Geetanjali Mukherjee

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Plan (Not) To Be Productive Today

I read a lot of productivity books and articles, and try to share some of what I read on this blog. Thinking along the lines of how to be more productive all the time, can counter-intuitively, be less productive.

As I usually do at the end of one year, and the beginning of the next, I have been thinking a lot about how I spent the year and what changes I want to make. I also looked through my time tracking data to see how much time I spent working and writing and working out. What I saw surprised me – I didn’t work as much as I would like. But I didn’t do as much of consciously chosen leisure activities as I would like either. I don’t track every minute of my time, especially time spent watching TV, travelling, doing little things around the house. And I suspect a lot of my time was used up in obvious ways. But I also suspect that I 'wasted' a lot of time that didn’t really register with me, on Facebook or playing a game, waiting for something, or in between activities. Which would be ok, not terribly bad, if it weren’t for something else. I felt like I didn’t have enough time for personal projects or meaningful leisure activities.

In an effort to work harder and move certain aspects of my career forward, I decided to embrace weekly thinking rather than daily thinking (something I learnt from 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam). This meant that I took the time to run important errands on a weekday or meet someone if that was the only time possible, and make up that time on the weekend. But this started to become a regular habit, and basically every day became a weekday – I took plenty of breaks, but no day completely off. Or I felt incredibly guilty if I did. Additionally, there were many things that I wanted to do that I didn’t give myself permission to indulge in, except very occasionally. I recently started dabbling with paints as a hobby, but seeing as this was clearly a leisure activity, I found it hard to do it when I could easily be sitting down and getting some work or house priority tackled instead. Besides, painting takes a lot of set-up and winding down time, so I could only do it in large chunks of time, which made it harder to justify.

One of the leisure activities I made time for recently...
What I didn’t notice however; was how cranky and irritable I had started to get, especially when things didn’t go as planned, and extra responsibilities were put on my plate. Without realizing it, I had started to be very difficult to be around. As a result of some conversations with my mum, and taking advantage of a slightly slower start to the year, I experimented with scheduling time to paint, and to do other renewing activities such as go for a swim in the middle of the day.

In just over 10 days, I found a remarkable change in my attitude – I am happier, less annoyed with others and even less interested in dessert (a side benefit I didn’t see coming!). In fact recently, someone asked me if I was overwhelmed in my volunteer position, as the person supposed to be helping me was probably not going to be able to. I was surprised at her question, because I didn’t feel stressed at all.

It's not easy to make time for personal priorities when the world has a hundred demands on your time. But I recently realized that the demands are going to keep coming, no matter what you do. You are better off scheduling the important things first, and along with work and family responsibilities, don’t forget to schedule something that is replenishing for you as well. I experimented with creating time to work out and to paint in my day, and then fitting my chores and other tasks around them. I also began to be aware of just how much discretionary time I waste in a day, time that could be better spent doing something mindfully, something that is totally unproductive but matters to me, and makes me more productive in the other areas of my life as a side effect. 

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