Over the school holidays we had a wonderful holiday in Perth, marred only by the way I hurtled past the couch in our rented apartment on the Friday and completely failed to miss, breaking my toe. Limping back to work somewhat sheepishly, I tried to pass it off as “Spontaneous Acute Proprioceptive Dysfunction”, but most people have immediately spotted that this just means I’m clumsy.
I thought that was all there was to it, until a friend was telling me via email the other day how he spent Sunday hiking with his son and a friend, instead of working. He said he’d had a fun day, but it “wasn’t very productive”. I dashed off a response commenting that peace and wellbeing were products in themselves and moved on, but the idea started to bubble in the back of my mind.
Companies are all about productivity these days. Union claims for pay rises are always met with demands for associated productivity increases – which is usually code for increased workloads.
In our personal lives, we feel productive when we achieve lots of tangible stuff. Ticking things off todo lists, tackling the paperwork, shrinking the looming inbox wall of guilt (or is that just me?). Things that we can easily count.
There’s panic on the switchboard tongues are ties in knots
Some come out in sympathy some come out in spots
Some blame the management some the employees
And everybody knows it’s the Industrial Disease
Mark Knopfler, Industrial Disease
But I’m starting to realise two things. The first is that the most productive things in our lives are probably not countable, tickable, or easily measured in any way. Love, rest, calm, emotional connectedness, wellbeing. ‘Little’ things that are the foundation of our lives.
The second is that I am vastly more productive at work when I make sure I have plenty of those unmeasurable things. Even if you measure productivity solely by measurable KPIs, it’s still crucial to focus on those unmeasurable, intangible things in order to increase (and improve!) those measurable, tangible outcomes.
On the weekend we went down to Sorrento. Usually when we do that we drive straight there, following our habitual technique of focusing solely on the outcome. But we had no deadline, no time we absolutely had to be there, so on a whim we stopped at a cafe on the way down. When we got to Sorrento we were vastly less tired, rushed, and grumpy than usual, even though we got stuck in heavy long-weekend traffic after our cafe stop. We made some space both in our drive and in our heads, and as a result we had a much better day.
My broken toe is a direct result of hurtler’s disease. Dashing about leads (for me, at least) to bumping into things. I was on holiday, yet I was automatically rushing because that’s just what I do these days. I rush. I work to deadlines. I check the clock. I stress. I find it really hard to kick that habit, even when it’s wholly unnecessary. My default response to requests for “extras” like cafe stops, park visits, trips to the pool, or even games at home is “We don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”. And the sad part is that I have written about this very problem before, last time I broke a toe!
But the truth is we do have time. I’m not too busy. I just need to recognise that being productive sometimes means I need to stop. To slow down. To make space. That may be the most productive I will ever be.