Challenging the productivity police

It’s a link post! Today I point you to some bloggers who are fighting the good fight, railing against the pressure to cram more, more, more into our days.

At Tools for Thought, Andre Kibbe spells out why a relentless focus on the sacred cows of productivity and efficiency is the opposite of helpful when you’re doing creative work.

He’s writing about the limitations of Parkinson’s law (“work expands to fill the time available for its completion”), which, as Andre reminds us, is not a law at all but a Humorous Saying. Unfortunately, it’s taken all too seriously by people who use it as a reason to place unrealistic time constraints around projects. The problem, says Andre, and this is where I stopped reading to let it sink in:

people can move faster on demand but cannot think faster.

Although not his point, this also explains why having multiple knowledge-based projects due at the same time, and imminently, can lead to brain freeze if you’re (I’m) not careful.

Then here comes Charles Faris with his pro-procrastination post:

Procrastination will do things for you that no planner can. Procrastination will create space. It will create time. It will create clarity of thought.

Chas isn’t saying, blow off everything that people are depending on you for, but pointing out that we attach more importance to our tasks than they deserve.  Here’s the gotcha that got me:

How many times in your life have you made a list and not completed everything on it, and everything worked out fine? …And how many times have you skipped tea and shoelaces and cookie jars in order to do something that turned out to be of absolutely zero consequence?

My other favorite Charles, Charlie Gilkey at Productive Flourishing, suggests pruning your projects the way you prune your rosebushes. (Yeah, I know I was just down on gardening, but he’s right about the pruning thing.) It hurts to slice off new growth (potential opportunities), says Charlie, but that’s what makes full blossoming possible.

Right now I’ve got that clenching feeling that tells me there’s too much on my list. So my resolution for the next few days: back up, lighten up, hang out. Replenish my creativity. Get my good judgment back.

6 Comments

  1. A little late to the party but this is important stuff. I think creative people need to be aware of their own creative rythms and be alert to procrastinating … flipside, I also believe creative people need a lot of time to do nothing in particular so their brains can rest and be diverted and recharge, and time to draw in lots of stimulation from all kinds of outside sources to feed their creativity.

  2. Janet Bailey says:

    @Barbara – Yes, that ebb and flow. So important to recharge.

  3. hendra says:

    yes, this is my problem righ now
    i don’t now why is very hard to strick to my planner espicialy on time allocation. maybe today time management system lack of identification for activity that required knowledge or creativity.

    sory for my english !!

  4. Janet Bailey says:

    @Hendra – I have a feeling that identifying the activities which require more thinking and creativity will help your planning system work better for you. Good luck!

  5. emma says:

    Questions r.e. the link you posted to Tools for Thought post, relating to Concentration Threshold, incase anyone else finds answers insightful:

    http://tools-for-thought.com/2009/05/04/time-management-smackdown-parkinsons-law-vs-concentration-threshold-theory/

    1. I’d be interested to know how people separate procrastination from thinking creatively when it comes to tasks like design, or ui, or copywriting? Would you classify this as a different task, planning, where procrastination would be “what are the objectives..?”

    2. I’d also be interested to hear any suggestions for how to actually measure time taken to procrastinate compared to time actively working, without causing more distraction.. this came from my thought that my own procrastination doesn’t always happen in one ‘block’ before actual working, i may work for a while, procrastinate, work again.. any tools?

  6. Janet Bailey says:

    @Emma – It sounds like you’re talking about the difference between procrastination and incubation. You can be working on a project even if you’re not sitting in front of a screen “writing” or “designing”—you might be noodling on an idea, or giving your unconscious a chance to make unexpected connections, while you’re doing dishes or talking to a colleague or taking a walk or a nap or visiting a museum. So you’re alternating focused time on a project (the planning, drafting, revising phases) with more unstructured time to let things bake, or incubate, which I don’t consider procrastination. This works better when you start early enough on the initial phases (like setting objectives and brainstorming) to allow time off for noodling without undue anxiety. In this case, procrastination would be putting off those initial phases, thereby not leaving time for incubation! The planning and objective-setting aren’t procrastination either, they’re legitimate parts of the project that can set the stage for more “creative” thinking.

    In the context of the Tools for Thought post I linked to, which also mentions Julie Morgenstern’s useful concept of concentration threshold, I think of procrastination as time you intended to spend focusing on the creative project, but instead spent avoiding it. It’s highly individual, though—some people (including me) need a lot of ramp-up time—you could also call that procrastination, but the label isn’t helpful if it increases anxiety and frustration. You do need to know enough about your habits to factor that time into your planning, which takes some self-observation.

    Which brings me to your second question about measuring: here again, sounds like you may be asking how to measure incubation time (as well as classic procrastination), compared to more active and obvious focus time. You could measure this indirectly with a time-tracking application like RescueTime, which records time spent on different apps and websites. A pad of paper and a pen are handy tools for this as well. ;)

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