Family Culture and Productivity: How Your Loved Ones Create Your Ideas of Productivity

My grandfather is eighty-three. He says he’s retired. To him, that means that he runs a lumberyard, is building a new house up in the mountains and constantly has a new real estate deal going on the side. And, trust me, he’s actually slowed down to get to this point.

My family has a shared perception of work and productivity, shaped in part by the fact that my grandfather seems to have discovered the secret of perpetual motion. As a rule, we’ve gotten fairly decent at keeping a couple of balls in the air. Multiple projects, at least one business of our own and all the rest is the norm. In some ways, that’s a good thing. I learned how to prioritize my time and look for efficient ways to get things done early on. I remember my grandmother telling me how to break a project down into smaller steps when I was just five years old. She didn’t say that was what we were doing, of course: we were sewing a dress for one of my dolls (I’m so old-school that I had an American doll back when there were only three to choose from!) and we had other things to get done f that day. We talked about how we were going to get everything done and, soon enough, the chores were done and so was the dress and I was playing with my doll.

Don’t Let the Family Get You Down

The downside of this sort of family culture is that there’s not a lot of sympathy if one of our many balls dropped. My dad runs four separate businesses last time I counted — a missed deadline or an extra-long task list doesn’t really generate sympathy at family gatherings. For me, that’s been tough, especially since one of the ways I do well at analyzing a problem is by talking it out. It doesn’t help that I generally agree with them and can get down on myself for not keeping up. When I started paying close attention to my own productivity and how I managed things, I noticed that my family’s culture may have made me more interested in having multiple projects at once (and even equipped me somewhat for it), but it also offered up some special challenges.

Since we all have families and even friends who have influenced how we view our own productivity, it’s important to be aware of that fact. It’s important to pay attention to how we grew up and how we learned to go about our tasks on any given day. Those approaches may need refinements or adjustments over the years, or they may require some bigger changes. In my own case, I had to learn that being the busiest person in the world is not the end goal, no matter how much I enjoy taking on new projects. It took some doing, but it’s reduced my stress and I think that’s worthwhile.

Bringing Your Background in to Balance

Part of my family’s culture is that retirement isn’t the end goal. I’m pretty cool with that — as I’m writing this, I’m just coming back from a vacation. I know that not having the sort of work I enjoy for more than a few days at a time doesn’t actually sound like a good idea. I’m planning a retirement not unlike my grandfather’s. But the fact of the matter is that I also have to bring in a little more balance than some of my family members have had in the way they approach things.

My grandmother used to insist on cruises whenever she and my grandfather took vacations. That’s because any other type of trip would allow my grandfather to insist on coming back earlier than planned so he could get back to work — luckily, my grandmother figured out that since he couldn’t swim, my grandfather wouldn’t try to get off a ship early. It’s a great story, but it’s not one that I want my husband or the rest of my family to have to tell about me.

Image by Flickr user Janine


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