Silver Lining: Productive Isn’t Always What We Think It Is


A whole lot of time and space have suddenly been dumped on my lap as if all my backorders for my entire life have been filled all at once and honestly, I don’t quite know what to do with it. No, that’s not quite right. It is not that I don’t know what to do with it. There are a million things I could be doing. I just don’t really feel like doing them.

Now, a few years ago, this would stress me out completely. If I didn’t know how I was going to be occupying every hour of every day, guilt for wasting precious time, for not being my most productive self would settle in and I would panic. If I was not doing something, then I was taking up space I had not earned.

But, oddly, during these times where life has been pared down significantly, I find myself perfectly content to sit here and just be.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still have a full-time job that takes up most of my days. What is different is that I no longer have freelance work, or Airbnb guests or, well, a social life that fills up the rest of the time.  This has freed up a lot of mental space that was hitherto cluttered with an endless to do list.

It took me writing this down to realize what the difference was—I am no longer living by my to do list. Apparently a constant litany of tasks to check off takes up a lot of mental energy. Taking it away is like turning off the radio or the television that’s been blaring in the background all day. At some point in the day I turned it on and was enjoying it, but then I got distracted and left it on. I’m not listening to it anymore, but the noise is still there. It’s only when I turn it off that I realize how much the white noise had been stressing me out.

Maybe productive doesn’t always look the way we think it looks.

At some point in the last five years, I’ve gotten over the intense fear of being alone with myself. I wrote about this a few years back, how my reading habits changed after what I like to call the J bomb. How I couldn’t read fiction anymore. How any book I did read had to be digested slowly for its ideas, written in the margins. Taken one little chunk at a time. This meant I was no longer burying my head in a book on the bus or waiting for a friend at a café (oh those distant days when one frequented pubs and cafes!). I was just sitting there. By myself. With only my thoughts to keep my company.

It turns out that constantly doing is not the only way to be productive.

Sitting alone with myself has brought along some pretty deep changes to the way I function in the world. In many ways, being lighter and more compassionate toward myself and then consequently to others has been the most productive thing I could have done, because I am no longer wasting so much of my mental space and energy on self-loathing on frantically always trying to earn the space I take up in the world.

So my silver lining this week is that I am content to do nothing. To not feel the acute pressure of always having to be productive. All I feel is the need to sit in the sun for a few minutes of the day, close my eyes, feel the warmth on my face and think and do nothing.

During these very stressful and anxious times, I hope you find some space to rediscover your own company, and, in the silence heal the parts of your relationship that may need some extra attention. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is find a patch of sunlight, close your eyes and soak up the warmth.

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