What is productivity anyway?

December 28, 2009

Productivity is a term with deep implications in Western society. If we obtain it, we are considered successful. If we don’t, we are not. While writing my book, The Power of Slow, I examined why we do the things we do such as obsessive email checking or excessive television consumption. It’s not particularly productive, nor does it add to our well-being. Why do we spend so much time with our gadgets in a virtual realm of connectivity? We ignore the people standing right beside us, interrupt them when our phones ring, and talk more animatedly into a headset than to our fellow peers in the next cubicle. In effect, we waste the units in our personal bank account of time, often engaging in useless activity.

Where are our manners? Where is our mindfulness for ourselves and others? We are in danger of becoming drones in a drama of our own making. We need to act fast in order to slow down.

The amazing thing about letting go of our perceived control over things is that miracles unfurl the moment you create the space for them to appear. We often hang on too tightly, pushing possibility to the farthest corner of the room. When we unplug, we allow an opening of light to seep through our homemade darkness.

During the early stages of writing the book, I unplugged for two weeks without Internet access. I gathered up my family, who had already begun showing signs of book fatigue by late August, and took them to the Adriatic coast in Italy for some fun in the sun. Saddled down with seven books, I had read and highlighted every single one by the last day of vacation. In fact, I was so relaxed, I began to have ideas I never would have had if I were sitting in front of my computer.

Living the slow, I strolled along the pool one day when it hit me. I could actually hear the sound of my own flip flops as they slapped my heels in rhythm to the burbling water before me. Inspired, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few ideas about walking speed and the pace of life. The flip-flop principle of checking how fast we walk by noting the speed of the slap was born. Many more ideas followed in rapid succession. In fact, the modernized fable of the unplugged tortoise and the online hare hat later became the prologue arrived right on time as I banged out chapter after chapter while sitting in a hotel room in Budapest.

The beauty of the Internet is a writer’s ability to work and live virtually anywhere. With this malleability comes the danger, not just for writers, but for any transient worker, of an unabashed, hyperconnectivity that zaps our life force for all its worth. Admittedly, I had one media interview (ironically about slow living) while in Italy, and a client call while in Budapest. These minor distractions reminded me that there is a world waiting for us all whenever we choose to visit, but that how we live now is all there truly is.

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