Some work sessions are not productive, or so it might seem. I’m not talking about the times when we’re exhausted and we try to do a task that requires a lot of effort. I’m talking about project work when we’re calm, well-rested and not hungry or anxious. All the ingredients for a productive work session are there, and yet, somehow, it just doesn’t happen. The ideas may be flowing. We may feel like we’re being creative and getting a lot done, but 3 hours later when we review our work, there’s nothing we can put to good use.
I was reminded of this the other day while listening to an interview with a successful film-maker. He was talking about all sorts of projects he worked on that never were completed. He was very accepting of this fact, and spoke of it without any shame or regret. He looked forward to resurrecting some projects when the timing was better, and others had spawned ideas he used years later. The research and work he did on the uncompleted projects often prepared him for future endeavors.
Permission to Fail
I broke through a major barrier to starting projects, when I gave myself permission to fail. I came to see the value was in the work itself, and not necessarily the quality of the results. Some work sessions were good; others, not so much. But there was benefit derived from putting in the time and giving it my best effort.
Of course, there are days that yield great results. In the beginning of my self-employed life, I was using these days as my standard, considering a work session a failure if I couldn’t replicate the same high quality results. It was sort of like judging my appearance by the standard of the good-hair-day I had back in 2003.
Now I have come to appreciate that productivity is not a linear process. There are fits and starts, progressions and set-backs. But I know I must keep showing up to avail myself of whatever results may be possible. I also know that I often have creative insights within days of an “unproductive” work session. They come while I’m in the shower or talking a walk in nature. I know many others experience the same phenomenon.
Time to Stop
I have also come to appreciate when it’s time to call things a wrap. When there are literally no ideas–good or bad; when I can’t focus; when I rewrite the same sentence 10 different ways–those are signs that continued effort is truly a waste of time. If I want results, I either need to take a break, or completely shift gears and approach things from a different angle. Preferably, I do both.
What have you discovered about your productivity?