Because I work in the field of productivity, I am frequently asked for my “best tips” - for moving out of chaos, for ending procrastination, for finally feeling in control of stuff. I completely understand the anxiety. There is so much to manage that everyone seems to drown in tasks and assignments. Goals, neatly broken down into never-ending lists of obligations: market, work, tidy up, create, maintain, don’t stop, and don’t forget to BE MINDFUL. Not to mention learn, follow, appreciate, exercise, educate, advocate and FIGHT (always for the right things). And network, write, submit, accept, try again, PERSIST. An overwhelming wave of expectations comes at us every day. Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a solution, people say, and can I please share it, in 5 easy steps? Only keep it short, because, you know, who has the time?
There are literally millions of blog posts and lists on the topic of “x steps to y”. Some are useful and help me solve small problems. 5 Steps to Start a Garden Compost or 7 Steps to Bake a Decent Loaf of Bread feel doable. I probably skipped Step 4 so the bread was flat, but it made excellent compost. I don’t know about you, but 10 steps feel quite demanding, and posts suggesting 12 steps or more belong into a master class. The 5-step format reflects our collective yearning to finally resolve protracted issues, identify the magic pill that will save us years of hassle and effort.
Eighty percent of people stop meditating after trying to learn the practice. Quieting the mind, it turns out, is yet another habit that is difficult to maintain. If only there were some tips! There are lots of neatly typed pieces suggesting 5 EASY! steps to meditate, complete with cute pictures of candles burning on suburban tables. The issue is, there is no quick fix. I wish it were that simple, but the trouble lies elsewhere. Problems that have built up over years cannot be blogged away. Why are we all falling for cutting our “work time in half” or living that “ultra-productive life,” only to be disappointed again when simple solutions don’t materialize as promised?
It gets worse from there. 5 Steps for Greater Self -Love seem awfully far-fetched and 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Depressed are downright insulting. 5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block - a problem so severe that people live at the edge of despair - cannot be taken seriously as a standalone solution. 5 Ways to Be Less Distracted is certainly not a joke to those living with ADHD and other debilitating conditions.
I long to write something as definitive as 5 Steps to Lasting World Peace. Imagine the social media attention it would generate! Apply my 5 steps and your life is transformed forever. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Of course, the ubiquitous 5-step pieces are part of authentically promoting ourselves. I am dreaming of things I can’t have. Articles that take more than 3 minutes to read and people to discuss them with, using DEPTH and FOCUS. A belief in the possibility of change.
Stepping outdoors, I realize that my spring garden is blissfully oblivious of the 5-step life. Seeds will sprout when they are good and ready. Decent soil and a little water are helpful, but dandelions will manage on their own. As perennials emerge after the harsh winter, at their own pace, I marvel at their resilience. There is a lot to learn. Nothing grows overnight. Not unlike the effort to build up confidence and insight, it takes patience and continued care to start plants. My best tip? Guard them well and enjoy their growth.
(This post was originally published in my Substack blog, "Giving Voice" on March 17, 2021)