Why I won’t make my bed (and other productivity tips I ignore)

If you’re like me and go through periods of obsessively watching productivity Youtube videos, and reading productivity books (as a means of productively procrastinating on the things you’re supposed to actually be doing…), you’ll have accumulated a large mental library of tips. Wake up at 5am. Eat the frog. Prioritize. Track your time. Have meetings in the afternoon. Stop checking your email 25 times a day.

It’s easy to feel like you can let a productivity guru design your routines for you, and then all you have to do is follow the steps. The idea of not having to make choices about what you do, and being able to feel like you’re doing everything in the most efficient way (albeit as determined by someone else) is tempting in its own way.

It can be hard to mix-and-match, however, if you’re trying to make your life optimizations more personal. If you tried to do everything that people suggest to add to your morning routine, you’d be up at 2am every morning trying to fit it all in. You also can’t save your willpower for doing the important stuff if you fritter it away making your bed.

Willpower is a limited resource. If this isn’t something that you feel affects you on a daily basis, then by all means, do all the things- but I think most of us have felt this at least sometimes, even if only when we’re tired or stressed out. Having minor depression has meant that this is something I need to be aware of and manage on a daily basis. It’s rare that I have all the willpower (or even actual time) to do everything I want to do, especially when my 9–5 requires most of it. I think of it the same way I think about managing my budget. If I spend $10 on eating out for lunch every day, I might not have enough money for a really nice meal out with friends, or something more important like rent. In the same way, if I spend 10 “willpower points” on things that provide minimal value, like folding my socks the right way or tracking all my time down to the minute, I won’t have enough willpower points to spend on things like writing my novel when I get home from work, or doing the dishes.

Making my bed every morning falls into the “minimal value” category of things I enjoy in my life. I know that the idea is you start your day off by accomplishing one tiny thing, and then that will make you feel good and help you snowball into the next tiny little thing, and so on. For some people, this is an easy way to trick their brain into getting started on the day. For me, it’s a waste of resources.

You generally start your day with the most willpower you’re going to have for that 24 hour period. Unless you get a piece of especially good news, or something else very motivating happens, you don’t get more throughout the day, your allotment just gets spent. I won’t argue that it feels good to start your day with something productive, but I’m probably going to have all the willpower I need to do my first major task of the day with or without the productivity equivalent of a pre-workout shake. It’s the end of the day that I want to protect, when I need a kickstart, not the morning.

If you see your willpower as something finite, having value, everything you do becomes a trade. Even just making a choice can be a trade. I want to save my choices for the things that truly matter to me and have an impact on my life, like doing my laundry and making progress on my creative projects. Making my bed every day just doesn’t make the cut.