Others are quick to let you know what they find acceptable when it comes to how you spend your day.
You earned money doing it? Perfectly valid use of time.
You made something useful? That will work.
You did physical labor? Ok, we can accept that.
You were helping others? Ding, you are worthy.
The most important thing is you were productive. Time spent should involve a lot of action and end results. If you spent all day reading, talking with others, listening to music, thinking or just living idly, then you are inefficient, lazy, suspicious and should aim to do better tomorrow.
Reading, writing and connecting with others are activities that are hard to measure and quantify, therefore hard to justify.
Members of my family ask what I do all day. It is difficult to tell them without sounding defensive. I feel I must point out all of the household chores and errands accomplished as well as the fruits of my creativity.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
― Stephen King
The truth is I read A LOT and I connect with other writers and readers via the internet.
Slow and still
I slowly get ready in the morning by eating a protein-based breakfast, taking a 15-minute hot shower, meditating for ten minutes and getting dressed. I sometimes exercise. I respond to emails and comments. I write.
I need this slow wind-up to prime my creativity. The shower, meditation and lingering-while-dressing provide an idleness that allows ideas to slip into my consciousness. This time period could be the most productive time of my day. If I hit my emails and run errands first thing in the morning, there is no space in my thinking for lush words and thoughtful empathy but there is a good chance I would pass most people’s productivity test.
For some reason our culture chooses to idealize the worker bee. Do what everyone else is doing and do it quickly and efficiently. Heaven forbid you waste time. The Bible claims idle hands are the devil’s workshop. So I guess sitting around daydreaming, gathering inspiration and listening to my intuition is a sin. I am so done for.
What about pleasure?
The other day I told a friend I am reading, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and he asked if I was learning anything from it. Learning? Well, yes I am, but the main reason I am reading it is to experience beautiful imagery and stunning storytelling. Pleasure reading. I felt guilty for reading fiction. What the hell?
We have traded pleasure for practical and some days it is mind-numbing. So unsatisfying I cannot do it.
I enjoy sensual physicality and restorative mind breaks. They stoke my creativity. I allow myself to venture into delicious thought oblivion — emotional, creative, spiritual, philosophical tangents — and then return to the safety and social acceptance of commonplace endeavors like paying bills and doing laundry; much like a toddler with her parents — leaving their protective orbit to play and then returning when the independence feels vulnerable and she craves belonging.
Our kids live this way too
Recently, I have witnessed my 15 year-old son going through the same gauntlet of productivity. The poor kid has so much homework he rarely gets to spend leisure time with friends or family. He saved up and bought himself a beautiful guitar right before Christmas and has barely touched it. His father and I have helped him organize and understand his schoolwork but he is overwhelmed. He is in honors classes and gets good grades but I am not sure they are worth trading for his youth. I had so many memorable times with friends in high school AND I had excellent grades. I know times are different now. I am not sold on the current priority of maxing out schedules and limiting freedom.
What truly adds up
I may not produce a lot of tangible products but I help others understand themselves or someone they love. I create hope and acceptance. I occasionally change people on the inside. It is hard to measure that but it is my kind of valuable and productive.
Do you feel pressured to constantly produce? How do you quiet the task-masters? Do you ever allow yourself to revel in pleasure or stillness? If so, what do you do?