I wrote in my last post about trying some of the tips in Crystal Paine’s book, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. Day 13 suggested reading 168 Hours, which seemed like it might not be so helpful for me (personally — I hope it is for other people!).
But I decided to reread my chapter on “Controlling your calendar” in advance of working on some workday productivity posts. I’ve been struggling with the urge, lately, to look busy — filling my days with stuff that doesn’t matter so I feel like I’m doing something, rather than doing whatever it takes to come up with ideas.
So I was quite happy to read a passage, after I quoted a man complaining about a non-productive meeting (“I might as well be asleep”) that said this:
“Confession: I actually did spend the 90 minutes before I wrote the opening paragraphs of this chapter asleep. Thanks to my very energetic toddler, my day got off to an earlier start than intended, and by 11:30 a.m., I knew I was going to need more coffee to be functional. So I took a nap instead. When I woke up, some previously elusive ideas on chapter organization for this book popped into my brain. I wrote them down and have now spent the afternoon executing against them.
“In other words, during that 90-mintue nap, I made significant progress on my top-priority project for the year. Granted, I did not send a single e-mail, attend any meetings, edit any PowerPoint slides, read any headlines related to my job, call any clients, sit through any conference calls with my colleagues, travel anywhere, manage the papers on my desk, or do anything that most knowledge workers have come to think of as ‘work.’ Still, I’d say it was an incredibly productive morning, though if you’d seen me during those 90 minutes, I doubt that ‘productive’ is the first word that would have popped into your head.”
One of my goals for the next year is coming up with the right narrative non-fiction book idea — one that is fascinating enough and deep enough to consume many months of my time. I love writing books, and if I spent the next two months doing absolutely nothing but puzzling out this problem, and at the end of two months I had a good answer, that would be time well spent. But it’s quite difficult to get one’s head around this idea — that sometimes 90 minute naps in the middle of the day are more productive than anything else one could be doing.
What’s the most productive “non-productive” thing you’ve ever done?