Justifying Pleasure and Non-Tangible Work: Not Everything is About Productivity

woman_writing_diary_on_bed

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.

A friend of mine has a habit of asking if I was productive on days I spend writing. I kind of despise that question. It makes me feel woman thinking and writingpressured to produce pages and proof I am a useful citizen.

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.

AssemblylineIMGFor 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?

She had never imagined that curiosity was one of the many masks of love . 
― Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera

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 love inthe time of choleraanything 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? 

 

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29 Comments

  1. Gr8penut
    September 10, 2016

    I often feel guilty for not being productive. On days I’m going to experience something fun (days off), I can’t enjoy the fun things until I’ve put in my requisite “work time”. It’s as if the pleasure is spoiled because there is still something on my “to do” list.

    The problem is there is *always* something that could be on the to do list. If I finish today’s list, why am I not heading down to the Home Depot to improve my home, or pick up some other task that is on the long term list. I could literally never get to the creative craft time, reading time, watching a movie or napping on the couch time I crave.

    It’s a stressful way to live: this blog reminds me I have a ways to go on learning to let go and that there are different measuring sticks for the different ways we choose to spend our time.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      September 10, 2016

      You are not alone. Especially “J” types in Myers Briggs feel they have to finish work before play. There are lots of studies that show we are actually more productive after a break. Keep that in mind.:) One thing I always advise my clients is to figure out what is most important to you, then do that. If you spend more time doing things that are not intrinsically valuable to you, seek ways to change your scheduling. Move the valuable tasks/activities higher up on the priority list. It’s eye opening to list the 4 things you spend the most time on, the 4 things you spend the most money on, 4 things you spend the most energy on, etc. Also, figure out your most productive time of day and get the biggest most pressing project out of the way then. Best of luck! You deserve rest. I give you permission.:)

      Reply
      • Gr8penut
        September 11, 2016

        Yep, INFJ here. Wow, didn’t realize that was an J trait, that is cool to know! Thanks for the permission ^_^ I ended up letting some things go yesterday and enjoying crafts while watching some TV!

        Reply
  2. morgancnicholswriter
    February 17, 2015

    Reblogged this on Morgan C Nichols and commented:
    So much of being a writer is about gathering ideas and letting them percolate…something we can’t do if we are constantly busy. This post resonated with me strongly at the moment, perhaps because I am reading a lot more novels and making space for being rather than doing – but still battling the internal dialogue that finds this ‘unproductive’. Then, I realise my life is for enjoying as well as producing.

    Reply
  3. morgancnicholswriter
    February 17, 2015

    So timely for me right now – I really needed this post! I have been taking more time to read novels lately, something I’ve always loved but was too busy to do much of in recent busy child-rearing years. I feel so happy doing this, but have the nagging thought that it’s not building my career in any way, nor is it getting housework done. I often feel pressure to ‘get a job’ because my own writing and other endeavours don’t yet earn much. When I know in reality having a job in addition to running my business and having an adequate amount of self care as a single mom in the little bit of time my son is at school, will tip the scale towards overwhelm for me as an introvert. That comes from inside more than outside, but it can come from others’ well-meaning comments too, like ‘So where does your income come from these days?’ Your points about your morning routine really resonate with me too. I take meandering walks through the woods most days and feel so refreshed by them, and often get ideas or breakthroughs during that time..but have to work hard to relax into it sometimes knowing there are things I ‘should’ be getting on with. So important to remember this is just societal stuff we’ve internalised and doesn’t have to be our truth.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      February 17, 2015

      We are on the same page. I think our favored lifestyle is ultimately healthier for our minds, bodies and relationships but often meandering and being feel like wasting time. It is so true that the majority of this pressure comes from societal expectations that are simply not a one size fits all. I hope you breathe easy today as you read your refueling novels. I’m cheering for you! 🙂

      Reply
  4. kerri
    February 3, 2015

    Love,love love this! I understand so much more now about the seemingly backwards way we (the herd) lives, and why I’m no longer comfortable with it, AND why that can actually be a great thing once past the confusion and fear and the “something must be wrong with me” phase, actually even during. Old ingrained habits beliefs and programming/conditioning die hard but they can with space for new consciousness. A very wise friend said to me recently, being is MUCH more difficult, at first, than doing. Why are you doing what you are doing? This is the question I began to be curious about others when I was out and about and now that I am older have applied it to myself. Thanks Brenda, too, for this amazing blog. So grateful to have found you. Thanks everyone, Kerri

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      February 3, 2015

      Yes, isn’t consciousness and BEING delicious! It is so easy to get lost in the doing. It’s hard to pull on the reins and slow down but it is so worth it. I am so much more centered and content when I make space in my life to contemplate and/or take on meaningful work. May you continue to blossom in your own consciousness. Thank you for your insightful comment and kind words. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Mary Webb
    January 25, 2015

    I like how she says it allows her to get into the space of consciousness . How else can you be aware and present! Liked it too. Back home after a trip to Fayetteville.

    Reply
  6. Jamie Fellrath
    January 25, 2015

    This is completely true. What happened to the ability for people to just enjoy life and experience the things that we want to experience? Here’s what happened: the Puritan work ethic. There’s a horrible thought in this country that we have to be busy in order to glorify God or whatever deity/power we may believe in. It’s been instilled in us since birth. It’s the very system that our government and its corporate overlords depend upon (we can’t generate revenue and/or tax money if we’re not cogs in the system).

    Here’s the irony: in doing this and living in this sort of society, we’ve created one where not everyone NEEDS to constantly be busy all the time. There is so much wealth in the world today and we’ve created so many time-saving and labor-saving technology and philosophy that now we could mostly live for our own experiences and enrichment in whatever ways we feel benefit us the most. And yet we still have this “worker bee” mindset and keep producing… eating up resources on things that don’t matter, despoiling the environment, and turning us all into psychotic worker bees.

    ENJOY life. EXPERIENCE life. When we’re on our death beds, do you think we’re going to look back and be proud of how many widgets we helped create/sell? Or do you think we’ll remember people we touched, places we went, or experiences we manifested?

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 26, 2015

      Amen and right on! I know many people who feel dejected and lost in their jobs because they are simply an interchangeable part. I thankfully also know many people who have learned to live with wide-eyed passion and consciousness. I think it is possible to have a satisfying life with a job that is steady, but perhaps does not set the world on fire, if you have something outside of work that fulfills you.
      Good point about all of the abundance now present in the world. We have choices that other generations did not, yet we still feel the need to drive on doing more and filling every second with busy-ness. It’s an absurd form of peer pressure. Do you think the millennials feel the same pressure or just our generation?
      There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and driven but burning the midnight oil just to keep up with others’ definition of productivity is spirit dulling.
      I know you are living life to the fullest Jamie. I admire that. Thank you for your insightful comment.

      Reply
  7. Bea
    January 24, 2015

    I´m taking care of my son. He´s two years old. I decided not to work because I want be with him, so I´m living of my savings. Most of the people ask me: ¿when are you going to work?” They sound like taking care of my son is not productive, like I´m doing something wrong. They can´t understand my reasons, they need to hear I´m earning money, it doesn´t matter if my son is in a nursery school for a lot of hours. When they ask me that, I am angry. When I have a little (sacred) time for myself I´m in a hurry to read something (like this article). I love reading. I also like thinking in my dreams from the last nights. Kisses from Spain

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      As a stay at home mother I always felt the need to justify the luxury of being home with my kids. I always felt I needed to do more than raise my kids. I had to be Super Mom and productive. So… I totally understand where you are coming from. I think it is a beautiful thing that you can be with your son. I am sure you are a very thoughtful and attentive mother. Money is something people can see and measure. Love and human connection are harder to see and measure.
      I am sure you treasure your sacred alone time. I know I do. Learn and grow sweet woman. You are becoming exactly who you are supposed to be. Hugs from the U.S. 😉

      Reply
  8. kimberggren
    January 24, 2015

    You might like the messages on this poster that I ran into today. Among them is: “Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.”

    http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/25/7-learnings-holstee-poster/

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      Cool! I love that. Thank you for sharing! I’m a big fan of Brain Pickings.:)

      Reply
  9. Brett
    January 24, 2015

    I don’t have any answers, either… I think I’m an INFJ… and I think my wife is ESTP, aka “The Doer.”

    She’s all about action and tactical decisions at the drop of a hat. She’s happy when things are getting done.

    I prefer reading introvert/mbti blogs, learning, absorbing information like a sponge, singing to myself, daydreaming, and other “responsable” things like that.

    Sometimes, rather than asking the dreaded question, “What did you do today?” I would prefer she ask me, “What did you feel/dream about/envision/think about today?”

    But I won’t hold my breath! I usually try to just accomplish one big thing every once in awhile just so I’ll have an “appropriate” answer to the question. You know, for “harmony’s” sake…

    Reply
    • Brett
      January 24, 2015

      PS: I forgot to say that I totally relate to and agree with your article. Every word of it.

      Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      I think many of us Idealists (NFs in Myers Briggs world) are drawn to ‘doers’. They temper our emotions and dreaminess and, of course, help us get things done. It’s funny, as I type this my beau is vacuuming around me. Ha ha.;) As long as you both appreciate the other’s gifts I think it can be a harmonious relationship. No one wants to be changed. We want to be understood and valued and if we can laugh together often then it’s all incredible. Communication is key.
      Thanks for sharing your story Brett. I can definitely relate as I was married to a ‘doer’ for 15 years. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Girleide
    January 23, 2015

    We’re surely in a generation of “work bee” praising. I used to be a work bee until the beginning of last semester. When I realize I was always grumpy, too much tired to keep my hobbies, using every bit of my rare free time solely to sleep (and then get a mind break), I decided to reduce my “work bee” rate in order to regain my quality of life. I got back to my hobbies, and even during my working time I don’t push myself even when there are lots of tasks. Once I get home, I lock myself in my room for a couple hours to make some reading or play guitar. Those little actions remind me I’m human. More than ever before, I’ve been taking care of my mental health and the results pay off playing social-awkward and improductive to other people just because I don’t spend every second of my day “doing something”.

    P.S: the actual verse is ” An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop”. Also, there is a Bible story (in the book of Luke, chapter 10) about two friends of Jesus, the sisters Mary and Martha, who welcomed Jesus in their home and Martha got upset because Mary was listening to Jesus instead of helping her with the house chores. As Jesus said to Martha: “you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.” Even Jesus knew that, sometimes, you need to shut up, sit down and take care of your mind 🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      Congratulations for having the self-awareness to know when you needed to care for your mental health. Our humanity is the gift that ties us all together (not common work and mass production;).

      Thanks for the help with the Bible verse. I googled to check it when I was writing the piece but I should know better than to trust everything I read online. I love the story about Jesus with Martha and Mary. Jesus knew! 🙂

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Reply
  11. sheketechad
    January 23, 2015

    M’dear, you are singing to the choir here 🙂 Imagine the horror of my grad school oldest when I discuss my plans to quit my job, work at probably menial work, including :gasp: manual labor (I’ve been white collar forever). And not because I’ve won the lottery, or even have a decent retirement. It is because I am no longer living the life I want to live, and I’m not certain I ever have been. Since my husband died, I’ve had the singularity of mind required to ask of myself “What makes me happy?”

    As long as you live within your means, however small they may be, and are fulfilled emotionally, spiritually and physically, then I say it is all good. I’ve been downsizing for some time, but it is slow going.

    I hope you shed the guilt handed over by others and enjoy the times as you choose to do. Their is a machine at work in ‘civilization’ that requires everyone to be the cog in the wheel of consuming and producing. It is what makes economies run. We have long become accustomed to being like others, but to what end? The most productive thing we have control over is our mental well-being.

    Read. Idle. Be. And by the way, that’s not in the bible so you don’t need to worry about sinning 😀

    Hugs and smiles,

    ~S

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      You go for it girl! Do whatever work makes your mind and heart sing! You have raised your children and played the ‘cog’ at work. Now it’s all you. I agree. As long as you have whatever it takes to live comfortably and your spirit and body are purring then live as you please.

      I looked up the ‘idle hands’ saying online to make sure it was in the Bible but if you say it is not, then yahoo! I am no expert in those matters.;)

      Big hug S! I am watching you transcend the blue print most people follow. I am learning from you.:)

      Reply
  12. Steven Barer
    January 23, 2015

    agree and resonate big time with carving one’s own path that bucks the commonly held cultural beliefs. worshipping at the god(s) of productivity, earnings, status, pecking orders etc definitely don’t cover all the bases, but most people feel safest if they “fit in”, they’d be terrified to follow their own inner compass. obviously you, and probably many of your readers, are heart, intuition, creative, seekers who are prepared to buck the majority emphasis on productivity, and thank g-d there are many like us who do… a world with only worker drones would be so much poorer for it.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      It is a ‘heart, intuition, creative’ crowd around here.:) It often feels like I am going against the grain. I spent many years in worker bee mode because, as you said, it felt safe and like the right way to be. I can’t do that anymore. I have to contribute in different ways. I am slowly learning different ways to demonstrate personal value. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate your keen insight.

      Reply
  13. Tammy
    January 23, 2015

    Thank you. I need this today!

    Sent from my Samsung device

    Reply
  14. jujujubee2002
    January 23, 2015

    “So I guess sitting around daydreaming, gathering inspiration and listening to my intuition is a sin. I am so done for.” BAhaha me too, sistah! But it’s so true that this ‘suspicious’ idle time is essential for creative connection. I loved your metaphor with kids “leaving their protective orbit to play and then returning when the independence feels vulnerable and she craves belonging.” Beautiful. I ping pong back and forth between my divine solitude and my return back to family to make sure everyone is safe and fed 😉 Both are an important part of the path. Awesome Brenda! <3

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      January 24, 2015

      I believe you’re right Julie. Our creative work and our family are two elements that feed our growth. I even think the way they pull at our attention from opposite sides is part of our education. Sigh… Power on kindred spirit. I’m cheering for you!! Thanks for your kind comment.

      Reply
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