Why I’ve Become Unproductive

As I’m on the road traveling — and still recovering from the launch of The NOW Year — I’ve got another guest post lined up for you today. This one is by Travis Collier. Travis is a Commissioned Officer in the US Coast Guard as well as a consultant–he examines how and why people in organizations aren’t working well, and discovers solutions to get them working together and better.


Because I’m a great procrastinator.

I see it all over my life — in my growing to-do list at work, my waistline, my intermittent (actually, inconsistent) blogging schedule. I never thought about how shortfalls in one area of my life could cross over to other areas–but there’s definitely some commonalities of where I procrastinate.

If you read David Sedaris’ new book of essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc. — he’s got a great metaphor about the “burners” of our lives:

“One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health and the fourth is your work.”

Good people sacrifice one — great people sacrifice two. Sometimes three.

But when I think about my productivity – I’m sacrificing all of them. I try to move incrementally on everything — only to fall behind trying to cover anything.

It wasn’t always that way. I’ve felt significantly composed before.

Whether it was living out of a suitcase and passport book for years, or learning how to inspect barges and charter boats, or just trying to be a better leader, I remember a sense of being together…of improving every day.

A couple of things help me remember why.

  1. First – there was always a metric. Whether it was miles flown, ships boarded, or hours teaching, there was a clear metric. It may not have been the best metric — but it was the metric that worked. Now that I’m mid-career and shifting into a new career as a writer and consultant, the metrics are different. They’re not pre-defined. They’re self-defined.
  2. Second – the audiences are different. The audience I serve in my work is not the audience I serve in my art (which frustrates me because they used to be the same). We’re all free agents, but it’s harder to pursue that path when who pays you isn’t who inspires you.

What does all this have to do with productivity? It’s about knowing why we’re productive. It’s about having a burning desire to be at our best every day — to get a little better, to find a better way, to help others find their own way.

Productivity is an inner resonance. Being unproductive is an inner dissonance.

I think about our Paleolithic ancestors and how they might have defined productivity (probably with grunts or cave drawings). I think about how they stored and transferred effort to their family and tribe. There was no time or luxury to being unproductive. Unproductive meant extinction.

Today we’re blessed with the curse of unproductive effort. We have a luxury of being lost without accidentally running into a mountain lion. We have the space to live and lead without an inner sense of why — without a clear flame within us driving us to bringing out our best.

I remember my productivity as a history. But I realize productivity is a choice. It’s a momentary and permanent choice. Each time I put on my Blue Lantern ring I remind myself of the hope I have to change. Each time I put on my Red Lantern ring I remind myself of the rage of letting myself fall into this rut — of not using my emotional as energy to push myself forward.

Every time I take five minutes to give thanks and recognize gratitude I remember how much honoring and humbling life can be through the gratitude of others — of how none of us can do it alone. And how my struggles with productivity don’t have to be solitary ones.

When we take the next swing, we’re taking a swing that’s authentic to ourselves. But we’re also taking one of many swings. No single swing leads to us falling behind. It’s the succession of swings that place us off pace.

It’s also the succession of swings that brings us back on the fairway.

That succession can be from what’s on our calendar. It can be through the projects we thrust ourselves into. It can be in the moments of gratitude we need to seek everyday It can be every bit of thanks you receive from your effort.

These are the rewards of our productivity. And when we don’t get them too often, it can be easy to get down on ourselves. That’s where I’ve been…and that’s where I’m moving away from.

But enough about me. Not being productive brought me to this site — and it also brought me deeper into my personal journey about why. Now…what’s your why?

Why are you productive? Why do you want to be more productive? How do you know you’re productive? What about productivity resonates with you?

Photo credit: GlennPeb via SXC.HU