This post is a part of my Personal Development Project for May 2016.
“I was so unproductive yesterday.”
“I couldn’t get anything done all week. What a waste!”
“Man, I didn’t do anything today!”
The number of times I’ve said or heard these things is too high to count. We (people in general) like getting things done. We like seeing the results of our labor, creating tangible things. We’re obsessed with being productive.
Clearing your inbox is productive. Finishing that assignment is productive. Cleaning the house, taking the car into the shop, uploading the pictures from that vacation you took two months ago, doing the write-up for that meeting, being able to check something off your to-do list — all productive activities. Productivity means producing something tangible, something concrete, something completed.
Unproductive tasks, then, don’t produce tangible results. Taking a walk, for example, is unproductive. Going to the beach is unproductive. Watching a movie, getting on the internet, hanging out with friends, reading a few pages of a book, taking a nap, brewing a good cup of coffee, sitting in silence and just thinking about life — all of these things are unproductive. You usually have nothing tangible to show after you’ve engaged in these kinds of activities.
Somehow, the word “productive” has come to be “valuable”. And by extension, “unproductive” has come to mean “not valuable”. But this is a huge shame (or rather, a huge sham!) because a lot of unproductive tasks are actually quite valuable. Taking time for yourself is valuable. Building meaningful relationships is valuable. Slowing down and enjoying and appreciating life is valuable.
Certainly, unproductive things can be valueless. It’s about balance. And only you can say what’s right for you in each moment. I’m energized by going to the open market and chatting up the vegetable vendors. Some people aren’t. And likewise, some people are energized by a good run. I’m not. We all have different things that we’re drained and energized by. That’s okay. Some days you’ll need a nap while I’ll want to keep working. And on other days, the opposite will be true. It’s all okay.
But napping isn’t valueless all the time. Browsing the internet isn’t valueless all the time. Hanging out with friends, sitting down with a cup of tea, going outside to soak up the sun, it’s all extremely valuable and necessary at times. Maybe even a lot more often than we’re likely to admit.
Nothing valuable ever comes out of mindless boredom.
I deactivated Facebook for a few weeks back in February. I felt like my life was in shambles and was frustrated by everyone else seeming to have their shit together. So I said adios to social media. It did me a ton of good.
And I learned something really interesting during those two or three weeks without Facebook: I had a habit of typing facebook.com at the top of the browser when I was bored. Like, a completely mindless, muscle-memory habit. I couldn’t help myself. It was totally automatic. And after three or four days of no Facebook, I stopped doing it. But I started doing the same thing with Reddit.
When it finally clicked that I browsed these sites mindlessly out of boredom, I decided to try something new. Whenever I felt boredom creeping up on me (or when I found myself mysteriously on Reddit again), I’d stop and think. I’d ask myself, “What do I really want to be doing right now?” And then I’d give myself an honest answer.
A lot of the time, the answer was “You know, I’d actually like to finish reading that book,” or “I want to write that blog article I thought of the other day!” But sometimes, I sheepishly thought, “Honestly? I want to sleep… I’m so drained…” And other times I said to myself, “I want a nice cup of pu erh tea, and then I want to go for a bike ride.”
This opened a new world for me. A world without boredom. A world filled with valuable activities.
We should strive to always be engaged in valuable activities.
Being productive is great. Working hard and pushing yourself is great. But I think that what’s more important than constantly doing productive things is doing valuable things. Our goal should be to make sure that we are always engaged in valuable activities. As far as I can tell, all productive activities are indeed valuable. But not all unproductive activities are valueless.
It’s stressful to always expect ourselves to always be productive. It’s also unrealistic and unhealthy. We need rest. We need time for ourselves. We need meaningful relationships. So rather than always looking to spend our time being productive, let’s always spend our time doing valuable things. Our lives (and the lives of others!) will be a lot better because of it.