Giving In

Have you ever had a day when every attempt at productivity forced you to the bottom of an ocean of frozen molasses? My mom and I call that a 20% day. Don’t fight the 20% days. They are Muhammed Ali or Mike Tyson, and you are a featherweight.

The term 20% days comes from Anne Lamott’s book Plan B. In one of her essays, she tells the story of David Roche, who leads the Church of 80% Sincerity. He preaches that eighty percent of the time, we can strive to improve ourselves or attempt other noble actions, but 20% of the time, nobility will likely escape us. And that is OK.

Telltale signs of a 20% day:

  • Approximately nothing can inspire you to get out of bed, and you are not sick.
  • After you manage to get up and have breakfast (serious bonus points for anything beyond cold cereal or toast), putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher requires herculean effort.
  • When you try to convince yourself you can achieve any of the tasks on your list, your head threatens to explode.


  • As soon as you feel your head reaching exothermic potential, desist all thoughts of productivity. It is really, really helpful when 20% days arrive on the weekend.

As you may have guessed by now, I had a 20% day recently. It took me half an hour of lying in bed to recognize it and another 15 minutes to remember the bit about Mike Tyson. Fighting is tempting because it feels as if you will never find the motivation to get out of bed, but if you wait, the time will arrive.

I got up and made breakfast (bonus points for me!) and forgot again that resistance is futile. So I sat in my chair after breakfast feeling as if I should do something. Then I remembered to concede to the inevitable and spent more time in my chair not feeling as if I should do something.

That was my breakthrough moment: 20% days do not have to suck. If you don’t try to produce Nobel Prize winning research or clean behind the stove, they can be remarkably pleasant, somewhat foggy and definitely not productive, but pleasant.

And remember, 20% is one in every five days. If you’re basically functional for a week straight, you’re an overachiever.

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