“When I am … completely myself, entirely alone… or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
There’s a clear Millennial obsession with productivity, life hacks, tracking, and metrics. My generation loves measuring things, making them more efficient, and doing more with each and every day that we have. This is an amazing quality, but it’s only a small part of the picture of success. With only these values shaping your daily life, you’ll have a lot of trouble truly relaxing and taking care of yourself, and unexpectedly, issues with allowing time for creativity to blossom. If I spent as much time tracking my meditation minutes as I did actually meditating, I might be a lot better off.
Being more productive with our time is supposed to give us more down time, more time for hobbies and side projects, and more time for family. But we often use the spare time instead for more doing, more learning, and more planning for future productivity.
It’s hard to let go of the attachment to feeling like you’re doing something all the time. There are two sides to every quality: the light and the dark.
On the light side, it’s really important to make sure the work you do is high quality and visible. Nobody likes to come out of a daze and realize they’ve been on Facebook for two hours. No one feels good about working diligently on something for days, only to find that no one notices and your career fails to advance year after year because you’ve failed to demonstrate your value. It’s good to do good work, to be able to measure your impact, and to be able to communicate it to others.
The dark side is the unhealthy desire to gain validation from yourself and others. By seeking out my maximum capacity, I often find it. My ego is satisfied because I can safely say I’ve done my fair share or more… but how often is that work anything but checking off a to-do list? How often do I feel inspired or that I am inspiring others? How often is my creativity sacrificed in the exhaustion of the pursuit for productivity? Do I feel good day after productive day, or do I feel stressed and exhausted? Being productive should feel good, and if it doesn’t, you’re probably lacking something else that is equally essential.
A few years ago I came across a fascinating book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. This book breaks down the daily schedules of the greatest minds of the past, giving you a glimpse into where amongst the mundane details the creative genius unfolded. Apparently, the world’s geniuses spent a whopping amount of time taking walks, eating food, and spending time with close friends and family.
Ideas need time to incubate in order to come to fruition, and with very little down time in your day, your thoughts go around and around in your head becoming more and more stressful to experience. No clarity comes at the end of a busy day. No brainstorming sessions turn into reality without room to breathe. No new knowledge is integrated without time to simmer and stew. To release these thoughts from their endless spiral, you need time and space to let go and center. Going for walks, reading in bed, and taking an ice bath on the roof are just some of the methods that show up on that infographic. Not sure I’m up for pretending to be a polar bear, but to each his own.
You probably know exactly what you wish you spent more time doing.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about how happy I feel after walking along the creek by my house. The sounds of the water fill my mind so my thoughts go quiet. The shade of the nearby trees produces a cool breeze. The exercise wakes up my tired body. It takes me only about 30 minutes to walk the length of it and back again. I haven’t done this in over a week, and I’m starting to feel the effects. I know I worked 8 hours yesterday, but I can’t tell you what I did. My neck aches. I feel a kind of sadness that is only relieved by fresh air and sunshine. I’ve had a very productive week but I don’t feel good; it’s time to do nothing but breathe for a little while.
Making space to do, learn, think and just be are all equally important for those of us who truly care about maximizing the good we can do in the world. Don’t take my word for it… just ask a shivering Victor Hugo, emerging from the icy water with an idea for a novel about the suffering of the poor…
This post is a part of the Spring 2017 Support Driven Writing Challenge.