I woke up at 9. That’s 11 hours of sleep for the night. It should have bothered me. It didn’t. It was drizzling. Irritation is unsustainable in a drizzle. I stood watching. I don’t know for how long. I knew it had stopped because I was now taking a walk. I don’t know how long I walked, but I heard the birds. I must have left my earphones behind. I wanted to write something. But, I was hungry. So I made a white-bread sandwich and clicked open a word document. I stared into a white emptiness of malnutritioned anxiety that is an empty word doc. I don’t know for how long. All I remember is that at one point I counted the number of times the cursor blinked (I reached 92 and stopped) and at another point, I was staring out of the window watching four boys play cricket. I had written a grand total of 7 words (the words: It’s all so pointless all of this). The time was 2:32. I ate the rest of the sandwich.
My productivity only worsened through the day. After lunch, I felt sleepy and just as I was about to get really annoyed, it started drizzling again. I knew it stopped because I found myself loitering in the lawn, helping some kid get onto a swing.
What was I doing with my life?
I was never like this. Days like these would freak me out. Productivity was the central theme that ran through my life. From when did I start taking a walk? Wasn’t I always an earphone-plugged runner? Wasn’t walking ‘stupid and unproductive?’ And staring out of the window? What was I? Princess Fiona?
Two days later, I wrote a post called, stop pointing at me. It continues to be one of the most-read posts on this site. Everything I wrote in that post came from my freakishly unproductive day and the seven words I wrote.
The fundamental idea of productivity is producing more work. It was an idea that was initially applied to machines. As our lives got mechanical, we adopted the idea. And it worked well. We got more things done, wasted less time, and developed a million apps to help us stay productive. We forgot to put a disclaimer though: Productivity isn’t created equal. Its principles work if you want to perform a specific set of instructions in a given time, but the same principles may be detrimental if you want to create something. Creating something also goes by a wretched name: Creativity.
Traditional ideas of productivity fall flat when it comes to creativity. I don’t consider myself particularly creative, but if I had to measure myself on the traditional productivity scale every time I wrote/created something, it would look like the art kids draw on a piece of paper they borrow at every home.
There are some days when I would spend two hours and have seven words strewn on the page. And other days when I would write a whole post in half that time. The journey to what you may consider productive goes through long stretches of time spent distracted, staring into a white screen or out of the window and taking a siesta because you got tired of doing, well, pretty much nothing – all of which is considered sacrilege in the world of productivity.
This kind of unproductivity though is vital to doing anything – for the lack of a better word – creative. You could be painting art, sketching, slam-poeting, playing the violin, doing standup, or making a You Tube video on how to peel a banana like a monkey. You do these things because the mere act of creating something gives you a restless satisfaction that makes up for all the time you wasted away.
An attempt at constant productivity is a sure fire way to pull the plug on your creativity. I am not saying you should be goofing around all the time. On the contrary, if you enjoy creating, goofing around should become an essential part of your process. If it doesn’t, what you create will become onerous and repetitive.
In the world of creation, efficiency and optimization are replaced by nothingness and unproductive lunacy. As Oscar Wilde wrote,”I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again.”
Waste some time.
1. One of the first posts I wrote was on productivity. I was very young alright.
2. Gary Keller’s book, the one thing which I wrote about here still continues to be my favorite book on productivity because of its wide application.