Why being unproductive is sometimes the most productive thing you can do.

If you’re like me, there will have been days throughout the past few lockdown months where you’ve felt on fire, productive, positive and capable and other days where you’re not quite sure what you’ve achieved. Your to-do list seems unchecked, your sense of overwhelm kicked in and the whole spiel seemed never-ending.

On those days you may find a carousel of questions rolling through your mind.

Are you achieving enough?

Have you been productive today?

Why didn’t you tick all of the items on your to-do list?

Were you available to everyone who needed you today?

Were your team heard, your kids fed, the dog groomed - did you drink enough water??

Very early in lockdown, one of the regular things my colleagues in  my social networks were thankful for was  the quieter pace of life. There was a short period of time as we adjusted into our lockdown lives where we appreciated just how BUSY we had been, how unnecessary it was and how tired we had become.

As we begin to ease back into our old ways, there is a rising opinion that we shouldn’t just run back into our old habits.

We have a raft of technological aids to keep us on track, from productivity managers to mobile trackers. Each sending us regular alerts about how much, or how little, we’re adhering to our high standards of productivity.

If you’re predominantly a home worker right now, there can sometimes feel like a need to always be available, thanks again to technology. We can still struggle to say no to people, because the reason seems flimsy - the reason being we need some space. Space to switch off and power down so we can recharge.

Few things these days strike panic in a person like the 5% display on their mobile phone battery symbol. We carry chargers in our cars, and portable chargers in our bags. We simply can’t allow our digital master to run out

But what if we did? What if we switched off the to-do lists, the message alerts, the calendar reminders and the interruptions - not just digitally, but mentally and gave our brains and bodies permission to be unproductive for a day?

“Your worth is not measured by your productivity.” 

In fact, your desire for proving your worth through ‘productivity’ can have the opposite effect. Tying our identities to a contribution of productivity can mean we lose sense of who we really are and what really sparks our creativity.

A friend who has spent much of the past few months in her small Brixton apartment discovered recently how her creativity had been affected by the lack of change in her world. 

So last Saturday, she downed tools and took the dog for a day at a deserted beach (funny how vastly different the coast was when it was 17 degrees and windy!). Stomping along an empty wind-blasted shorefront really does a lot to stop your mind whirring over the same unresolved issues. Possibly because you are trying so hard to stay upright!

The creativity is slowly coming back for my friend, more notable is her renewed energy and enthusiasm for work. Switching off and changing the scenery for a day had literally recharged her. (One of the reasons I love going out on my bike is that I get a mini change of scene, I feel hugely revived when I get home).

This same friend once offered me a great tip for an alternative to the to-do list and I really recommend it. 

At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write all of the things you achieved no matter how small.

Woke up on time

  • Exercised
  • Drafted presentation
  • Took the neighbour’s bins in
  • Managed multi-team Zoom call
  • Remembered to take the washing out…..

When you see quite how much you accomplished, you also notice those little successes and celebrations that often pass you by. How often does something like forgetting to hang out the washing frustrate you? So celebrate the small and realise quite how much you achieve each day. 

When you recognise quite how much you actually do, maybe you’ll also realise that a day being unproductive really is very much paid forward already!


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