Something I see a lot right now when I browse my usual feeds is people talking about how unproductive or productive they are during lockdown. Essential workers are the rare exception and speak to their inability to fit in time to write or create between weeks full of overtime hours. For a variety of reasons I went through my own crisis of productivity prior to 2020 and had already developed a better relationship with the concept (though, like with anything it is fluid rather than static). In many cases, productivity is synonymous with the value of one’s existence and becomes a way to translate something intangible into a tangible commodity to be offered up as protection against insecurity.
My own lockdown productivity isn’t hugely different though I have been reading and listening to more books than expected. This is a two part thing, one part is that books are a great alternative to checking my normal Twitter feed which is more full of news and anxiety than usual. Reading has offered me that necessary escape from wanting to stay up to date on a situation that will take months and years to really even out to something more predictable. I also have extra time on my hands because my spouse is an essential worker who has been working more mandatory hours and reading fills that time we typically spend together.
Writing time isn’t much different, I still use the same time slots for writing and editing. My word count is actually up but the tone of my writing sessions feels different because there is an undeniable background anxiety. For that reason I haven’t been pushing myself to produce and I have even been encouraging myself to be less productive because I can feel the weight of the anxiety in the background of my mind and I recognize that what I actually need is to sit with my thoughts and allow them to be instead of using them as fuel for creativity. It isn’t time for that for me yet. Everything is still sifting in my mind. Writing sessions are mostly rewriting sessions or including new scenes in the series I’ve been working on for a decade. This also helps to center me in the purpose of why I’m writing.
Often productivity and purpose become conflated. For, arguably, most of my life I have sought out methods of being useful and productive as a means to earn my right to self confidence. It drove me to be interested in many things that expanded my mind, heart and verve for life but any gap in productivity made me feel wholly empty. I tied my sense of wonder to the tangible products of my efforts and found it easy to set aside the ways in which my efforts had reshaped me and given me intangible gifts that expanded on my sense of being part of the world. There are obviously many rabbit holes that this self revelation can go down. But I deal with the world of the self, the ways in which expansion of understanding within the self are more world altering than the many external theories. Which is to say, when I was fixated on my own productivity I lost my sense of purpose in the world because I placed all of my sense of purpose on the tangible things I could make and do. It was incredibly limiting and amplified the effects of personal tragedies that hampered my ability to make and do.
I don’t think that productivity is bad. Making and doing are useful and necessary. It has a critical role to play in everyone’s life but it isn’t the same as purpose. A sense of purpose is an internal compass that isn’t dependent upon output. It provides a sense of direction:
Why am I doing this?
Art time has increased during lockdown because I often work on art while I listen to audiobooks. Because I have had more art time I have been able to focus more on the journey and process of my art. This has meant exploring limited palettes and trying things that I feel I could fail at. I’ve also used the opportunity for some coloring in order to explore some of my supplies without needing to start from scratch.
In addition to wanting to feel like my work has meaning I have always been curious, anxious to learn more about the world and be better within it. Writing and art have been my outlets but that passion expanded to everything I have taken up. Usually I’ve rediscovered this sense of purpose when my productive capacity has been dampened. Often it can be incredibly freeing to acknowledge the limits on productivity, the ways it doesn’t serve anyone but the ego. It can be a chance to rediscover purpose and that sense of purpose has a way of reinfusing any productivity with something effortless that leads to Flow state.