Friday, 10 June 2011

what is productivity?

"A new report finds that 20% of Canadian homes do not have internet access. Currently, the report characterizes these homes as - quote - productive."

I heard this last week on CBC's The Current and I laughed out loud. Because in my experience, it's so true. Internet use (like what I'm doing right now) can suck up many, many hours if you let it. Some of it can be productive, but there are times when I have to force myself out of its swirling vortex so that I can actually accomplish something.

Some days, I can be bothered when I look back over the day and wonder if I was at all productive. Wasn't there more I was supposed to be doing with my gifts? More ways of reaching out beyond my walls? Especially when my kids were young, and my days consisted of diapers, nursing, and not much else, I longed for something measurable.

Mowing the lawn is measurable - I can see the improvement. So is cleaning, but that so quickly gets undone, so it's not quite as motivating. Some of the times when I feel happiest are when I've created something - a piece of writing, something sewn, a piece of artwork, or a gift. That feels incredibly productive but also life-giving because something of me went into it (not like cleaning or other chores - they don't quite make it on the creativity spectrum at all for me).

In yesterday's post, the poem by Mary Oliver exalts idleness. That watching, waiting, noticing, and being silent can be forms of prayer.

We've all heard that "idle hands are the devil's playground." Now I'm not so sure. Seems like idle minds (and bodies) are needed to pray and to really be present and attentive to God and to others around us.

I'm inspired by my grandma. Her productivity was in her work and her ability to create things of beauty. She would bake a pie, pick raspberries, weed the garden, hang out laundry, preserve some pickles, eat a hearty breakfast, wash, dry, put away dishes, and maybe even sew a little something - all by 8:30 am. It was humbling to see what she could accomplish, especially during my university years of sleeping in.

an example of my grandma's productivity
I'm inspired by my children. Their productivity is in their play. Sometimes this play means creating something artistic. Sometimes it means working alongside an adult, imitating their tasks. My younger daughter loves to get out her plastic lawn mower when we mow the lawn. She takes her job very seriously, walking back and forth over the grass and making sound effects as she goes. This is productive play for her, and she feels a part of what we're doing. My older daughter devours books and loves to play the piano. These leisure activities are expanding her mind and causing new connections in her brain - which seem like a very productive use of time!

the lawnmowing team
Many times my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  Every involvement and idea looks so appealing, and I love to just squeeze everything I can out of life, even if it leaves me all stressed out. Because it makes me feel productive.

"To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, . . . is to succumb to violence . . . The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace." - Thomas Merton

This quotation speaks to me, and I strive for a balance between productivity and idleness. I seek to focus - to let things go - so that I don't succumb to this violence of overactivity and overcommitment.

Wishing you a wonderfully productive and peacefully idle weekend!


  1. It's funny, I have been mulling over the idea of possessions for the past few months. It started with the article about people who live with 100 objects. I am so far from that objective: my sock drawer has at least 150 things in there alone. I continued pondering the idea with the garage sale. I had to rummage through my basement, also known as the anti-chamber of death. Things go there before being discretely removed to the garbage. If you had any attachment to the object, the basement allows you to forget about it for a while without having to go into direct bereavement. I wanted to prepare my courses for September but our bookshelves were pouring over with things to the point that there was no more room for books. I had to stock books all over and under my desk in boxes. I took 3 days off work to reorganise them. Everywhere I looked there were drawers and boxes and bowls jammed with useful-useless-maybe-one-day-could-come-in-handy-objects...I have been thinking about the time necessary to manage all of these possessions. It could be my full time job...I would let the order of it all come undone and then have to work to put it back together- put everything back in place. I could also manage it on a daily basis- stand on guard, making sure that everyone puts everything back in its place right up to the last piece of Monopoly money, game card, string, paper clip....

    I move and manage things within my little house with the diligence of a doozer. Do you remember those hard-working little guys from Fraggle Rock? All of this hard work got me thinking about productivity. I consider it part of my Dutch, hard-working heritage. I am productive as soon as I get out of bed. I DO before having coffee. The fish bowl needs cleaning, a cake in the oven, dishes, laundry, crochet slippers, go for a run, make lunch, work, play with the little one, household administration, dust, and the list goes on and on...

    I am not alone when I do all of this; I am accompanied to the hum and ring on Patrick's guitar. We are like a duet: while I'm being industrious, he is playing the guitar. I can't help think of my productivity in comparison with his....hmmm, what should I say here, lack of contribution to the household chores?

    I certainly can't say 'unproductivity' because playing music is a noble occupation. I often get annoyed when I'm doing the dishes and he is playing music, thinking to myself that at the end of it all, he will have the music and I will have dishpan hands. I could blame him, but the only person responsible for this situation is me: the hard-working farm girl who needs to learn to tend to other gardens. No one would even notice if I didn't do the dishes and played the guitar instead.

    I think that our conception of productivity has been largely determined by the capitalistic society we live in. By cutting a lot of corners, it seems to come together quite quickly: we make money, spend money, manage our possessions, stock them, reorganise them, work to wash our possessions, work to put them on shelves, in boxes, work to acquire more and then work to sell them off. Like I said, I could quit my day job just to manage my things…but then I would somehow break a perfect circle.

    These two subjects, possessions and productivity, came together and made sense for me. My house needs to go on a diet too. If I had fewer things to manage, I wouldn’t have to spend so much time being a doozer; that is to say, being ‘futilely industrious’. I would then have more time to cultivate other gardens. I might not have anything to show for it, but it might bring more sense to being alive.

    playing with Robinson
    singing, picking flowers
    sitting still
    going for a walk
    calling my grandmother
    wishing people happy birthday
    really listening when someone talked to me….

  2. I'm a doozer too, and one who is productive while my husband plays guitar or banjo. I love how you call doozers "futilely industrious" - that's me - moving clutter from room to room, but never really addressing the root - which is what this diet is trying to do.

    I love how you talk about tending/cultivating other gardens. Beautiful, and exactly what I want to do too.

    And the connection between possessions and productivity - this makes a lot of sense to me. Perhaps we could start a "recovering doozers" facebook group or something with a 12 step program.