The Productive Hobby Trap


That nagging thought was back. What should I be doing? I had a spare few minutes while my son was napping, I should maximize my productivity. Shouldn’t I?

As a little girl, I watched my mother through the picture window working outside in her legendary flower garden. She was a prolific gardener and painter. There was even an article about her award-winning garden in the newspaper. I don’t have a single memory of her putting her feet up and reading a book. Or enjoying a cup of coffee outside. Even just sitting down and doing nothing for a minute. She was a powerhouse of productivity.

That’s how I thought life was supposed to be lived. I strove for industriousness. My favorite compliment soon became, “You’re so productive.” My grandfather nicknamed me, “The Energizer Bunny.” I didn’t have an off switch.

In high school, I joined as many extracurricular clubs as I could. I signed up for college classes. Danced competitively. Even took on a part time job. Multitasking became a way of life for me.  

In college this continued in a new way. A few months after starting college I fell into a serious relationship. We were engaged shortly after Christmas.  

All the while, I took on the maximum amount of course credits allowed and worked two jobs. I also did all the dishes in my fiancé’s apartment in exchange for free rent (I was still paying rent on the apartment I had vacated because of a rock-solid lease agreement). I even attended a few meetings for various extracurricular clubs, Model UN, the university literary magazine, an environmental group. Oh, and I wrote a book that November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

This set the tone for the rest of my life. I never stopped. My wedding was two weeks after I graduated from college. No one asked me to prove anything, yet I couldn’t stop myself. To do lists were addictive. I made lists of lists, unable to stop the thirst for productivity.

I cooked and baked obsessively. At least once a week on one of my “days off” from substitute teaching, I would spend at least 12 hours straight in my kitchen preparing homemade meals. I took up extreme couponing to save money; my husband was still in college and working part-time at a local restaurant. I had started making crafts as presents for friends in college. This is something I continued after college and even tried to turn into a business.  

That first year was a taste of the mania to come. I became famous within my family for unpacking after a move within 48 hours. At one point I was working 5 jobs, running a blog with multiple weekly posts and cooking every meal for my husband and myself.  

Surprisingly, it was a couple years after that before I hit my breaking point and realized what was going on. After I had my son, things shifted. I still felt the pressing urgency of what I should be doing. The thing was, I didn’t care as much anymore. My priorities had changed. I started to loathe any activity that took time away from my son.  

Within months of having my son, I stopped blogging. I had already stopped working my full-time job before he was born.

Nearly a year after my son was born, my family took a vacation. It was our first vacation as a family. The first vacation my husband and I had taken since we’d moved away from our home four years before.

On that vacation, I had my moment of quiet understanding. It was in a cabin in the middle of the woods. All I could hear were crickets chirping, frogs croaking and the giggles of my son in the next room with my husband. There was no cell service, no internet. Sitting alone on a weather-beaten patio chair in that Indiana wilderness, I saw what I’d become.

I was a productivity monster. Even my hobbies were productive. Over the years I had taken up knitting, sewing, candle-making, baking, and gardening. Always looking to expand my knowledge of practical skills and using any “down-time” to produce something whether it was a scone or sock.

A couple weeks prior, my husband and I started an elimination diet. It was a nutrition reset to see what was causing his digestive issues. We had suspicions of celiac disease; it runs in his family. Both of us were skeptical and didn’t have high hopes of any radical life changes.  

In that cabin in the woods, the fog lifted, and I felt clarity unlike ever before. I could view my life as a spectator and it was depressing. Where was the fun? Where was the enjoyment?  

From that moment on, I started a journey to cut out all these “productive hobbies.” For the first time in my life I vowed to be true to myself and my needs. I gave away all my craft supplies, and miscellany accrued from a life spent occupied. Some days, I would just play with my son and read. Other days I would cook with my husband, never for 12 hours straight though.

A couple of months later, I’m still battling my inner demons of productivity. In a culture that idolizes productivity and busyness, slowing down isn’t easy. That won’t stop me from trying and taking pleasure in throwing out unfinished lists.

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