My Unproductive Search for Productivity

One of my weirdest, nerdiest, and perhaps least productive hobbies is reading blogs and websites about productivity. I love reading through websites like Lifehacker or The Art of Manliness because they have numerous articles about good work habits or different hints and tricks to productivity. Lifehacker even has a series titled “How I Work,” which highlights the workflow and daily routines of super successful entrepreneurs, web designers, or business owners. Each one would talk about apps they use to help them throughout the day, music they would listen to, the way they deal with calendar’s and to-do lists, and everything else you can think of that is work related. I would devour these articles, thinking about how I could implement some of these strategies in my own life. I was obsessed and infatuated with productivity, and I was eager to lead a life of increased productivity. Through all these articles I learned about all of these things I needed to do to be more productive.

  • I needed to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every single day.
  • I needed a morning routine that consisted of prayer, devotions, exercise, a hearty breakfast, and a daily planning session.
  • I needed to work nonstop for 50 minutes followed by a 10 minute break.
  • I needed to tackle my toughest tasks first.
  • I needed to have a system for responding to emails.
  • I needed to have multiple running to-do lists, and I needed a flawlessly executed Google Calendar.
  • I needed the perfect playlist, with not too many words, just the right amount of electric sound, and the correct number of beats per minute.
  • I needed to spend half of my day working at a stand up desk and the other half working at an exercise ball, because, let’s face it, sitting down is killing us.
  • I needed to eat lunch away from my work, but not take too long of a lunch break.
  • I needed to end my day with a recap of my to-do lists and a brief plan for tomorrow’s work.
  • I needed to schedule all human interactions.
  • I needed to do my work at the same time every day.
  • I needed a nutritious and healthy dinner.
  • I needed to shut off all electronics up to three hours before I went to sleep.

The list goes on. I had all of these ideas in my head, and I was driving myself crazy trying to make them a reality in my life. I was eager to become a productive, efficient, hard working machine. I was going to accomplish everything I needed to do and still get a solid 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Or at least so I thought. Then I remembered something. I’m in college. If you haven’t experienced college life, the schedule is absolutely ridiculous. It’s not that we are just oh so busy and have so much going on. I am sure that most adults have just as much going on and I don’t mean to humble-brag about being busy, because I hate that, and I hate making busyness a badge of honor (that’s a post for another day.) But the college schedule is definitely unique. Every single day is different. On Monday’s I didn’t have class or any obligations until 2:00 P.M, while on Tuesday’s I had a 6:00 A.M meeting followed by a day of classes. Once a week I had a night class, and once a week I didn’t have any classes at all. Some days I had to go to work, some days I didn’t. Sometimes my small group met at 7 A.M on Wednesdays, sometimes it met at 5:00 P.M., and sometimes it met at midnight. I might have groceries for dinner, or I might just need to go to the UC. My roommates may want to stay up late and talk, or we might all go to sleep by midnight. I might have zero homework, or I could have a week’s worth of homework piled into one night. The point is, every day was different, and every day was unpredictable. And for a while, it was driving me crazy. I looked at all the productivity tips I wanted to implement in my life and saw how I had failed to do any of them. It was agonizingly frustrating, and at times I would have killed to have a regular 9-5 job.   But over the course of the semester, I have had a change of heart. I still want to be as productive as I can be, and I still value a good work ethic while taking care of yourself. However, I have come to find value in the chaos of a life that is entirely without routine. I have learned to embrace a life in which every day looks different from the last. And I have realized that a life of ruthless productivity leaves no room for lingering. Over a year ago I heard about the value of “lingering.” It is the idea of being willing to stay in a conversation long past when you have to. It is the idea of being fully engaged and fully present wherever you are. It is the idea of not always thinking about what comes next, or about what you should be spending your time doing. It is showing someone, anyone, the people around you, that you care enough about them to just linger. It is sticking around after my fraternity’s weekly chapter meeting to hang out with the guys instead of running off to the library (which I am so often guilty of). It is staying up late with your roommates even when you need to get up early the next day. It is eating a meal with someone and allowing yourself to stay seated even after the last bite. Lingering is about taking the long way to class just to continue a conversation with a trusted friend or with a complete stranger. It is an act of sacrifice, and it is a way of telling someone that they are more valuable to you than your own time. It is completely and utterly unproductive. And it is an absolutely essential part of our lives as students, friends, classmates, co-workers, family members, humans.

It is somehow always easier to linger when spending time outside, disconnected and away from it all.

I have often struggled to linger, and many times I have failed. When I see a group of friends in the UC, sometimes it is way easier to grab my food to go, run back to my dorm and settle in for an episode of The Office. Sometimes in conversations I catch myself anxiously glancing down at my watch, knowing that there is nowhere I really HAVE to be anytime soon. I sometimes start weighing out my time with friends in terms of what I could be accomplishing in that time. But thankfully, miraculously, I have come to embrace the art of lingering. I have come to see that there is no amount of productivity that compares to the value of time spent with people I love and care about. Sure, sometimes you really do have to put your nose to the grindstone to get to work. And it is unrealistic to think that we can spend all of our time unabashedly just hanging out with people. I’m not that much of an idealist, and my tendencies towards efficiency still remain. So many of the habits I listed above are things that I still try to incorporate into my life, and I believe they do help me make better use of my time. However, I refuse to be ruled by productivity. And I refuse to place productivity for the sake of productivity above people. My summer schedule will probably be just as unpredictable as my school schedule. I work a couple hours a week at a coffee shop, I work for a minor league baseball team that literally has a different schedule every week, and I have three different camps and a 10-day leadership retreat throughout the summer. I don’t see myself having much of a routine through most the summer, and for the first time in a long time, I am okay with that. Instead of seeking normalcy and productivity, I will seek opportunities to linger. Lingering is what creates the moments and the memories that last a lifetime. Lingering is what shows people that they matter to you. Lingering allows for casual conversations to go deeper, and it allows surface level friendships to become something more meaningful. Wherever this summer takes you, and when the chaos of life takes over and overwhelms you, I hope we will always find the time to linger.