It rained yesterday.
And not for a few hours, no, some scattered showers to dampen California’s otherwise sunny afternoons. It rained all day. For hours on end. I didn’t see a single ray of sun for the solid sixteen hours I spent awake, each one of them characterized by long, dramatic looks out the window and a growing sense of discontent.
I like the sun. I didn’t realize just how much until I’d lost it, naturally, but don’t worry — this isn’t some long-winded story about appreciating what you have before it’s gone. It’s a frank look at what I did during those interior hours, which I’m now happy to say can be summed up thusly: nothing.
And it was glorious.
The Need for Speed
Los Angeles never sleeps. If my time here has proven anything, it’s that everyone is arguably insane, rushing from one destination to another with barely an opportunity to breathe. That’s the nature of a city, I guess, that has come to characterize such a volatile industry, and it’s a sad reality of life that the average Los Angelino handles as best they can: running, moving, surviving, until the inevitable occurs.
A week will pass. The sleep debt will accumulate, mounting higher and higher as the days progress, and then that average Los Angelino will drop — into bed, normally (and preferably), for half a day of straight snoozing. They’ll catch up over the next few days, groggier than they’d like, but powerless to do anything other than what the city demands: move. Keep moving, keep working, keep pushing yourself to your limits until everything comes crashing down.
I’m not trying to pick on the citizens of this city, honestly. The exhaustion I see all around isn’t unique to this dot on the map, though we’d (and I’d!) like to think it is, as anyone ensnared by the endless need to be productive can probably agree.
The worst part, I think, has nothing to do with the burnout. I’m concerned, instead, by what comes after: the slow-dawning guilt and regret over all of those ‘wasted’ hours.
The Pressure to Perform
There’s a reason that productivity is such a perennially hot topic. Blame the Internet, the Information Age, or the human need to accomplish goals, but there’s a common quality all of us have probably experienced: the insatiable desire to be doing something productive, and a staggering sense of restlessness or guilt on those rare occasions we’re not.
I’m guilty of the same. The first half of my rainy day went a little like this:
1. Peer out the window. Lament the lack of the sun or how incredibly unfair it was that California should have one day of not-amazing weather.
2. Reflect on the ridiculous thing that just occurred.
3. Realize I turn into Mr. Grumpy Pants whenever I don’t get any sun.
4. Repeat process.
The biggest hurdle, I think, was my inability to do anything. I wanted to be walking, to be exploring the city, to go to my coffee shop and crank out some of the work I’ve been pushing off. I’d spent the entire week with my nose to the grind, hammering out words like nobody’s business, but I didn’t want to stop just because the sky had decided to be a big, gloomy jerk.
I wanted, in other words, to be productive. I felt like I was stuck inside, killing time I didn’t want to kill, as the rain pattered merrily against the roof above. I could feel the restlessness growing. Below it, I felt the regret coming on even stronger, the little voice whispering “you just wasted an entire day!” in my ear. It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t pretty.
But I realized, somewhere around mid-afternoon, something else: it was ridiculous.
The Truth About Productivity
Ready for the twist?
You don’t have to be productive all the time.
That’s hard to accept, I bet, based on my own experience. We’re conditioned to keep running, to have projects aplenty for those rare chances we might be bored. But what about those days that it rains? What about that handful of hours after a particularly strenuous day at work?
Any productivity blogger worth their salt would tell you to keep moving. Hell, I advocated keeping the TV off in my ebook, Simpler, though my perspective has expanded a little since then. Ready for the other twist?
I watched TV yesterday. I worked on a few small projects that have nothing to do with blogging or networking whatsoever, and I generally let myself do every single thing that I know isn’t all that productive.
Where There’s Burnout…
There must be time to reignite — time to recharge. That might be a few straight nights of sleep, for our resident Los Angelinos, or it might be a day doing absolutely nothing of value as the rain streaks down the glass.
That might be a night of crashing on the couch with a favorite movie after yet another meeting at work. That might be playing a few hours of video games — guilty! — that you normally don’t let yourself play in order to make room for productivity.
The point, in any case, is simple. You need time to recharge. You need time to rekindle the fires — creative or otherwise — that keep you moving, and you need to realize that what gets you going won’t always be the most productive thing you could be doing.
Most importantly, though? You need to stop feeling guilty.
You need to enjoy the occasional mindless romp. You need to enjoy sleeping in, for once, instead of lurching out of bed to do more work. You need to remember how productive you are most days of the week (provided, er, that you actually are), and you need to stop beating yourself up for needing some time to read really, truly terrible novels.
Where there’s burnout, there needs to be a chance to recharge. And whatever form that might take, you need to enjoy it, because otherwise you’ll force yourself back into the cycle of productivity feeling even worse than before.
It comes down to balance, in the end. Only you know how to tip the scales, but don’t forget that you’re the one in control of weights. If you’re burnt out with the unending desire to work, take some time to play. If you feel like you’ve been wasting your time, take a moment to recall how productive you were in the days before, and only dive back into your projects if you feel your ratio of work to play is slanted more heavily towards the latter.
As always, keep it simple. And try not to beat yourself up for the occasional moment of mindless entertainment, would you? You might need it more than you think.
Thanks so much for reading!
If you want to spread the good word about this post, however, please consider one of the following:
1. Click the retweet or stumble button down below!
2. Like this post on Facebook and share it with your friends!
3. And hey! Did you know that Three New Leaves has an official Facebook page? Do me a favor and like that too!
It all helps, in any case, to share these ideas. I really appreciate it! And you can follow me on Twitter, too. That always makes me smile.