On Productivity

I hate feeling unproductive. I don’t even like taking time away from working to eat, which is why I spend most of my solitary meals wolfing everything down as fast as possible and/or attempting to fulfill my resolution to watch every episode of Crash Course.

My definition of what constitutes productivity is flexible.

For me, being productive essentially means that I’m undertaking an action that will achieve a meaningful goal. Doing something for the sake of doing it also falls under this category (sometimes). What I’m doing can have a small meaning, but it needs to have meaning. I have to believe that what I’m doing is producing some kind of good,  such as contributing to my education or the education of others, or bringing a genuine smile to someone’s face, bestowing happiness, that sort of thing. Or even when it’s not happiness, just being with people in solidarity. Spending time with other people is one of my favorite activities, which is why I do consider myself to be very much a people person. That isn’t to say that I don’t sometimes have off days, or need my space; I just mean that, for the most part, I like to spend my time in the company of others, even if it’s just to sit in silence and read books next to one another.

This desire for everything to have meaning, and my struggle with being alone are major contributing factors as to why I struggle with meditation, and why I find it so hard to fall asleep. Letting my mind rest — letting go of that vigilance to search for meaning in productivity — is more than just difficult; it’s scary, and sometimes even feels wasteful. Why should I bother sleeping when there are things to be done? Tasks that need completing, books that need reading, stories that wish to be told, to burst forth from my brain and spill upon a page. Even so, I do make it a priority to sleep at night, because I know that I will be more effective and more productive if I am well rested. That said, I tend to work myself until the last moment I can before slipping into the arms of Morpheus, making a point to write in a journal before I go to bed all the things I accomplished that day and want to accomplish the next. Sometimes I’m too tired to carry this out every night, but often I find that it gives me some peace of mind to have a plan.

I mused on my habit of planning ahead as productive procrastination in my previous post On Prioritization, and while this may sound similar, it isn’t exactly. In this case, my planning for the new day is a slight procrastination on getting to sleep, yes, but it also provides clarity and a plan of action for when I wake up the next morning, because it is one less thing that I have to think about as I continue with my day, and thus can skip straight to the more productive part of the day when I am focused on getting things done.

Some days are days where at the end of it all I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done. Where I look at the clock and I wonder, where has the time gone? This is the depression talking. The gnawing feeling that eats away at my accomplishments. My way of beating it back is to find meaning in what I have gotten done. Perhaps I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have liked, but I made enough beef stew for several meals. Maybe I didn’t finish cleaning my room, but I sent out and replied to half a dozen emails of mid to high importance. I feel like the term “productive procrastination” does have it’s time and place, but often what we fail to recognize is that procrastinary or no, that’s still productivity that we are achieving.

I suppose that what I’m getting at here is that productivity comes in all sorts of flavors and can be composed and interpreted in a myriad of different ways. I’m not saying that holding ourselves to certain standards and meeting our goals isn’t important, I just think that we should be flexible about how we attain these things.



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