The connection between my productivity and mood.

A few years ago, I tried to do what I’m doing now.

I quit grad school (it wasn’t the right path for me at the time), and instead of going back to work right away, I decided to use the rest of the fall ‘semester’ to pursue writing instead of graduate work. It was September – I was giving myself until January to see what I could do.

It was a disaster.

I wasn’t productive; I floated through days, trying to figure out what to do writing-wise, avoiding writing and keeping myself busy with other things, feeling guilty constantly when I wasn’t writing, going to bed each evening hating myself when I hadn’t gotten anything done (which was most of the time).

By December, I had spiraled into a deep depression. I had headaches often, and I was always turned inward, focusing on what I hadn’t accomplished, but not making any steps to become more productive. I wasn’t eating enough. I was sleeping too much. Worst of all, I began to self injure again. Finally, after spending one evening lying at the foot of my bed sobbing for no reason, I talked to my husband and told him I needed to get help. He listened to me without judgment, and helped me take the steps I needed.

I went back to work, and began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. I got back on antidepressants. I started taking anxiety classes. After several months of working on myself, I began feeling healthier.


I don’t know that I was ready to have that much time on my shoulders back then, to put that much pressure on myself to write and solely write and hope to make something out of it. But one thing I learned from the experience is that I needed to be careful treading back into the process this time around. I try to be aware of my mental state now, to notice when my outlook begins to darken so that I can immediately catch myself and work on it.

A big, big thing I’ve noticed through trying to be more emotionally aware this time around is that my levels of productivity are strongly linked to my moods and emotional state. When I’m being productive – when I’m outlining, revising, and writing – I’m light, my surroundings are beautiful, it’s easy to smile. When I’m procrastinating and avoiding work, things immediately get heavy. My state of mind is closed off, dimmed, and grey. I catch myself in negative thinking, making negative conclusions and frowning more often than not. I hate everything around me. I blame my unhappiness on my environment.

I caught myself today staring out my living room window, expressionless, yearning to be somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere without palm trees and perpetual sunshine, where the air would smell rich and damp like earth and fog, where woods and trees lined the horizon. If only I could go elsewhere, I thought, like that would solve all my problems.

Ding ding ding.

Going somewhere else wouldn’t solve any of my problems. Sure, I live in suburbia, but I could live in Brooklyn and it wouldn’t matter. The problem was me. I didn’t write anything all weekend, and now here I was, Monday morning, feeling murky and weighed down, and thinking that if only I could get out of this town, things would get better. Big red flag that I need to plant my butt in the chair and get back to work. 

Here’s my deal with myself: if I work hard for a few days – I mean, actually work, not just type a line or two here and there throughout the afternoon, like a kid pushing their vegetables around the plate because they think mindless motion means progress – and I still feel blah, well then – time to reassess. Time to call the doc again, time to exercise, time to take a trip. But knowing myself, this is probably what I need.

So, reminder to self – if you’re feeling depressed/in a funk/heavy/blue, ask yourself: have you been productive enough lately in your writing? Sit down, and get back to work.


3 thoughts on “The connection between my productivity and mood.

  1. “Like a kid pushing their vegetables around the plate because they think mindless motion means progress”—I love that!

    It’s been fun connecting with you on Twitter! I struggle with procrastination SO MUCH. I mean, I started outlining this novel back in 2007 and I STILL don’t have a complete draft. Finally I had to fight for writing time, make some sacrifices, honor that writing time, and then get into a routine. It was a way of training my brain to get to work. I’m so afraid of failure, I don’t want to sit down and plunk away at that “Shitty First Draft.” But now I realize that *not writing* was the real failure. Monday night was my first night of leaving my house right after dinner and writing until I hit $1,000 words. I needed motivation AND scare tactics, so I came up with a plan: Every day I make my goal, I add a dollar to a fund that is solely for buying books. Every day I don’t make my word count, I take out 2! It’s only day four, but that’s $4 to spend on books. Being uncomfortable while writing, I found out, helps too. If I treat it as a chore, if I sit in an uncomfortable chair, if I wear SHOES (my feet need oxygen! Freedom!), then I write as fast as I can so that I can be done. The funny thing is, the faster I write, the more energetic my writing is, even if it started out as a chore. I definitely procrastinate and struggle with motivation. That’s why I’ve got a “motivation” tag on my blog. One of the things that really turned my life around was Eisenhower’s Priority Matrix, which I blog about here:

    I hope it blows your mind as much as it did mine!

    • It’s been great connecting with you too! Twitter scared me at first, but now that I’m learning that you can meet so many cool and interesting people on there, I’m really beginning to like it.

      Holy cow. I just bookmarked your post on Eisenhower’s Priority Matrix, because wow – that’s some really good stuff. I’ll probably end up printing some of those images out and putting them on my bulletin board. Thank you so much for sharing that! That is seriously one of those posts that I know I’m going to revisit time and again, because those are REALLY good concepts to keep in mind.

      I like all the tactics you use to keep yourself writing! Have you read Bird By Bird by Anne Lammott? That was a really good read for me – it helped me feel more confident to just plow through a ‘shitty first draft’ and not get so hung up on perfecting things and losing momentum.

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