I’m sharing this beautifully written blogpost with you from Cindy Giovagnoli about expanding our definitions of “productivity.” This is a subject I find personally and professionally very relevant, and one that I think you may too, so I’m delighted that she gave me permission to reprint it here to share with you, my readers.
Cindy is a gifted photographer, artist, writer, podcaster, website developer, adventurer and nature lover whom I did a podcast with a few years ago about “Noticing.” She’s a funny, honest, wise old soul whose thoughts and ideas can be found at: StayCurious@CindyGiovagnoli.com.
A few days ago, I took Chili Dog over to my favorite local running trails so that he and I could both stretch our legs and breathe in some wild air away from the sounds of cars and people and busy-ness.
It was drizzly and a little raw (Seattle winter, anyone?), but I actually love the woods in that weather- it feels extra quiet and mysterious and there tends to be fewer people on the trails.
As Chili and I began, I ran through my mental list of things “to do” while I was out there. I wanted to brainstorm a writing project and some website tweaks I’m making behind the scenes. I wanted to think about possible applications for some advice I’d heard on a podcast episode. Think through the structure of a class I’ll be offering locally in 2020.
I pulled up the “notes” app on my phone, ready to jot down what came to me. As I was looking down at my screen, a bigleaf maple leaf fell from the tree above me and landed across my phone.
How’s that for a sign from the universe?
As I peeled the enormous damp leaf from my phone, I realized that I’d fallen into a mindset trap that can sneak up on us without our noticing: the idea that “being productive” is the highest value on our time. It was a Tuesday in the middle of the day- didn’t I have to justify my hours in the woods with some kind of work product?
There are two big problems with that idea:
(1) It defines “productive” as relating solely to work product, to tangible, measurable outcomes related to how I make my living. That’s a pretty narrow definition.
What about how I do my living? As in, the quality of my life? Of my days? They’re numbered, after all. Such is the reality of mortality.
So why wouldn’t my definition of “productive” include things that bring health, wellness, wonder, awe, peace, or simple joy to my days?
Walking in the woods, reading a novel, meeting a friend for great conversation over coffee, sketching in my journal, taking in an exhibit…even binge-watching Netflix in the right circumstances- these can all qualify as “productive” tasks when we broaden the definition to include the things that make our lives richer and more enjoyable.
(2) If we’ve decided that being “productive” (even in it’s broadened definition) is the absolute highest value we can place on our time, we’ve disregarded the power of blank space in our lives. And blank space is where a lot of magic happens.
Part of what led me to a “to do” list of brainstorming ideas while on a walk in the woods is the fact that I often have breakthroughs and game-changing ideas when I’m out on such an excursion.
The reason that those breakthroughs and ideas happen is usually due to the fact that I’ve allowed my mind free time. I’ve allowed boredom and daydreaming and for my thoughts to wander where they will at random.
It’s amazing what can pop up when we allow our brains to do their own thing for a bit. It’s why so many ideas land on people while they’re in the shower.
Connections are made. Problems are solved. Ideas take shape.
But there’s no way to force this. There’s no way to prompt it.
We simply have to leave some blank space and then see what happens.
Sometimes that space will result in ideas or breakthroughs and sometimes it won’t. You never know.
At worst, we end up with a brain that got a bit of rest. Not such a bad deal, really.
So I invite you to broaden your definition of “productive” to include the things that add richness and meaning and joy to your life, regardless of whether they have a measurable outcome that makes money or not. And also to allow for some blank space for boredom and daydreaming and letting your mind wander at will.
I’d like to hear what that looks like for you, so hit reply and tell me- how do you define productive and where do you find some space in your days?
It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here because I’ve been practicing what I preach: giving myself a break. And, you know what? Nobody got killed! I took time to do some light gardening, some socializing with family and friends, some cooking and baking, some Spring organizing, some reading, and some mindless fun. It was totally delightful. For a few weeks no major trainings, no BlogTalk Radio shows, no bookkeeping, no internet work, no professional reading, no raking and mulching, and no blog writing. It was a daily practice of exorcizing my “shoulds,” and I would strongly recommend it to all of you as part of your mental health workout.
People today talk constantly about being too busy, but often don’t challenge the underlying assumptions and automatic or duty-driven behaviors which fuel the compulsive whirlwind of activity. Companies expect employees to be available without limitations, so it exacerbates the perception and experience of busyness as “loyal,” “responsible” and “valued.”
I would invite you however, to step off the emotional treadmill every so often to stop and smell the roses. Be silly, non-“productive,” self indulgent, time “wasting,” and in the moment. Relax, and see what happens…..
Don’t miss my next BlogTalk Radio episode tonight about the subject of dealing with life when things fall apart. We’ve all had the experience at times of dealing with crises which create a sense of chaos and uncertainty – maybe the loss of a loved one, or a debilitating health issue, or the loss of a job or business. It always feels horrible and destabilizing, and often creates a story of victimhood or bitterness for us. But the fact is that misery is just another part of life – it inevitably comes with the joy, relief, and triumph that are also part of our story.
Tune into this half hour episode tonight and join the discussion or just listen in, and hear about some attitudes and behavioral tools which may help you to accept some of these hardships as part of being human, and move through these experiences with more wisdom and perspective. Call toll-free 877-497-9046, or if the lines are busy call 760-542-4114. I hope you can join me! If you can’t make the live show, listen to it online at your convenience by going to the web player on my website, www.SusanLager.com or at www.BlogTalkRadio/SusanLager.com
I am a person who likes to feel in control. When I sign onto things, I like to think I can count on certain outcomes. Maybe I’m rigid.
Case in point: I am the host of a BlogTalk Radio show called The Couplespeak™ Relationship Forum. I’ve been doing the show for more than three years, have interviewed lots of fascinating guests, and have prided myself on being well prepared with an understanding of the issues, and questions that don’t seem totally moronic. What I don’t count on is encouraging callers to use the 877 toll-free line, then having them reach dead air, nada. Or, when I purchase a transcript of one of the shows, I don’t expect it to read like hieroglyphics! What drives me crazy at this point in my life is dealing with products and services like this where all the tech support people are lovely, helpful and earnest, but the technical realities seem to come from the Stone Age!
Am I the only one who doesn’t understand why suddenly the hugely expensive universal remote in the master bedroom no longer turns on the “PVR”? (whatever that is). Or, why the answering machine has decided not to answer? Is it just me, or have you too wanted to throw your fax machine out the window when it takes hours to connect, then suddenly stops giving you a “transmission report”? Not to mention my office microwave which inexplicably now takes two minutes to heat up a warm cup of coffee. Oh, I forgot – how about my wireless landline phone which now magically flicks off of “speakerphone” mode in the middle of a call? Is it unrealistic to expect that if I don’t log off of the Square app on my phone, that I wouldn’t have to log back in after the last transaction thirty seconds ago? Is it too much to ask that if I’ve set my alarm for 8 AM that I could change that to 8:10 if I want to snooze some more?
Am I the only one with such maddening, baffling and pervasive technical difficulties? Am I just too rigid in my expectations, or have I mysteriously landed on another planet?
If you live here in the Northeast, you too were probably baffled and delighted by the unseasonably, record breaking hot weather last week. I’m talking mid to high 80’s in mid March! Everyone went from layers of wool bundling to practically naked overnight. What also happened was a lot of overly optimistic, premature planting of gardens by people who figured it’s now Spring, just because it actually is Spring. Big mistake. Lots of folks have now set themselves up for the bitter disappointment and frustration of frostbitten veggies and flowers when the arctic weather returns during “mud season.”
This may seem like a stretch, but I think sometimes when we “prematurely plant”, presuming certain outcomes, rather than patiently waiting for things to unfold, as sometimes they must, we set up avoidable aggravations down the road. (Isn’t that what they mean by the saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”?)
Some things, like the weather, cannot be controlled, counted on, or rushed, so try to be mindful of where you make idealistic presumptions which then govern your actions. In my case, when the temperature hit 83 degrees last week, I somehow resisted the urge to haul my 10,000 pairs of boots up to the attic to make room for my 15,000 pairs of open-toed, summer shoes. Good thing, because had I not, I’d now have frostbitten feet and boxes all over my bedroom, needing to be reloaded!
Be careful about what you count on!
PS. If you’d like more of my in depth, original articles about all kinds of issues, go to the “Products” page of my website www.SusanLager.com where you can buy them for a pittance. With Easter around the corner, you might want to purchase “How To Avoid Disasters At Holiday Family Events.”
If you’re totally broke, approaching our beloved tax season, just subscribe to my site for a long list of “Free Reports” (Sign up button is on the right side of this page.) Whatever you do, STOP PLANTING VEGGIES NOW IF YOU LIVE IN NEW ENGLAND! BE PATIENT!
I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with
skills and tools to transform your life.