Is being productive counterproductive?


Well, of course not. Obviously if you’re being productive, you’re being productive.


I mean, right?

On the surface, there actually is little doubt that being productive should equate to being productive. A simple example—really basic stuff—proves the point. You make up a list of things to accomplish tomorrow. You wake up, get ready, and start your projects. By the time you settle in for dinner, the list is done. And there you have it. Productive.

But occasionally productive activities hide behind a curtain. It’s the kind of thing where you try to convince yourself of having accomplished things, even if they weren’t the things you wanted to do or created extra work.

We had a strange snow situation around our house this week. Initially, we were forecast to be on the outer edge of a storm that was going to slow down as it trudged across the northeast, basically hovering overhead for an extended run and produce significant accumulation totals for many. Being on the edge of the storm, we were looking at about 6-8 inches around us. Then things shifted a bit, the track of storm moved a bit, and the funny spins and swirls meant we were set up for two treats: First, an increase in snowfall totals. Second, a break that would be followed by the storm more or less providing a second wave.

As I woke on the first morning, we had ten inches of snow with a forecast saying more was coming overnight. Not wanting to have problems if the total grew too large, I took advantage of the opening and headed outside. Cleared the driveway. On the second morning, there was another 5-6 inches of snow to deal with.

So… productivity… did I waste my time on day one? I could I have cleared the driveway once, on day two, and been finished with just a single run from the snow blower.

Let’s see if we can add a bit of clarity by bringing a different thought to the party.

Terry and I have debates from time to time about our approaches to projects. She tends to dive right in. She’s never met a major project that was presented for the first time that didn’t have her wanting it started the day before. I tend to wait. She calls it procrastination. I think of it more as methodical consideration. For me, it feels a bit more practical to think the project over for a bit and consider it fully. I want to eliminate the things we don’t want to do by mistake rather than rush into something we didn’t need to do at all.

(I should like to point out that Terry is far more productive than I ever will be, and tends to accomplish significantly more as a result. Make of that what you will. Back to our story…)

Are you being productive if someone could make an argument that you doubled your work? Are you being productive if you are doing things you later take apart, discard, don’t use, or believe have been a waste of time?

I suppose in the end the reality of it all comes down to intent and observation, sort of. Some will say that even efforts cast aside can be viewed as experience. Others may defend, like my efforts in the snow-filled driveway, that there are times when moving forward is in fact moving forward.

For me, well, I’d like to present the idea that a thoroughly unproductive day can often deliver the most productive results. But that idea is more likely appropriate to a different piece. Instead, I suppose that checklist of items comes back to mind. Did I accomplish what I needed to accomplish?

There’s an old expression that suggests it’s possible to get in your own way. That’s actually not just possible, it absolutely true. And if you’re preventing yourself from being productive, chances are good that’s the most counterproductive issue of all.


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