Morning (or afternoon, or evening, wherever you may be) friends, and welcome back to Productivity, WIthout Privilege.
I’m Alan Henry, and this time around I’m not the captain, I’m not your pilot, or your commander, or some other authority figure. This week I’m sitting next to you at the bar, ordering a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned or something else that’s strong enough to take the edge off but tasty enough to be enjoyed slowly. Why? I mean…look around, right?
If you haven’t already, please preorder Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized, which I’ve been told is now available over at Bookshop, among other places, so you can support your local indie bookstores while also supporting…well…me! Thank you. Oh, and if you haven’t followed me over at Goodreads yet, feel free! Feel free to ask me questions about the book or the process of writing it if you’d like, and I’ll answer them there, too!
Now then, let’s get into the topic, and why I wanted to start off a little more collegially. It’s a question that I can’t really stop asking myself these days, as we continue to stare at our screens while also trying to trudge through the day-to-day of our jobs, our responsibilities, and even our hobbies. What is productivity to a world at war?
The last time I wrote this newsletter, things were…bad. We were under a deluge of bad takes published in prominent places, and I maintain that there’s a concerted effort among some so-called “thought leaders” to present the new cultural battleground as some kind of “individualism versus collectivism” debate when in reality they’re too intellectually lazy to have that conversation honestly. So instead it boils down to “I don’t care about other people and I don’t see why I should.” But then Russia invaded Ukraine.
And while I could go on about the hypocrisy of some of those bad take generators, instead my mind—and I imagine yours, as well—turns to how I can help, what I can do, and how powerless and removed I feel from all of it. Now don’t get me wrong: war is nothing new to me. I’m old enough to have lived through times when (and in direct proximity to places where) nuclear annihilation was more or less a given, and the prospect of war hung over our heads on a day to day basis, so the prospect for all-encompassing violence isn’t foreign to me, although I wish it were, and I don’t wish that familiarity on anyone who’s experiencing it right now, either here at home, or closer to the fighting itself. And more broadly, I’m not so privileged (or at least, not so ignorant of my privilege) to think that somehow this violence is different because of who’s inflicting it against whom.
But all of that aside, the violence is here, and it does hang over our heads. We see it in our social feeds, read about it in our headlines, see it on TV, and get push notifications about it. I’ll get to the “how you can help” a little later, but right now you may be asking “Why bother? What’s the point? What am I working my ass off for if it can all be ripped away from me so easily?”
And here I am, ready to tell you: You’re right. It doesn’t matter. What matters, as I’ve said before, is how we treat each other. But that sentiment doesn’t get you through the workday, and it doesn’t empty your inbox, and it doesn’t get the responsibilities that are on your shoulders back off of them. So we work. We continue on. We keep pushing, working inside a system that would punish us if we just gave it all up and ran away from it all. So naturally, we look for ways to make this whole thing work—some of us even look for ways to bury ourselves in the work because it feels like that’s all we can do.
But here’s something that’s important to remember, something that I’ve said before and will repeat over and over again until the day I die, and then you can put it on my tombstone:
Productivity isn’t about getting work done so you can do more work. It’s about getting the things you have to do done so you can spend time on the things you want to do.
So in addition to forgiving yourself for just trying to get by, if you’re going to spend time and energy on optimizing your workflow or finding some way to keep yourself organized, or hammering out all of those emails and documents you have to take care of, do it in the hopes that you can go home to your family and spend more time with them, instead of cleaning your plate so you can accept that next assignment. Do it in the hopes that you’ll be able to spend more time working on that passion project that makes you excited to go home in the evening, or see your friends that you wish you could spend more time with. Do it in the hopes that you’ll find that special someone and fall in love, and that you’ll have the mental and emotional space to accept them into your lives, rather than overlook them because you’re stressed out about your work or career.
Do all of those things in service of, not in spite of, your personal goals and dreams.
And honestly, maybe it does take a war—whether that war is in Ukraine, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or in Kosovo, or in Grenada, or somewhere else—to remind us of what’s actually important. It shouldn’t, of course. It almost feels trite (okay, it definitely feels trite) to use warfare, where people are losing their lives, loved ones, and livelihoods, where thousands of refugees are pouring into neighboring countries seeking safety and stability they had to leave behind at home, to remind us to pay attention to the things that are important in our own, very privileged lives. But whatever it takes to remind us, we should take that reminder.
Always take the reminder, wherever you can get it. Because really, that’s all I can offer you. Especially right now.
How to Help Victims of the War in Ukraine, by Reece Rogers: I’m cheating again this week, because I edited this one, not that Reece needed much editing. But really, it’s difficult for service journalists to tackle something as grounded and deathly (literally) serious as war. So often the constant coverage is about which city is in what military’s hands, or how many civilians or soldiers have been hurt or killed. Sometimes there’s room for the simple: how we can help. And this piece has a selection of good, trustworthy options for people interested in sending a little love, or money, or both.
You don't need to post through a crisis, by Kate Lindsay: This is another tidbit of advice about…well, everything. The thing that inspired the essay, sadly at Substack (but I get it,) is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the same lessons can be applied to just about anything. So much of our extremely online culture—which I don’t blame for this, I blame other factors that could be a newsletter all on its own—demands that we all add our voices to the cacophony of takes and thoughts and tweets and TikToks and more about, well, everything. But I find myself wanting to spend less and less time on my feeds shouting into the wind about the same things everyone else is talking about, and more inclined to either stay quiet entirely or redirect the conversation to places where we can find some solace. But that’s just me. The bottom line here is that sometimes it’s okay to say nothing at all.
The all-new ‘Star Wars’ hotel is the travel experience I waited 45 years to enjoy, by Benet Wilson: I’m not a huge Star Wars person (I vastly prefer Star Trek) but Wilson (those who look up to her, as I do, affectionately call her Aunt Benet) makes an amazing case for booking a trip to this hotel that feels like less of a hotel and more of an immersive convention-slash-theme-park-experience. Frankly, while reading, even if you’re not a fan of the world that Aunt Benet found herself in, you’ll find her writing so absolutely infectious that you’ll feel like you’re having an amazing time right there along with her. She’s certainly sold me on wanting to schedule a trip someday, assuming I can get in there, of course.
My former colleagues at NYT Cooking have been responsible for no shortage of celebrity cooks (some more deserved than others, obviously,) but I still love some of the folks I’ve worked with there, including Sam Sifton, who led the section (and, on some level, still does, I know.) But one of the standouts for me that I feel deserves way more attention and appreciation is on Ali Slagle.
Her recipes are often healthy, always easy, genuinely quick to make, and universally delicious. She uses a lot of beans and vegetables (so hooray for fiber and vitamins, vegetarians and vegans rejoice!) and if you have a subscription to NYT Cooking just check out this whole page of all of the recipes she’s written for The Times. But while I definitely recommend her recipes (most of my saved NYT recipes are hers, I’m sure of it, and I’ve made more of them than I can count) my actual recommendation this week is her book, coming out next month, on April 12th!
Here’s a Bookshop link, and here’s an Amazon link, and if you’d prefer a different retailer, she has a bunch listed on her website. I’ll absolutely be picking this up, and someday I’m going to tell her how grateful I am for her work (seriously, her recipes have helped me in more ways than just finding something quick to whip up for dinner!) and get her to sign my copy. I heartily suggest you do the same.
I’ll see you back here in two.