To Do: Stop measuring your productivity against influencers on your Instagram feed, or anyone else for that matter

Remember, comparison is the true thief of joy

To do list and productivity

Do you ever try to fall asleep while anxiously running through the day’s unfinished tasks, knowing you will wake up to confront the same fearful productivity panic the next morning? 

This is only intensified by the eight hours of time wasted sleeping. Eight? In actual fact you probably had five hours of restless sleep, tossing and turning in what you thought was a bed – but is in actual fact a giant pit of despair. You are not alone, fellow warriors. In fact, it is very common. 

A study carried out at the beginning of 2021, by VitalSmarts, found that three in five people already felt frantic as a result of agreeing to accomplish more tasks than is actually possible to complete in the time they had available. Subsequently, 50% of people were left feeling “moderately stressed” which caused a negative impact on their mental health due to nonstop to-do lists. So, is there a prescribed way of tackling organisation that works for all?

I am by nature a portrait of organised mess. I have spent 22 years avoiding diaries and calendars as the sight of anything unfinished leaves me feeling out of control. Viewing Instagram posts including lists and multiple daily accomplishments from successful influencers can be rather exhausting. 

For example, spectating the endless achievements of 24-year-old CEO, GraceFit, the Natwest GBEA Young Entrepreneur of the Year, who is just two years my senior leaves me feeling like a bit of a lazy-bum. Sometimes you can’t help but feel like your journey isn’t as important.

Taking action

In a bid to take control of my own time, I purchased an overpriced leather journal for 2021. Providing me with a double page of planning for every day of the week, my new system requires a quote for the day, general tasks, each meal, drink & snack consumed, daily expenses, any exercise, extra to-do tasks. What more could I possibly write down that I have time to do in a day?! Thank goodness for the last little section that requires me to record any act of self-care.

Having these impending deadlines written down certainly eased my mind temporarily, at least now I wouldn’t forget them. However, I did and still wonder what to do with the tasks that I didn’t complete that day. Do they just get carried over every day and become mere page accessory? I also found that I lied in the expenses section as if an ulterior diary god exists that would judge me for the £12 I spent on a candle. Perhaps more concerning was the fact that I pencilled in self-care activities to do in the morning, never found the time to carry them out but would still tick it off at the end of the day. Regardless of my rocky relationship with this inanimate object…I have gained some degree of stress management.

“Regardless of my rocky relationship with this inanimate object…I have gained some degree of stress management”

Jess Downey

After speaking to others who have established their own strategies and thoughts on productivity, there is a lot to be said about doing what works for YOU.

“I think I am an organised person, but I don’t need to sit and write it out to prove to other people that I am organised”

Liam Carlton, 23, has just completed his penultimate year of training in Aberdeen to become an architect. Contrary to popular opinion, architects are not pro-Lego builders or wizzes on Sims build mode, they actually have to produce drawings, plans, sections and elevations to bring a building into reality. 

After four years of training, Liam has accepted the unavoidable fate of endless deadlines to sleeping in his studio and has taken to using check-lists. He likes to break down the bigger things and rationalise what is ahead of him without setting strict time restraints. If he reaches the end of a day and things aren’t complete, “I accept that things are going to take longer and leave it there”, he says.

Reflecting on social media and the way others display their daily to-do lists and productivity, Liam thinks time can be better spent than showing what you plan to do in a luxurious journal. He admits to owning a weekly planner that has sat empty on his desk since his first year of training.

“I think I am an organised person, but I don’t need to sit and write it out to prove to other people that I am organised”, expresses Liam.

“Being productive and self-care go hand in hand”

Ellie Ganson, 22, is a music teacher based in Perth and is all too familiar with the everyday chaos of secondary school teaching. Ellie uses lists and planners in both her work life and personal life. Teaching is not for the faint-hearted. If you aren’t designing seating plans for cheeky high school kids, then you are marking assessments, lesson-planning, filling out reports and trying to remember every student’s name. 

Keeping lists is a crucial part of Ellie’s work. If she doesn’t plan ahead then the kids won’t have work, and she won’t be good at her job, “Which I don’t like. So, I’m very strict with myself”, says Ellie. School inevitably brings a lot of structure into Ellie’s life which she is really grateful for.

On a personal level she uses lists to keep her brain level during periods where she feels overwhelmed or disorganised. Ellie appreciates the level of calm that to-do lists bring her. For example, after a fun ‘teacher off-duty night out’ she lost the entirety of her purse contents and found herself building a to-do-list to make sure she got everything back and she counts this as being productive. 

Ellie also uses lists to get through mornings that require her to rise at the crack of dawn to complete work before seeing family or other social events. Working through her to-do list on Saturday mornings like this proves so efficient that she gets time to play Animal Crossing and chill out before socialising later. Ellie doesn’t think our success should be measured by lists and what we have achieved from them, but by the happiness that doing these things brings you. 

“Being productive and self-care go hand in hand”, says Ellie.

“When I am at home, I sometimes feel guilty for not being productive”

Lauren Campbell is in her final year of a history degree and is a serial user of diaries and to-do lists. Growing up with anxiety resulted in her finding refuge in daily journaling.  Recording herself everyday has been a staple part of her life ever since childhood.

Having just bought her first flat at 24, balancing two jobs and in the process of completing her final year dissertation, this period will naturally feel very AGH. However, Lauren says keeping track of everything going on through her lists and diaries means that she isn’t moaning to others and that it is “a release without it being vocal.” Right now, she enjoys writing down affirmations and goals to keep herself in check. Despite her finding calm in this, she stresses that list-keeping is not a measure of her success.

Lauren talks about times where she has felt guilty working from home or even now when she gets a day off.

“When I am at home, I sometimes feel guilty for not being productive”, she says “and that is just mental.” She is an advocate for finding productivity in just sitting back and thinking. Lauren believes productivity is also found in doing things that will make you feel good in the long-run. She shares an important reminder that we all perhaps could take with us as we emerge from lockdown:

“You might not get this time to yourself again when things go back to ‘normal,’” she says, “so take this time to chill.”

We all have things to do and that can make us feel like little fragile bubbles of stress, waiting to be popped by other impending tasks. Don’t waste your worries and time comparing your productivity against others. Find what works for you and truly honour any free time you get.