goals, productivity, and achievements

When I am writing a draft of a novel, I aim to write one thousand words a day. Sometimes it is drudgery and I have to be very firm with myself to keep my eyes on my document and my ass in the chair, and some days the words come flying out of my mind. When I’m in my groove, it takes about an hour. It’s an achievable goal that allows me to get a draft finished in a reasonable time, even if I have bad days or take breaks. Having a goal keeps me focused and predictable and makes for what I consider to be quality writing.

Sometimes I get sidetracked by other people who write for four hours a day, or have daily goals of three thousand words. Why can’t I do that, I wonder? And maybe I’ve already done my writing time and my words are out, but I try to go back to my manuscript. Inevitably, I fail. My goal works for my brain and my life, and comparison, as in the adage, is ruinous.

Goals are kind of A Thing; there are planners and resources and many, many books on setting goals, being more productive, getting more done, optimizing your workflow, stuff like that. It appeals to me a great deal; I am One Of Those Bujo People and I love it so much, and I’m reasonably well versed in Get To Done and LEAN and systems like that. But they’re dangerous, in my opinion, because they, like our public education system, aren’t designed for humanity. They’re designed for factories.

A lot of the components that still exist in school are throwbacks to the child labour regulations of the Industrial Revolution, when children were sent to school instead of factories at age six, but they were still expected to end up working in those factories a few years later. Regimented classes, school bells, and set eating times are all meant to train children to be good workers, not for good education or joy-filled living. And factories are all about productivity and efficiency, or churning out as much product as possible to earn more money for the company while paying as little as possible in hourly wages.

So while I like efficiency and productivity because I have lots of things to get done in a day, and I don’t want to spent a ton of time on the boring tasks that keep me from what I really like to do, I strongly believe that it is a razor-thin line between freeing up my time to do what I enjoy and “optimizing” literally everything in my life.

Example time: Goodreads. I use it to track the books I read, and I set a reading challenge every year. It’s usually 52 books, which is one book per week. That is a reasonable goal that means that I am always in the middle of a book, reading regularly, and keeping track of what I read. I like having a place to list the books I want to read and the ones I have read, where I can leave myself a couple of sentences about how I felt about the book, and where I can see what other people have thought of the books I’m interested in. But the problem is that my TBR list is nearly as long as my already-read list, and it makes me anxious that I’ll never get to them all, and that I have to read in order to get to them, and I need to optimize my reading time. I also have to stay on track with my goal of reading 52 books. I have to keep up, keep going, never stop. This slowly strips the joy of reading away from me. When I have so many books to read, my pile of purchased yet unread books towers beside me and my library holds feel like a work deadline rather than a joyful gift.

The other example is Ravelry. For some harebrained reason I decided I needed to knit a sweater between January 14 and 31, and I could have done it, except that by the time I had the body finished, I hated it. I hated the knitting process because again, one of my favourite pastimes had been reduced to efficiency, and then I didn’t even like the product. And then, to cap off the shit sundae, I twigged my tendinitis in both wrists and now I can’t knit for a while until it subsides. The reason I was knitting so fast was because I wanted to get to the next project. What kind of nonsense is that? I knit for the joy of the process, and it’s perfectly fine to finish two sweaters and a few socks per year. No one is going to give me a raise or a prize or some sort of national recognition for knitting a sweater in two weeks.

Turning my hobbies into productivity mules ruins them. But it’s everywhere. Ravelry has annual goals now, and the Goodreads Choice Awards makes me feel bad for not reading more of the current releases when I have a backlog of older books that are probably much more to my liking.

I like setting goals. I like getting things done and crossing off items from my to-do list. I love reading a lot and I love knitting every day, and having a library in the basement and enough wool sweaters to sustain me through this polar vortex garbage. I don’t like feeling bad because I haven’t read enough or knitted enough or written enough. I don’t like feeling like a failure when there are gaps in my habit tracker. Efficiency and productivity go too far when I can no longer find joy in the things I do for fun.

I’m going to stick with my thousand words a day writing goal. It works for me. But it’s not going to change; I’m not going to optimize it. I’m not going to optimize my knitting and reading. My goal is a joy-filled life, and that means taking the time to find that joy as I live.