Who decided we all needed to have our collective shit together, anyway?

Who decided we all needed to have our collective shit together, anyway?
Who among you feels like you have your ducks in a row?

A lot of ink, digital and otherwise, has been spilt discussing the cult of busyness in society these days. So if you think I’m going to spill more in an attempt at muddying the waters with yet one more opinion...you’re right.

You know me so well.

Despite my best efforts, all too often I find myself being dragged into this sense of “if I’m not doing something, I’m failing at...something else.” And as an introvert who’s prone to overthinking ALL. THE. THINGS. That’s not a comfortable place to be.

The Cult of Busyness (TM) indoctrination ceremony often ends early because the host is already late for a meeting.

Where was I…?

Right. The idea that you must always be proactively producing widgets is so engrained in western society that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact. But it isn’t. It’s just one idea, a thought, frankly more of an assumption—that you’ve heard whispered in your ear ever since you became conscious enough to hear whispers. And frankly, it’s getting quite irksome that despite knowing better, I still fall under the trance of those damn whispers.

This all started back a couple of roles (contract business content writer for a cybersecurity/authentication provider), when my manager/editor said, “Hey, it’s OK, they’re paying us to think.”

She literally caused me to do a spit take (then spend 20 minutes trying to clean the tea out of my keyboard). Remember, I spent my first career in IT support, where my productivity was measured in screens replaced, hard drives revived, and malwares exterminated.

It was only with that comment, which came some 3+ years into my current career as a content/copywriter (an inexact title for what I actually do, but whatever, it works for my purposes here) that one of the major differences to become clear:

I’m literally being paid to think.

So what’s the measurable output? Where’s the pile of fixed laptops? Where’s the status report that attests to the eradication of that malware? Where’s the spreadsheet where I enter how many machines I worked on that day and for how long? It was one thing back at the agency where I got my start, we had a word count to meet every week (and for the record, I was hitting 8,000/week for 5 different clients by the end of my time there).

But now that I’m spending time staying on top of industry news, planning strategy for upcoming campaigns, and oh yeah, writing customer stories and e-guides—how do I prove I’m being productive?

Those of you already in the knowledge work sector might, at this point, be scratching your heads or stroking your beards in bemusement. You may also be wondering how any of this ties into the title about proverbial shit. Here it is:

You don’t have to have your shit together, nor do you have to always appear productive, to be doing your best work.

We’ve all had, or currently suffer through having, that coworker who always seems so…together.

You know the one.

Always at their desk 5 minutes before on-time.

Always first to the conference room, with extra pens and name tags, you know, just in case.

Always in the Zoom room first.

Always sending around the team memos with links to the right and wrong spreadsheets to enter your expenses in if you actually want to be reimbursed.

And somehow, they’re always between slightly and massively dickish about it.

Here’s the thing about that person…they’re no more collected than anyone else. In fact, I would posit from experience that they’re often hotter messes than most. They’ve just learned how to use surface-level organization to make it LOOK like they’ve got it all together.

And guess what often suffers while they collect pens and name tags for the next meeting? Yup, actual, measurable productivity. And nobody likes them, see the above comment about being dickish.

When I was turning out 8,000 words per week you couldn’t always rely on my to know what day it was, let alone if I was late for a Zoom call with one of those clients. My editor was so bad at that stuff that I had to set a reminder for myself to remind her when we had meetings. But wow, was I turning out product.

OK, summary time. Don’t be fooled by Mr. Got-it-all-together. He doesn't. Neither does Sally Widgetmaker. Productivity and the appearance of having “it all together” are not always as closely linked as we’ve been led to believe.

If you’re producing work you love (or your boss, or whoever in your life judges your product), and you’re not being a dick to those around you, consider it a win.

The rest will come in time.

Or not.

Either way, you’re good and I’d be happy to work on a project with you.