Chad Grayson

Everything is Broken

Calm down, that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t even watch the news (usually)

Over the course of the past couple of years, I seemed to have cracked the code of productivity for myself. I was, at one point, writing 3000 words a day, four days a week. In 2022, I wrote 377,000 words of new fiction (and blog posts). Last year, I wrote 277,000, which is still respectable. I was getting things done, and I don’t just mean writing. I was keeping track of most of the areas of my life, even keeping my place clean. This continued into 2024, when I decided that I wanted to add going to art school to this process. Things were fine for a while. I was still writing, and I was keeping up with schoolwork. The systems I had in place were keeping me on track. I was a dynamo.

Then March happened. Not going into a lot of detail, but I ended up losing my house and having to move in with my parents. This looked fine on paper. And indeed, it has been fine, for the most part. I have set up my office in the corner of my bedroom, complete with the giant whiteboard that keeps me on track. The pressure of the move, combined with finishing my first semester at school, meant that my writing had to take a back seat for about a month and a half. But I got through the move, got my old house cleaned out, fully moved into my parents’ house, and finished school strong. Everything was going as well as I thought it should.

The week after school was out, I thought it was time to pivot back to writing full time. This proved problematic, and I realized I needed some time off to recover from the changes and the massive amount of work I had put in. I was not alarmed. A week later, I got back to writing, and found that I was having a great deal of trouble getting back into it.  My motivation was gone. I was starting to dread it, even though I enjoyed it while it was getting done. I started a summer class online, and that got me back into the groove a little but, even this felt like an effort. I simply could not summon the energy to get back to my days of productivity. I thought maybe I was sliding into a depression, and that scared me a little because I did not have time for that.

I adjusted the number of words I wanted to get in per session to 2000 from 2500. This felt like defeat, but I needed to make things easier on myself. Still, it was just hard to get things done. School work. Writing. Personal projects. I had this sense of malaise that was uncharacteristic of myself, and which frustrated me to no end. I tried being hard on myself. Didn’t work. I tried giving myself grace. Nothing. My productivity felt like it was lodged somewhere deep inside my body and didn’t want to come out.

I did still write. I did my class work. I kept up a basic schedule, but I knew something was off. It wasn’t the book I’m working on. I’m thrilled with how it’s coming out. I was no longer stressed out as much, the changes were complete, and I only had one class to deal with. The thing that I had been really worried about happening for the past couple of years, losing my house, had happened. The hammer had fallen. And among many of the feelings I felt about that, one of the big ones was relief. I could take that off my list of worries. So, what was my problem?

I knew I was dealing with grief from the loss, and the changes, and letting go of my idea of what the future was going to look like. I also worked through my need to control what was going to happen. That didn’t feel like it was it.

It wasn’t until this week that I fully understood what was going on. I had systems and an environment in place that were set up to make me productive. And all of those are gone now. The system is broken. My environmental cues have vanished. I no longer have an imposed external structure with in-person classes. Everything is broken. It’s no wonder I’m feeling off, and having trouble getting back on my feet, productivity wise. It would be weirder if I weren’t.

With this realization came another. I was going to have to build everything again from the ground up. The systems I’d relied upon before were not so much born of conscious effort, but by endlessly iterating processes that I found worked for me and refining them over time. A lot of that depended on having an office where all I did was work. I benefitted from being in absolute control of my environment and an ability to avoid distractions when needed.  I was also living with someone who helped me make my productivity a priority.  All of these things seem now like legs made of balsa wood that had been kicked out from beneath me.

Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with where I am. I’m comfortable. I have a workplace, a place to sleep, and a place to unwind. I have been allowed to decorate however I want. It’s just not where I was, and that has made it more difficult to get back into the swing of things. I understand that now. I can get to work on building new systems. I’m not entirely sure what they’re going to look like. I no longer have a dedicated office, but an office space in the corner of my bedroom. There are more people in and out of the house than I am used to.  People drop in without warning. There’s nothing wrong with that and there are even parts of that I like. I like seeing my kids and grandkids more often. I get along really well with my parents. One problem is that my mom and dad’s house used to be where I went when I needed to hang out and relax. It would be like moving full time into your vacation home. Every environmental cue is screaming “Take a nap! Read a book! Watch TV!” and I need to find ways to turn this into a working environment.

I need to figure out how to retrain myself to deal with my new living situation. Everything is broken, and I need to rebuild it. But it can’t look like it looked before because it’s a different place with a different vibe and there are different demands on me. Not bad demands, just … this is a house with more people and frequent visitors. I need to adjust to that. I need to start iterating again. But I did this once, and I can do it again. It might not even take me as long this time.

So, I’m spending the summer getting the plane back in the air, as far as my productivity goes. Also, accepting that it might not be possible to get to the level where I was before March. That is not a tragedy. I can live with being less productive, especially as the earlier level might not have been entirely sustainable. I am not what I get done. I am not my word count. I am not even my grades. I do not need to stress out about any of those things.

Everything is broken, but I can rebuild it. I have the technology. I need to get everything in place before fall when I have 17 units I am signed up for. So, this post is probably a little navel-gazey, but I think a lot of people, especially neurodivergent people, will find something to relate to. Sometimes everything breaks down, and the mark of a strong person is the ability to bounce back from that. Am I a strong enough person for that? I guess we’re going to find out.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top