There is a confession I would like to make and I think it may upset a lot of people – I am not much into self-help books, videos or articles. Especially the ones which promise to help you increase productivity by changing your life style. I have tried to read a handful of such books and watched my fill of videos circulating on my social media feeds, but the first thing that I find most alienating is how this genre conveniently excludes motherhood and largely parenting from the equation. The life-altering changes advocated by those selling us promises of increased productivity do not even take the existence of a kid in the household into account by and large.

To my relief, it turned out that I wasn’t alone. Writer Genie Grato posted a thread on Twitter recently, in which she essayed, how this specific genre called ‘key to productivity’ was dominated by middle class and upper middle class white men. “Somehow, they have constructed lives (at least as they tell it) that appear to be free of the chaos injected by a child or children that wake up at non-regular times, demanding an immediate hug, Lego consultation, or story. Their mornings seem consistent, calm, manageable,” read one of her tweets, further adding, “On the hierarchy of privilege, I am really, really high. And yet, when I look at these men, men who never, ever acknowledge in their writing JUST HOW MUCH their precious morning and evening routines depend on someone else to make them possible, it is like looking at the sky.”

The life-altering changes advocated by those selling us promises of increased productivity do not even take the existence of a kid in the household into account by and large.

What Grato says is something that I’ve experienced whenever I walk to the self-help section of a book store or see a video about successful people talking about how they increase their productivity. The lifestyle advocated by such books/videos can only work if you live in an ideal world. For someone who wrote her first published novel during her toddler’s nap time, I know that real productivity isn’t as breezy as getting up at six in the morning, doing yoga for half an hour, and cruising through your to-do list and work targets without any hassle. The spreadsheets, and structuring and compartmentalising is all good, but you see, your life and the structure that you may live in won’t always abide by your time table. This is why all this shebang about productivity comes across as a bit lofty.

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The reality of being a working mom, that too a privileged one like me who has a solid support system in place, is far removed from breathing exercises, healthy light salads for lunch and power naps. You pack your kid off to school and you put your head down and set to work. I work sitting on the floor with my laptop propped on my bed. I don’t have the luxury of a working table, where I can stash my daily journal or keep a potted plant to enhance the working environment. I structure my crime thrillers amidst cartoons blaring from the television, constantly being interrupted with irrefutable demands of snacks, cuddles, and playtime. On worse days, the maid decides to call in sick while my in-laws are away from home and husband has meetings he can’t opt out of.

Instead, I listen more to the women around me. I interact more with working and stay at home mothers and even dedicated dads who struggle equally hard to attain desirable productivity from each day.

I think many women can relate to this environment that I work in. And yet how many books on increasing productivity have you read which talk about these constraints? How many self-help videos tell you that it is okay to struggle with work-life balance and that it is impossible for most of us to have a decently quiet place to work at, without any unwanted intermissions, and back that up with ample sleep, meditation and daily exercises to increase concentration?

This is why I have long stopped looking for tips in books and videos choreographed by shiny people leading glowy lives, with narratives suspiciously devoid of banter about family life and struggles of ordinary working people. Instead, I listen more to the women around me. I interact more with working and stay at home mothers and even dedicated dads who struggle equally hard to attain desirable productivity from each day. This has done two things. Firstly, I feel less miserable about not doing breathing exercises or eating soaked and peeled almonds at the beginning of the day. Secondly, I now know that I am not alone and that it is a struggle for most of us to be more productive at work, all the while juggling family duties.

This makes me wonder if we have got the concept of productivity all wrong. Just like we all don’t lead identical lives, work in the same professions, or have a similar set of struggle, can the definition of productivity be the same for all of us?

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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