The perils of productivity

Feeling unproductive during rest, the next two weeks, self-soothing vs self-care, and some getaway photos.

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The perils of productivity

I’ve been looking forward to the last two weeks of this year. In my catch-all notebook, which contains everything from planning my plant repots to outlining an article, I dedicated one page to everything I wanted to do in these last two weeks. Now that I’m looking at it, it feels rather ambitious for a mere 14 days.

I have an issue with productivity and rest: I want to rest, and logically, I know that rest is good for me. But it never feels “productive” to me. Chalk this up to being a child of immigrants and having every minute of the day filled with some activity. If you’re not doing something, you’re being lazy (it is intensely difficult to unlearn this mindset).

I haven’t taken a true vacation all year and I can’t really call these last two weeks a vacation, either. To me, a vacation is completely devoid of work. I’ve taken mental health days or added a day or two to a weekend for a brief getaway. But those aren’t the same or enough.

What’s so important about these last two weeks? I’m taking a step away from day-to-day work and resetting myself. I’m allowing myself to explore work projects I’ve been trying to get through, to rest, and to set a schedule that is more oriented to creativity. A decade ago, I used to find my creative flow very late at night. I’d start at 10 pm and then go to bed at 2 am. I would take enormous breaks in the middle of the day to run errands. While I’m still a night owl, I’d now rather be in my pajamas and winding down at 10 pm instead of pushing my brain.

I wanted to take some time to see what I would do if given the time and space to try things out. I knew the first few days would be dedicated to rest. I didn’t think I’d still need rest today, but here I am, typing out an essay because what I had originally planned for today’s send did not pan out the way I wanted it to. Yes, I realize this is still some sort of productivity. My brain has been fuzzy all day.

Self-soothing vs self-care

One of the things that resonated with me this year was learning that there was a difference between self-soothing and self-care. The former is reactionary, the latter is preventative. You self-soothe to get immediate relief from whatever is happening. For example, you feel anxiety building and decide to go for a walk. Self-care, though, are the things you do to regulate your emotions.


For me, going on a walk several times a week in nature helps me regulate. If I don’t, then I’m more prone to need to self-soothe. There’s nothing wrong with self-soothing, but if I keep up on self-care (easier said than done), I shouldn’t need to self-soothe that often.

I’ve been self-soothing a lot this year.

Getaway photos

About a month ago, I went on a weekend getaway to Novato with my boyfriend and Zoey. We hiked in two parks. At the second park, we were leisurely walking around in a beautiful forest on a very flat path. That last part is very necessary information because we had just done an intense hike the day before and thought we should take it easy. At the edge of the park, we ran into a couple in their 50s or 60s. They were picking up trash and noticed that we had stopped as if we were lost (we weren’t).

After learning that we weren’t from the area, the conversation turned to nearby hikes. The man pointed to a path along the edge of a nearby fence and asked, “Have you run up this before? It’s a gorgeous view up top.” It’s important to note here that from the bottom, the path looked like a steep mountain, not a path one would run up. The path was part dirt, part gravel, interlaced with roots. “We just did this last week! It’s high—800 feet up—but the view is so worth it,” they said. That cinched our decision though we were certainly out of breath 20 minutes later.

While I agree the view was worth it (took us several hours), I would also say that there was no signage, no “you’ve reached the top!” Whenever we thought we were at the highest point, another one would appear in the distance. I’m sure there’s some sort of analogy to life in here. In the end, we decided which was the top, and now you can enjoy the photos without going through this intense and unexpected hike.

The getaway did help with relieving some of my productivity stress. However, Zoey also got some extreme GI issues on the last day. She needed to go to the bathroom every 2-3 hours for an entire week (including the night) until we went to urgent care. That week completely wiped out any recovery I had made.

I don’t have a pithy conclusion here. This was a mish-mash of thoughts that had been jumbled in my head.

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📝 Notes from Jenn:

📜 Published: ‘Tis The Season For Holiday Coffee Traditions

In a recently published paper, co-authored with Daniel H. Stein, on people’s reactions to changes in rituals, they found that the more ritualistic a holiday was, the more “moral outrage” it elicited when those rituals were altered. “If you have to alter a tradition, don’t try to use some sort of instrumental reason,” says Schroeder.

🔏 Last week, paid subscribers received a photo essay where I challenged myself to shoot a Midwestern winter landscape in black and white.

📸✍🏼 Challenge: Shoot a dreary Midwestern landscape in B&W
In part of my interview with Michael that didn’t make it into the final cut, we talked about photography as a side hustle in Utah. He found it to be more difficult to get a foothold in the market because there was a higher number of side-hustling photographers, and the surrounding environment was already beautiful to begin with. “You just get a camera, …

🛠 Current project: I finally ordered wallpaper to finish the bare walls in both my kitchen and bathroom. For each room, two of the four walls had wallpaper up and I never got around to finishing them, because life.

👀 interesting reads

On Upward Mobility (The Pudding): An interactive essay.

Research shows the neighborhood you grow up in has a profound impact on your future economic success. How did my family’s journey across the country impact me? I went to find out.

The Death of the Key Change (Tedium): I love a deep dive into a niche topic. This one examines the Billboard Hot 100 songs of the last 60 years.

One of the key changes—pun intended—to the pop charts in the last 60 years is the demise of key changes. What happened?

Housing Breaks People’s Brains (The Atlantic)

Supply skepticism and shortage denialism are pushing against the actual solution to the housing crisis: building enough homes.

Taking Care While Being Around Family This Holiday Season (Culturally Enough. on Substack)

In Western conversations around boundary setting, a lot of the advice can be extreme or rigid. Just don’t go. Say no. Stick to the consequences. Is this bad advice? Not necessarily. Is it doable for everyone? Not necessarily.
artful leaf outlines on left, "plant update" immediately to the right
I… don’t know what this is called but it grows quite quickly and is fun to see the different variegations on the leaves.