Madeleine Dore is a writer and interviewer exploring how we can broaden the definition of a day well spent.
As an avid follower of Madeleine’s work, I was grateful to have the opportunity to ask some questions pertinent to the theme of productivity. Read on for Madeleine’s responses.
Has productivity always been a passion of yours? What originally piqued your curiosity into this world and how long ago was that?
Like many of us, I’ve certainly long felt the pressure to be productive. There’s a quote by the writer Annie Dillard — “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives” and I took that very literally — I felt as if I needed to seize every day and never waste a single moment. But I didn’t quite know how — I felt like I wasn’t doing it right and falling behind. So in 2014 I began interviewing creative people I admired for my project Extraordinary Routine to find the secret to productivity… only to eventually find there isn’t one!
What I eventually uncovered through these conversations is that we all stumble—we all face distractions, interruptions, challenges. We’re all imperfect, and perhaps we need to rethink our obsession with productivity and the narrow definition we hold for it.
Tell us more about “productivity guilt” and what are some of the day to day methods to combat that?
There are many guises to productivity guilt: It’s that feeling that you’re not doing enough, that you’re doing too much, that you’re wasting time or falling behind. Just as there are many forms, there are also many reasons why we experience it. When our days don’t go to plan—because of bosses, because of kids, because of a sunny afternoon, because of life—we can encounter productivity-guilt.
We’re so quick to say, well, I’m just not having a very productive day. Feeling behind, we might seek out the latest productivity hack to bring us closer to our idealized achievements, and when we slip up once again, the productivity-guilt spiral sets in.
But the optimization isn’t working. Rather than making us better, we feel anxious, overwhelmed, and burnt out. It seems paradoxical—but the more pressure there is to be productive, the less productive we are.
So the problem isn’t productivity itself—we all need to get things done—but rather that we’ve conflated productivity and self-worth. We’ve made it the measure of a day, when there is so much more variance and vibrancy in a day than simply what we do.
You’re someone who participates in life experiments. What kind of experiments have you been doing lately and what have you found?
The book is very much a culmination of what I learned from various life experiences, interviews and my own stumbles, so my main experiment at the moment is trying to live it!
It takes a long time to untangle from the messages we receive about success, ambition, productivity, and worthiness—so we must continually experiment and find what works for us at different times.
That said, constant adjusting, and experimenting can be exhausting! We can simply be still for a while. We can let things settle. We can be okay with empty spaces. We can even be open to taking a step backwards sometimes. It’s all learning, sometimes its active and sometimes its passive.
So right now I’m experimenting with not knowing what’s next, and allowing that to be exciting rather than daunting.
What are some of your own personal productivity hacks? What is the best piece of advice you’ve received or heard during your interviews with creative people?
I’m not sure if this can be counted as a hack — but what changed for me was embracing that there isn’t one! There is no hack, routine, tip or trick that fits all, and we can become tangled in expectations, perfectionism and comparison when we try to squeeze ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit.
Of course, we can find inspiration from others, but cannot create the same recipe when we each have different ingredients.
Interview hundreds of creative people made it clear to me that the process that will work for you is the one that is yours! We each have to find our own way — and define our worth for ourselves.
You’ve interviewed such a wide range of interesting people from all manner of industries and backgrounds. Tell us some of the highlights for you.
Each conversation has inspired and changed my thinking in some way—hence an entire book could be written about it!
But I often think back to my conversation with Yassmin Abdel-Magied for some interesting thoughts on success and failure; Annie Raser Rowland for ideas on living well and frugally, and Jenny Kee for remembering the highlight is always coming.
As an author yourself, what kind of books do you read on productivity?
I get a lot from varied texts that might not be directly about productivity but rather about living well (which I think is the ultimate goal we are looking for when we focus on productivity)I have keep a full list of my favourite books, podcasts and inspiring things here, but a few favourites:
- How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett
- What I Think About When I Think About Running by Haruki Murakami
- Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krose Rosenthal
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
What is your method or philosophy of handling bad days? By bad days I mean those when you’re low on energy or motivation, but you have a ton of work staring back at you.
On such days, we can be prone to falling into the productivity guilt spiral —we can worry about all the time we’ve wasted not doing what we need to do, or we can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things we need to do.
The important thing here I think is not be too hard on ourselves—after all, the surest way to squander time is to worry about wasting it! We are imperfect and bound to waste time—we put things off, become distracted, chit-chat too long with colleague. But we also judge how we spend our time rather harshly. We’re quick to label preparation as procrastination, and easily overlook that things take the time they take.
One approach to reduce what I call wasted-time worry is to remember that time cannot be wasted in advance—a sentiment I’ve borrowed from Arnold Bennett who says that you can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose. So you’ve spent a few hours worrying rather than beginning something? Turn over a new leaf. You got stuck in traffic and are late to an event? Turn over a new leaf. You slept through your alarm? Turn over a new leaf.
And finally, perhaps we’d do well to remember that the time we enjoyed wasting is not wasted time.
Author’s Note: This interview happened halfway through 2022, and true to form, Madeleine has since changed tack.
We also have a fabulous giveaway, with thanks to Madeleine, of her book I Didn’t Do The Thing Today.
WINNER! Jay from Victora!
This giveaway is now closed
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Online giveaway – Madeleine Dore
1. Competition is open to Australian residents only. 2. Only entries completed with these terms and conditions will be eligible. 3. Competition starts 9:00 AEDT 29/11/22 and closes 23:59 AEDT 31/12/22. 4. One winner will receive a copy of the book I didn’t do the thing today by Madeleine Dore, valued at $32.99 each. The prize is not transferable or exchangeable and cannot be taken as cash. 5. The winner will be judged on 29/11/22, 12:00pm AEDT at MGTH HQ in Sydney. Please allow up to four weeks for delivery of your prize. 7. The promotor is not responsible for misdirected or lost mail. 8. Promoted by Make Good Things Happen ABN: 31 931 277 295. For Privacy Notice click here.
Book – I Didn’t Do The Thing Today
Interviews – Extraordinary Routines
Podcast – Routines & Ruts
Further reading: madeleinedore.com/favourite-things