Originally published in The Human in the Machine on August 12, 2017
As I’m writing this, I don’t really remember why I agreed to write a post about productivity. I have a tendency to say yes because I think I should do something, not because I want to do it. And I certainly don’t want to write about productivity, because then I’ll have to admit that I’m horrible at being productive.
Don’t get me wrong, I can get things done when I need to. I once wrote a 50-page software manual in one day. I’ve written entire talks starting at 10 p.m. in a hotel room the night before the conference. But it has taken me almost three weeks to get started writing this post.
Starting is the hardest part of being productive. Although the middle and the end are hard, too. I have ADHD, so I have trouble keeping my concentration in one place. Right now I work for myself, in a home office, so there is no end to the distractions. Sometimes I just have the sudden urge to dust all the baseboards in the house even though I’m running short on time to get something done before a deadline. (That was yesterday. In my defense, the baseboards did really need dusting.)
I guess that’s more of a procrastination problem than a productivity problem. And looking back through previous posts here, at least I see I’m not alone. More than one starts off with the author confessing that they procrastinated in writing this very post, in which they are supposed to be sharing their tips on being productive.
But I think these confessions are good. Too often we hear about “industry leaders” who are super-productive. They made their millions by working 20-hour days and being singularly focused on their goals. They seemingly never make mistakes, never miss deadlines, and never waste a moment of their valuable time.
The rest of us are left feeling like we’re not trying hard enough. No matter how successful we are, we see more successful people getting all the attention, and we wonder if we could have been in their shoes, if only we were not failures at being productive.
But it’s a lonely feeling, because we think everybody else is better at this “productivity.” Each of us thinks we’re the only one who stresses over deadlines and finishes everything up only at the last possible minute because we spent too much time reading Twitter, watching stupid TV shows, and dusting baseboards that could have waited for tomorrow or next week or never.
I wrote a tech book once, and it took me more than a year to write it. A year when I was working only on that and nothing else. I don’t understand how other people write books while simulataneously balancing a full-time job and raising kids. (I don’t even have a pet. I worry that I would forget to feed it.)
But reading all these other posts from people admitting that they don’t feel like they’re productive enough either, I don’t feel so alone any more. Perhaps it’s okay to be just average, instead of a productivity superhero.
People always talk about Facebook being an unnecessary time-waster, but for me… I’ve lived in several cities and have made friends all over the world who I may never get to see in person again. I truly enjoy being able to keep up with what’s going on in their lives. I would not give that up, even if it would mean being more “productive.”
And although I’m horrible with deadlines, I will never miss the opportunity to do something offbeat or interesting, like visiting the RV Hall of Fame, seeing the Dalai Lama speak, or going to a Monkees concert. Recently, I even got to ride a magic dragon on a carousel (there’s a picture on Twitter, if you’re curious).
Friends have told me they’re jealous because I get to do so many fun things. Is that a form of productivity, making sure I’m finding interesting things to do all the time? They usually aren’t expensive things (the carousel cost $2.25), so it’s more a matter of always seeking interesting things out, which most people don’t bother to do.
Someday, when I’m 80, I’m still going to remember riding the magic dragon and seeing Davy Jones sing “Daydream Believer,” but I’m not going to remember all the days I spent working, no matter how much work I got done. Ask me how I feel about productivity then.