Productivity – Why Isn’t Simply “Being” Enough?

I’m noticing something about my life, and perhaps about life in general, that I’d like to explore here a little. It has mostly to do with time and what we choose to make of it as well as the battle waged between quiet time and accomplishment while seeking a contented satisfying life.

Personally, I am blessed with substantial flexibility and options in my life. While I run my own B&B/vacation rental and have involvement in other investments and projects, I have significant leeway with my movements and how I spend my time. Because of this somewhat rare and precious grant, and also because I am a vital, healthy, capable being, I feel a personal obligation to not squander the opportunity I have.

productivityThe interesting dance comes, however, because while it’s true that I don’t want to waste time and my life energy, I notice that I feel a little guilty or unsatisfied if I am not accomplishing something or bettering myself or the world in some way. There’s nothing wrong with betterment or contribution per se, but that undercurrent of responsibility seems to interfere with my ability to simply enjoy spaciousness and the simple pleasures of life itself as much as I could. My happiness and ease appear to be more dependent upon accomplishment than simply being.

I travel quite a bit, leaving my home in the hands of beach seeking vacationers in the summers and sometimes at other times of the year, venturing forth into the world in ways that call my soul. Those expansive summers are times ripe for gathering photographic images, philosophical perceptions and other raw materials for various projects which can be completed while home. Thus, my home time is the best opportunity that I have to integrate what I’ve gathered during my travels and complete various creative, community and home-oriented projects that require more focus and groundedness. This winter in particular, I’ve been feeling a much stronger calling to be home, to be here by the agitated Mendocino Coast sea with the strong swings of the solstice-inspired tides. My soul seems to crave time spent being still, and is feasting upon these long, dark storm-filled nights which support this period of looking inward, deepening and resting.

There has been a bit of a battle in me between this desire to be productive and work on creative projects, and my urge to winter in quiet and stillness. Productivity can feel so outwardly directed and I yearn more for the inward. Like many of us, I seem to feel better about myself when I’m being successfully productive. Perhaps that’s the exploration of what I’m trying to uncover here – the seemingly unholy alliance between personal productivity and self-satisfaction. Why does self-satisfaction need to derive itself from productivity and accomplishment? Just to be clear here, productivity can come not just when I complete a house project, or take on some creative or organizational project. Productivity/accomplishmentwhicht gives me satisfaction can also come from more self-reflective activities such as writing this post, meditation, taking a long walk, or taking care of my body with yoga and exercise. Yet something seems to be “off” when I need to accomplish something, whether inward or outward, in order to feel good about myself. Why isn’t simply “being” enough? Why is self-satisfaction dependent upon accomplishment? In many ways, this superego-enforced desire to be productive has served me well in life, but I am questioning the extent to which it has infiltrated the entirety of my life.

At the moment, as the inward time of winter intersects with the supportive, productive time of home, I’ve been working out a compromise with myself: Do my inward/supportive practices (yoga, meditation, exercise) in the mornings before otherwise starting my day, and then do my best to use much of the remaining daylight hours in quest of some form of productivity, making space for a beach walk in there as well. I’ll then spend the remainder of most evenings by the fire, writing in a journal, resting, connecting with others on similarly inward trajectories, reading and listening to music, and watching an occasional film.

I’m still left, however, with this question about the relationship between personal productivity and self-satisfaction. Is it simply part of the human condition? Cultivated in western thought? A trait that has propagated itself through evolutionary successes? Or simply a quirk of my own personal development? Perhaps it is as simple as a desire to be useful. When St. Francis famously intoned, quote-lord-make-me-an-instrument-of-thy-peace-where-there-is-hatred-let-me-sow-love-francis-of-assisi-1-18-86“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred let me sow love,” etc., he wasn’t saying “Make me as productive as I can be,” but rather “make my life be a worthy one.” In that li
ght, perhaps productivity is to be embraced, but only to the extent that we feel it is being utilized in pursuit of activities which serve the ultimately unique calling of our own soul. Perhaps then, the uneasiness that we sometimes feel around lack of productivity can be viewed as an existential guide, cautioning us to attend to that which truly and more deeply matters to us. Careless squandering of this precious grant of life and opportunity perhaps should feel uncomfortable. For me, let that discomfort persist until a deeper underlying truth presents itself, and my life reflects that truth, both in inaction and action, in deepening and in contribution.

4 replies on “Productivity – Why Isn’t Simply “Being” Enough?”

In the last month I’ve read 1600 pages in three very good books (“1944”, “The Goldfinch” and “The Invention of Wings”) — all very well written and worthy of my time. But I’m a slow reader so this took many, many hours which could have been ‘more productive’. In this month I’ve also watched probably 40 hours of NCAA basketball and “House of Cards”; not very ‘productive’. I also sat and watched the surf in Maui for two weeks (some of it overlapping with the above). I have no sense of guilt. I don’t do guilt. It was all wonderful time. I also have spent considerable time on two major volunteer projects from which I draw significant solace. Have I created the ‘right’ balance between the two kinds of activities? Probably not, but I’m not beating myself up about it. Life is short. While I consider how best to use my time, I do not choose to feel badly about spending time on simple (yet ‘unproductive’) activities. I feel very good that I have the opportunity to make such choices. I am empowered. No sense (to me) wasting my empowerment. Choose the glass to be half full; enjoy. Food for thought.

Hey Glenn, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just to clarify, I actually consider reading, beach walks, meditation, yoga, etc. as productive activities, so I don’t feel “guilty” with those things. My inner debate isn’t so much about culturally acceptible productivity vs. non-culturally acceptible productivity, but rather on why the connection beween self-worth and “productivity” (even the simple self-care kind) needs to exist at all. I also recently had some Hawaii surf-watching time and that all felt perfect too! blessings!

I think it is perfectly natural to hibernate a bit in Winter. The bears, trees, and flowers do the same. Why shouldn’t you? Take it as a time to reflect on your accomplishments and process your experiences, and maybe also to plan your next ventures. I have some thoughts on TIL to share, too. I will leave with a William Blake quote: Think in the morning, Act in the Noon, Eat in the evening, Sleep in the night.

“In that light, perhaps productivity is to be embraced, but only to the extent that we feel it is being utilized in pursuit of activities which serve the ultimately unique calling of our own soul.” I’ve also pondered the question of productivity lately, having recently retired and finding quite a bit of time on my hands to do with as I please. One of my thoughts is that I was brought up by a father who is a doer not a thinker. He has had a great retired life for the last 30 years ‘doing’ pretty much whatever he likes, which is mostly outdoor activities in the beauty of California. I’m noticing in my days without a schedule what seem to be uninspired moments that lead to an entire day of doing nothing. I define nothing as something I ascertain as unproductive according to the world in general. Such as tending my garden as I marvel at nature and interact with my kind and loving two cats all the while thinking uncommon thoughts regarding the universe, and my place in it. “Perhaps then, the uneasiness that we sometimes feel around lack of productivity can be viewed as an existential guide, cautioning us to attend to that which truly and more deeply matters to us. Careless squandering of this precious grant of life and opportunity perhaps should feel uncomfortable.” I resonate with your thought processes regarding the “uneasiness” guiding and cautioning us to attend to the deep matters of our souls. I don’t like to “should” on myself, as a rule, so I think I’ll try to continue relaxing into the moments of nothing, quit worrying about not accomplishing anything supposedly world-worthy according to my task-master mind, and do what? Feel into the uneasiness and learn. Is it a day of hibernation, possibly because the next day or so ideas, interests, and motivation seem to spring out of nowhere. Anyway, it was nice to peruse your website that I just found today by googling, where am I needed. My question for today.

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