The productive side of non-productivity

Once upon a time, the above didn’t make sense to me.

I am sure that for many of you, it has exactly the same effect. It does not compute.

In today’s society, the pressure to perform has grown from strength to strength in a somewhat downward spiral. Sucked into a vortex that more is better, hitting the commercial road for an extended amount of time to reach often too challenging a-task goals, the transition from a more manual labour-intensive stride to a fast-pacing digital world is still skyrocketing.

My younger days here in good old Bangkok are best described as a 7/11 – I either was “open” 24 /7 to cater to the needs of our clients or just took a break between 11 pm and 7 am. Either way, more is better was my motto. It was not going with the flow. It was staying well ahead of a tsunami of Armageddon proportions.

When looking back at it, I am not proud of these days.

The human mind and body have evolved throughout the years of being on this big ball floating in the galaxy. And with years, I do mean years. The way we think, act, digest, and behave is fine-tuned to adapt to what we have brought forward. Industrial revolutions and agricultural breakthroughs shaped the path to how we work and pursue a better outcome for ourselves and our families.

When our society is changing, we are almost forced to follow in its footsteps without question. There is no turning back to be good old times unless you start your own country or invent time travel. We feel that the course of time propels like an afterburner on a rocket; the first few kilometres are slowly building up before the throttle goes full out. The feeling of getting merged with your seat is almost tangible.

The process of productivity is a given – what we put in, we get back. 

Force equals mass times velocity. If one (mass) goes up and the velocity remains the same, we still create more force (productivity). The same goes for when we need to have the same amount of work piled up, but we want to do it quicker, the force increases. The end result can turn into becoming more productive, as we pushed the pedal to the metal a bit more.

But the way we may look, analyse, and theorize about upcoming tasks, nothing is possible without energy. And just like a car, we don’t have an unlimited supply of it, and I quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”.

Take the example of driving a car. 

Driving is relaxation for me. I love the feeling of sitting down, steering wheel in my hands, some good tunes, chatting with my partner and seeing how the landscape passes by. In my mind, I have the destination in my head, the task is just getting us there safely and without feeling totally drained.

Just like the accelerator on a car, you can press it as hard and often as you want to. Taking the foot off once in a while to let other vehicles pass by safely or changing lanes, but going back to adequate speeds to reach our destination effectively and efficiently will always be on my mind. The determining factor to keep on going is and remains gasoline.

Driving on fumes is not getting you anywhere. It is bad for the engine and the frustration to stay stranded along the motorway waiting for a Good Samaritan or roadside assistance to give you that top-up is not your aim. Your tasks and goals are in sync with what you put in your car and keep it under control. 

The world demands results, productivity. Every single moment of the day, regardless of what state of mind, body and soul you are in. Keeping your foot on the pedal without gasoline in the tank – well, you know where that will lead to. But the world outside the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle does not! They don’t know the reality of the engine and the level of your tank.

The reason why a car has dashboard indicators. It is to give it that signal for a much-needed refuel. Before it is too late. 

To be productive again.

Being non-productive is productivity as well. We are flooding our tank effectively to ensure we perform at our best again. While a tank station employee puts the nozzle in the tank, you can head out to have a coffee, a toilet break, a breath of fresh air, or a little stretch. It may not look and feel like being productive, but the opposite is true.

What I lacked when going all out during my younger days was checking my personal indicators. I forgot to build boundaries and communication channels with myself to halt, step back and go with the flow of seeking respite. This was not only for me but also for those around me – personal and on the work floor. They do not know when your indicator flashes to signal “time for a break”.

Do you really want to stay in the fast lane, keep the gear in 5th and without checking your engine light? Do you see how this can result in a crash and burn and a total overhaul of a new engine? Pretty sure you ruin your car even before you’ve completely paid it off.

Chilling down, doing something that you must do to get back on the road are moments of divine productivity. The best ideas appear during simple, mundane moments. Your mind is no longer distracted from the outside influences penetrating left to right, front to back. It has time to reset, reassess and push fresh and invigorating ideas to the surface.

Working full-on for xx amount of hours without adding a break every 1.5 hours is a skill I had to learn. There are some great ways to set yourself up for a higher level of productivity when not ignoring your indicator lights. Implementing these simple principles has seen increased productivity, knowing my energy levels and planning my 24 hours way better.

You do you. Let me guide you on how you can indicate when your warning lights blink.

It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less. | Nathan W. Morris

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