This is a guest post from Sarah K. Peck of Startup Parent.
“You’ve got to be consistent!” rave many productivity experts. “You won’t be successful unless you’re consistent.” So much of the advice given to content creators and business owners beats the drum of consistency: show up regularly, commit, and stay consistent.
This advice, at face value, has some merit. So much of business building and content creation is about the long game, and the payoff to creating valuable products and building relationships with key people in your industry is about staying the course. I’ve successfully built and worked with several companies and founders, and we’ve built those businesses, products, and audiences through steady, recurring, predictable work. Consistency can be crucial to building an audience, because over time they learn how you show up and what to expect from you.
When Consistency Advice Becomes Productivity Propaganda
The problem with a lot of ‘consistency’ advice, however, is that it’s wrapped up with a more toxic brand of hustle culture, which focuses on productivity in excess, and finding ways to maximize every square inch of your time. Consistency is often interpreted as rigid or all-or-nothing thinking. It’s an exhaustive, “as much as you possibly can produce at max capacity” expectation. This idea of “consistency” has a lacing of shame to it, and it’s used to tell people to work harder, produce more, and be dedicated in a way that may be unsustainable.
Implicit in this version of “consistency” is the idea that if you miss a day, or a week, then you’re hosed. Doomed. Done. It also sets people up for burnout, because they take on too much, too fast, and then life happens — life always happens — and you miss a day and you might feel crushed.
Especially challenging for parents and caretakers is the added issue of, well, having people to take care of. With children, your time is not always your own. Interruptions, school closures, unpredictable bosses, caretaking work, unexpected illnesses, having elderly parents or disabled family members, and more can make this brand of consistency unworkable for folks. Whether it’s the nanny calling in sick, or a contagious illness at school, or an unexpected weather event, life can muck up even the best laid plans.
Too much of pop productivity advice comes with the baked-in assumption that you have agency and control over all of your time. Rahaf Harfoush, a strategist and digital anthropologist who writes about technology and digital culture, calls this brand of advice “productivity propaganda,” and explains it as “social media posts that continue to promote a toxic narrative that tells people they are constantly not doing enough.”
Her book, Hustle and Float: Reclaim your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work, explores why rest is essential and the hidden forces behind our productivity-obsessed culture. This hyper-drive for productivity at all costs has shadow sides. It can minimize people’s very real sense of overwhelm and exhaustion, and it insults people and blames them for not being organized enough. Rather than be honest about the challenge, it diminishes people’s experiences, leading to failure rather than creative problem-solving.
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s an indication of a need to pause, rest, and recharge,” she says. I’d also add that it’s a sign that the system you signed up for is too much, and redesigning the system to fit your life is more important than trying to chase someone else’s brand of productivity.
“Productivity propaganda” advice is often only accessible to a small fraction of people — an elite class of folks without caretaking responsibilities, or who benefit from steady schedules and flexible time. For others, this advice is tinged with classism and can be inadvertently biased towards people with more freedom and agency. For women and people of color, having control over your day and schedule might not be a reality.
How to Be Creative About Consistency and Make it Work for Your Schedule
Consistency is key, but how you interpret consistency is crucial to making it work for your schedule. If you find yourself affected by circumstances beyond your control, consider interpreting the very idea of consistency in creative ways:
- Find the right rhythm for your business that allows for interruptions. Go to 1x a month if that’s what you can sustain right now. Don’t do daily or weekly; do the rate that really works. If you’re missing lots of days, you might be pushing too hard, and the answer is a slower pace, not quitting altogether.
- Consider seasons instead of treadmills. Many folks can’t sustain a podcast, newsletter, blog, client outreach, and other parts of business all at the same time. Consider allocating specific seasons to specific projects—many podcasts, for example, are seasonal. They are still consistent even if there’s a six-month break in between seasons.
- You can be consistent AND consistently take breaks. Consistency doesn’t mean staying on the content treadmill forever. In my business, I host a weekly podcast for entrepreneurial parents and I also take August off every year. I take another pause in late February and early March, and I take two weeks off during the winter holidays. If I need to take additional breaks, I tell my audience what to expect — we took several three-month breaks to focus on writing mini-books for parents and having that focus time allowed us to ship bigger projects.
- Plan floating “skip” weeks every month. Some of the top creators I know build in skip weeks so they have a break in their schedule and it’s not so relentless. James Clear, Vanessa Van Edwards, and Tim Ferriss have all taken time away from their writing, YouTube, and podcasts and they kept on going after the pauses. (The year James was writing his book, I believe he only shipped eight new articles the entire year — he leaned heavily on recycling past content while focusing on other projects.)
- Recycle material. I work with a writing team that takes my past podcasts and turns them into new blog posts for me. I also frequently re-use snippets of my best stuff, or re-broadcast past content that didn’t get seen much in the early days.
I launched my podcast in 2017 as a weekly podcast. I tried to go up to 2x a week as an experiment for several months, and learned quickly that it was unsustainable for my life — I am a parent to two little kids, having given birth in 2016 and again in 2018. Today, three years later, I’m 200 episodes into the podcast because I am consistent, AND I’m consistent about taking breaks and about being flexible.
Consistency doesn’t have to be rigid and unforgiving. Consistency can be creatively designed. Are you building a rhythm that fits your life, or are you racing non-stop on a content treadmill until you fall over?
With a little design, and generosity towards what life actually brings up, we can design businesses and systems that are fluid and flexible.
Sarah K. Peck is the CEO & Founder of Startup Parent and the host of The Startup Parent Podcast, where she helps working parents navigate business, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Follow her work on Instagram, Twitter, or sign up for her newsletter.