It’s Not about Productivity, It’s about Vitality

As I mentioned last week in my “Why I’m Not Sprinting” post, I’m not always Agile. Sometimes my Scrum board becomes the place I fear the most (shout-out to Dashboard Confessional). I will sometimes leave  projects off the board even though they are taking up much of my time. Even though I’m committed to the idea that vitality is more important that productivity, I don’t always take my own advice.

I don’t always take my own advice.

This comes from a few places, I think. First, I’m a natural workaholic. I come by it genetically. I don’t know how to not work all the time, whether I like it or not. I do enjoy the academic writing process when I have interesting data or a compelling theory to chase down. I like giving faculty workshops and helping people feel productive and engaged through my Agile Faculty work. I like creating new things, innovative classes, programs, proposals. But I struggle with getting overly excited about an idea, working it out and proposing it…and then ultimately having to follow through.

I’m not very patient, so when I have an idea, I dive in and make it happen, often without thinking about whether I have the time or energy to dedicate to the new project or what it will cost in terms of splitting my focus on other things I’ve committed to or created. Six or seven conferences in one year? Sure, I need to promote the book! Co-edit a special issue of a journal and an edited collection at the same time? No problem; can’t be that much extra work. Try to write at least five articles about the Studio program in one year? Absolutely, don’t want the data to get cold. You can see where this is going.

No one ever taught me how to be content.

But even more importantly, I think, is that no one ever taught me how to be content, how to decide when I have enough going on to maintain a level of work that is sustainable rather than stressful and overwhelming. I don’t know when to stop working, when to stop adding new ideas to the Scrum board, when to relax. Like many of our students, my life has been about building first the transcript and then the CV, looking smart and capable and respectable. Because I’m not sure how much of this ethic is about my own drive or something else.

Is this drive part of imposter syndrome? An advanced version in which I keep turning up my productivity and output in order to continually prove I belong in academia and deserve respect? Or is it just part of who I am, this drive to do more and more? I suspect I’m not alone in this feeling.

Chasing productivity isn’t Agile; it’s a fast way to burn out.

But, at this point, I’m more often than not running on stress hormones, even about the projects I’m genuinely excited about. So I need to start taking my own advice. In the first chapter of Agile Faculty, I talk about the narrative of stress many faculty labor under but also that we can turn that narrative into one of vitality and engagement when we find ways to balance productivity, engagement, creativity, and personal pursuits. Productivity can lead to vitality, but vitality should be the goal all along. Chasing productivity isn’t Agile; it’s a fast way to burn out, which is documented in the Agile and Scrum values. Making time for self-care and self-honesty helps with vitality and, ultimately, productivity too.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll reflect on those values and how they can inform the path toward faculty vitality. I’ll report back here. In the mean time, how do you define career or personal vitality? Are you stuck in a productivity trap too? How can we teach each other and those coming up after us how to be content in our work and when enough is good enough for now?


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