The Productivity-Time Conundrum

December 15, 2010

If you want something done, the saying goes, ask a busy person to do it.

When I was small and naive, I thought that was a dumb saying. “But a busy person already has things to do!” I thought, “Where’s the guarantee that they’ll even get around to the piece of work you’re pawning off on them?”

But now I see how true it is.

It is that magical time of the year when I am free. There is nothing (or at least, exceedingly little) that I have to do. Earlier in the month, I was eyeing my calendar, rubbing my hands together with glee, and thinking, “I’ll be able to edit and write! I’ll write short stories! And then I’ll have things to submit! And I can write better blog posts! And write ahead of myself so I’m not scrambling for ideas!”

Although I did spend a surprisingly pleasant few hours editing the novel today, I haven’t been as productive as planned.

I can partly blame tiredness and illness. It has been a hard few months of going at pretty well full tilt. I suspect that now that my body knows there’s a chance of more sleep and relaxation, it’s making its grievances known. Apparently, when there wasn’t really a choice, it just shut up and bore things stoically. This must be why people get sick after a period of stress.

But that’s not the main reason, or even a terribly convincing one. I think the main reason my plans for productivity have nose-dived is because there is nothing I have to do. When I’m juggling a million different things at once, I know my writing time is in jeopardy. So I guard it. I designate a block of time, just so I know nothing will crop up and interfere, and I protect it like a dragon with its gold hoard. Busy periods mean that my days tend to be quite regimented – it’s not all that difficult to scrape together another block and assign it “Writing Time.”

When I’m in leisure mode, my days are loose, the hours flow into each other. I might get caught up in a book and finish it because I can. Then I’m kind of stiff, and go for a long walk. And then when I’m home again, I’m cold and tired. What better remedy for that than grabbing a DVD and popcorn? Or even just making hot chocolate and staring out the window?

It sounds lovely. It is lovely. The problem is, it’s a minefield of procrastination. If you have all the time in the world, you’re not going to hurry to get things done. After all, I’m off tomorrow too – I can just do it then, right?

Here is a graph to illustrate:Eventually I’ll be back with my nose to the grindstone, scraping writing time again. Better to do it now, when I have the time, and when I’m not a twitching ball of stress.

I guess it’s true that a surplus of anything makes you take it for granted.




  1. So as I look at the graph I’m wondering what units are commonly used to measure productivity as none are shown on the y axis. Good God, I forgot to turn the science teacher button to the off position! Not to worry, that person will definitely take a back seat to the writer in me as we near winter break. Then I’ll be beating back the procrastination demons, too.

  2. This post is SPOT ON!

    I am way behind my time on Christmas prep, not because I’m short on time, but because I have ample time and no urgency.

    Hope the rest does you good. Sounds like you need a bit of R&R.

  3. Too true!

  4. This is so very true. I just finished some of my finals and I’m procrastinating packing and studying for tests tomorrow.
    The graph is quite entertaining. 😉

    • Huzzah! It’s not just me then.
      Good luck studying for your remaining tests!

  5. My characters yell at me when I don’t write. One, in particular, a woman who lays an egg (don’t ask) has visited me in my dreams to scream hysterically in my face. It was not pleasant. She demands her story be told and I’ve promised it’s next on my list. If I sleep she’ll come after me!

    Also, did you notice your graph is a silhouette of a pile of poo? Better not let that lazy bug bite again or your apartment will smell.

    Oh, and thanks for the link. I will definitely check out that podcast.

    — david j.

    • Oh dear… I didn’t notice that. Visual-spatial skills are not my strength- I was always the kid who couldn’t do puzzles.
      I guess there’s a lesson here, though. When you’re too busy, or not busy enough, everything kind of goes to… well, you know. 😉

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