Productive Things

I have a task list. I have goals, large and small. But even though I know there are things that I want to do, and results I want from my effort, with some goals there’s no clear Final Action.

With writing as a career, the goal isn’t just based on your effort. No matter what, you have to do The Work, but it’s not just up to you. You can only control your effort, and a problem can develop when trying to decide how to focus that effort.

You can’t divide your time into Productive Things and Unproductive Things, because as soon as you start seeing the world that way, you devalue the Unproductive Things. Your definition of Productive Things narrows. Your ability to see the value in the Unproductive diminishes.

If you’re worried about if what you’re doing now is going to help you with something in the future, you’re not focused on what you’re doing now. If you beat yourself up over how you didn’t spend time doing something to get you closer to your goals in the past, you’re not focused on what you’re doing now.

The thing is, you can never be completely certain of what’s going to be helpful down the line. Case in point: In middle school and high school, I was required to take Computer Skills classes that were mostly about how to type using the home row. In these classes, I would finish my assignments with most of the hour to spare and spent that time playing games and talking with my fellow students about how useless the class was.

Guess what? Now I can type accurately and quickly without looking at the keyboard, which is a helpful skill to have if you want to spend your time writing.

Does everything help you along the way? No. Some things really are dead ends. But by assuming that something is Unproductive you’ve eliminated any chance of learning something you can apply elsewhere, or having an experience that gains meaning upon reflection.

Stay calm. Do something. Don’t worry too much about what it is.

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