The Pull Between Peace and Productivity

Scott Leonardi

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During this year of staying reluctantly stationary with none but ourselves to keep us company, it’s easy to understand how some of us weren’t adapting to life pressing the Slo-Mo button so unexpectedly.

The term stir-crazy became a base emotional state for a lot of people.

We’re not used to looking out over the expanse of hours in the day like a featureless desert with no signifying guideposts to point us in the direction of what we hope to be something that resembles the “right way.” Instead, we’re given a bandana, a hobo bindle, and a single roll of toilet paper to be our sole provisions as we make the trek into uncharted free time, time which is as full of opportunity as it is hazards.

Personally, the hazard which I find the most detrimental to my own wellbeing is finding myself stuck between finally finding a sense of peace, and the ever-nagging pull of productivity.

Rather than standing in the middle of equal but opposing forces like the idiom of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s instead like being stuck between a rock and a hammer.

One is content to be what it is, stationary and forever at peace with its place on this Earth, never questioning its purpose, but rather knowing that it is the sum of its parts, having been crafted over eons to end up exactly where it is and where it was always going to be. The other, however, was designed with the sole purpose of being used for something else — breaking rocks, for instance. It is not simply a by-product of the natural world, nor was it destined to be sedentary. To remain unused is to waste the potential of its nature and therefore its existence is rendered meaningless, without reason or purpose to its being.

Obviously, this can be a fitting analogy for how many of us, including myself, feel right now. We see ourselves trying to balance a desire for uninterrupted peace with the opportunity of using this newfound free time to become even more productive than we were before.

Are you meant to be the peaceful rock or the work-heavy hammer?

In my own experience, a sense of unarticulated guilt shows up either way. I say unarticulated, because although I always think I know the reason for it, when I try to pick apart why exactly I’m feeling guilty for whichever path I choose to walk, I can never truly grasp why and end up feeling even more disoriented.

I’m sure plenty of people understand what I mean. You choose to spend the day relaxing, clearing your mind, and enjoying some uninterrupted tranquility when all of a sudden, like a houseguest overstaying their welcome, your mind automatically fixates on the amount of things around the house you need to take care of, the bills around the corner, the free time you could/should be using to expand some skillset or learn something new, dirty things that need to be cleaned, clean things that need to be organized, books you need to start/finish(especially that one about meditation and how to calm your mind), and a litany of other things that throw a tantrum and demand your attention the moment you turn away from them. Guilt settles in and your peace is tainted with the cries of neglected newborn To-Do lists.

Fine, you say. Today will instead be dedicated to the championing of the checkmark. You’re going to cross off so many items off the itinerary that you’ll be left with nothing but empty space for miles, a fertilized field of shredded Post-it notes and pencils, fated to write the DNA sequences for an army of flowers and the odd vegetable patch.

You work and work, and yet, it’s never all quite done, is it? There’s always more. More to do, more to plan, more lists to make and more reminders to remember.

It never all gets done in one day, so you spread it out and stake the claim that the full week will assuredly be enough to finally vanquish the hydra of responsibility and obligation. Eventually, you find yourself in perpetual motion, unable to jump from the train of which you’ve allowed to gain an unreasonable amount of speed, and once again, the gods of guilt start whispering in your ear, You should really be using this time to relax.

It feels like we lose either way. We can’t calm down because there are so many things we could or should be doing, and we can’t even do all of these things effectively, should we choose to, because we’re so worried we’re wasting the opportunity to take time off of normal life and relearn how to simply exist without constantly feeling like we need to be producing something of worth.

This pull in either direction leaves us exhausted and confused as to where our attention should lie and what we should really be doing with ourselves.

It becomes easy to let these two sides pull us so hard that we eventually split, not choosing either, and resigning ourselves to meandering around the house with no real intention as well as no real contentment. We just end up filling our living space with the extra anxiety that we can’t fill into our overflowing minds. It’s a bad cycle to fall into, but it’s as much a shitty habit as anything else we do to ourselves. Knowing that can give us hope, though, because habits can be broken.

The remedy to this tugging and yanking of our attention and intention doesn’t come from forcing ourselves to choose one side over another, it comes from figuring out what you truly prioritize in life. It comes from understanding your own hierarchy of wants and needs within your own life and structuring your days in ways that are more aligned with who you feel you are at your core.

This doesn’t mean you can neglect the sides you don’t relate to as much, because you still need a little bit of everything. If you value staying productive most, that doesn’t mean you can forget about relaxation entirely. You need it, in body and mind, to function efficiently. If instead, you value more the sense of peace and serenity you find within an uncluttered day, that doesn’t give you an excuse to neglect responsibility or to never attempt to better yourself in progressive ways that would help you evolve as a person rather than remaining a peaceful but sedentary clam of a person forever.

As with all things, the solution again lies in the balance.

So many of us anxiety-ridden people have a hard time finding healthy balances between the multiple things we wish to do because we have such an “all-or-nothing” kind of mindset. We delude ourselves into thinking that once we choose a direction, that is the way we have to go. There is obviously no combining multiple paths because they’re clearly going in opposite directions, right?


And once we can stop seeing our choices like standing at a mental crossroads with very specific directions to choose from, we can start seeing our time like, say, an empty basket. We hold it at the start of our day, at the gates to a field of various fruits and fungi, waiting to be filled with any combination of our choosing. You never have to stuff your stomach on one particular fruit, and you never have to cram your cranium with one particular state of mind.

Learn how to pick apart how you feel during the day and play with different mixtures of work and relaxation until you find out what works best for you. But the combination is key. You shouldn’t force yourself into one side over the other or you’ll end up resenting the part of yourself that’s forcing you into a state of being that isn’t natural.

You’d be surprised to find how revealing this empty time can truly be once you let yourself sink back into who you are behind the societal expectations and self-imposed obligations.

Don’t let yourself be pulled apart by opposing forces. Understand your own dynamic nature and integrate each aspect of yourself into one consistent state of being. You’ll be more organized, more content, more productive, and more at peace than you ever thought possible.

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I write a lot about self-development and personal growth. I want to help people uncover their authentic selves through creative expression and in the process understand their place in the world a little better. I also enjoy writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. All of which can be found at

Imperial Beach, CA

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