal table at the front of the room, typing away at manuscripts and PowerPoint decks. An older man, who always takes the family table for six and spreads his belongings out as much as possible, is oblivious to the family who just walked in with two squirming kids looking for a seat. 

The server, who wears his matching shirt-and-short set screenprinted with kittens, bustles around picking up dishes and joking with regulars. A couple sits at the table next to mine, cheersing glasses of white wine at noon on a Friday (do they, too, have a small child who happens to be in daycare on their parents’ day out?). 

As I observe all of this, I’m satisfied by the click of the keys beneath my fingers, seeing progress on a page. It’s not perfect, but in this setting, I feel free and myself, and I write like the wind, without self-editing or worrying about the time wasted or if the words are even any good. I breathe deep and smell coffee, breakfast sandwiches; I hear chatter and dishes clinking; I see a neighborhood full of quirky and utterly normal people crammed into a little coffee shop. 

Of all the places I’ve dreamed of going during the pandemic, the mundane tops the list. 

Lately, I find myself wanting to write more and more often, but on the days when I feel not even a spark of inspiration, I look to writing prompts for a little help. The past month, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of prompts from author Molly Caro May. Some days, it just gets me to put words on the page, and other days, I dig deep and want to keep writing and writing. The post above is a result of one of those prompts. 

What are your favorite creative prompts? What kick starts your writing when you’re in a slump?

Why I’m Not a Mommy Blogger

When talking both about my writing and about things I’ve learned about parenting, I’ve had a few friends say to me, “OMG, you should be a mommy blogger!” I do love to talk about motherhood, including birth stories, nursing/feeding, sleep schedules and tricks, and the weird things that kids love to play with that are not toys. I’ve recommended tips, tricks, and products that my friends who are parents or parents-to-be have reported back on, saying, “this saved us! Thank you!”

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

But I am not going to become a parenting blogger. A few reasons:

  1. My kid has been (so far) pretty easy. I do not say this to brag, but really, in his whole 22 months of life, he has had maybe 4 weeks of really bad sleep. And with the exception of when he is teething, he eats like a champ and is pretty happy. We have some toddler meltdowns over here, but they really don’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, and once he lets it out, he’s back to playing happily. He has not yet faced any developmental issues, and he has been on track (if not well ahead of the curve) on growth milestones. I’m not saying he’s perfect by any means, but with the exception of the funny things he has started saying or doing, or the dumb parenting mistakes we’ve made (ahem, being smug about how easy your kid is? IDK), it’s not that interesting! He eats, he sleeps, he poops, he says funny things, he’s fine and pretty delightful! But what I’m more interested in writing about is how parents’ identities (especially moms’) change when they welcome a child into their lives, and the conflict there, not what I fed him for breakfast (oatmeal, for the 243rd morning in a row).
  2. I’m not a “stuff” person when it comes to my kid. This child outgrows things in mere weeks sometimes, so we tend to not buy him a lot if we can help it (hand-me-down clothes and toys have been our saving grace here). This is not to say I don’t like stuff. I am not immune to the high that comes with the perfect new pair of booties or the random kitchen gadget you didn’t know you couldn’t live without (that my husband makes great use of). But I can probably count on two hands the number of things that I felt were must-haves for my son in the past almost two years of his life. Will I maybe do a roundup of those things at some point? Sure, why not? But could I talk about a product or service I liked for my kid every week or even multiple times a week? Probably not, and I don’t want to force it, when there are so many people who are already good at it and who do it genuinely. But for those curious, I will say: Taking Cara Babies, Peanut changing pad, and maternity leggings worn well after your baby is born for those who hate nursing tanks but also dislike being cold.
  3. I want to write about other stuff. And not have to tie it back to being a mom somehow. When I’m writing, I first and foremost think of myself as a writer, as a person who tells stories and works through things with words. And sometimes, those stories are about my son, or I work through my complicated feelings about motherhood in my writing. But my writing has never been about one thing, and now that I’m a mom, I don’t want that to change. So while I have huge respect for the women who have carved out a niche for themselves in the parenting space (and I have benefited hugely from your recs and experiences!), that is likely never going to be me. I will write about being a mom, but I will also write about high school and college memories that I’m excavating and examining later in life and about the struggle to determine what exactly I want to do with this life I’ve been given. For some parenting bloggers, writing about this one, somewhat broad topic is so freeing and life-affirming. For me, it’s limiting. Both are OK.

So being a mommy blogger is not for me, despite being a writer who happens to be a mom. But bless the moms (and dads!) that can write about parenting and their kids every single day, when I can barely get out a post a week about whatever the hell it is I think about on a daily basis.

35

I am starting this blog one month and one week after I turned 35. I technically started it earlier in the year, but in my typical perfectionist/procrastinator fashion, revised and rewrote and backed out more times than I can count. But now, here we are. 

I didn’t think 35 would be a big deal, but as it approached, I realized that, to me, it really was. 

I had zero qualms about turning 30. Not because I had everything figured out or knew exactly what I wanted out of life. It was actually quite the opposite, and maybe that was just it. Everything was uncertain, up in the air, wide open. Scary, but freeing. 

My friends who were married with careers were terrified of leaving their 20s. We discussed over drinks, during weekends in our college town, with our coffee at work. Dreading turning 30, lamenting getting older and what that meant for our biological clocks, our careers, our metabolisms, our energy levels, our skin, our tolerance for cheap alcohol. 

But I didn’t feel that way at all.  I was on the edge of the cliff of the previous decade, ready to swan dive into maturity and new possibilities. At 29, I was a grad student without a job lined up yet. I had been dating someone (my now-husband) for a few months, and it seemed to be going well, but wedding bells weren’t ringing just yet. I was going to have a lot of debt from school, and kids were a long way off. I hadn’t really loved most of my 20s (another story for another day), so my 30s felt like a fresh start, a time to really become who I wanted to be. I had time, I told myself. We all did. 

But 35. Oh, 35 felt different. I’ve always been a late bloomer, and I now found myself where many of my friends had been at 30. I’m married, with a career and a kid and a house. I have really enjoyed my 30s for the most part, and now they’re halfway over? How could that be? I love my life, but sometimes I found myself looking around and wondering how I had gotten here. I felt lost and like I was running out of time – but for what I didn’t know.

I know that this existential crisis was (probably) not just about turning 35, but 35 really kicked it into high gear. I had always told myself I would make my way back to being creative, to writing, to something mission-driven, but I was working in health communications and PR, where the most writing I did was in responding to the 200-plus emails I received a day. Where I was so anxious and exhausted by day’s end that I could barely write a half page in my journal, let alone take on a creative project for myself. Where I felt all of my energy went to appeasing difficult clients and taking care of our toddler son. I was starting to feel stuck – after job hopping throughout my young adulthood, I finally had a career, but I was scared that if I kept going down this path, I might not be able to turn around. 

So, in the middle of a pandemic, four days after my 35th birthday, following countless breakdowns and weeks of crying (trying to split childcare with my husband while working 50-hour weeks was going great), along with many hours spent agonizing over it with my husband, friends, and family, I gave my two weeks notice. I had (and have) no plan, other than taking time to hang out with our son (and not just plopping-him-in-front-of-a-TV time so that I could attempt to work – thanks, COVID!) and figure out what I felt a little more called to do. While we are not a household that can exist on one income long-term (hello, living in DC and loads of student loan debt), I do realize that it’s a huge privilege that I can take this break at all, and I want to make the most of it. I want to actually feel like my taking a breather was not in vain, that I can find work I can see myself doing long-term, that 35 is not the dead end, the wall, the point of no return I felt it was. 

So here I am starting something new, giving myself a project and a means to thinking through my life and the world around me that isn’t just my hastily scribbled-in journal. An outlet to learn new skills and revive some old ones, to take my notes on what I observe, and turn them into something a little more cohesive while I figure out my next move as a new-ish 35 year old.