What does productivity look like? Piles of lists with every item ticked off, things you can point to at the end of the day and say, “Look what I did”? Perhaps. Or it could also look like someone chatting to a lot of people, making connections with them, or even sitting in a cafe quietly thinking.
What does productivity sound like? Silence punctuated by the tapping of a keyboard, people having meetings in brisk, meaningful tones? But maybe it can also be the raucous laughter of three women who hadn’t planned to meet today but find the ideas sparking and plans developing when they do.
What does productivity feel like? Frantic, frenetic activity followed by exhausted satisfaction at a job finally finished? Sounds worthy, but can it also feel relaxed and uplifting?
If we’re to be truly productive in our work (at home or otherwise), we need to make room for thinking time, laughter, movement and fresh air. And maybe we need to redefine productivity to include all the things which have no tangible outcome, but which can often move us closer to one.
I’m still thinking about boundaries. A day with structure and boundaries feels productive; is productive. If this is work time and I’m only working on one job (and not reading email about another, answering calls about a third, thinking about a fourth and popping downstairs to empty the dishwasher), the job is likely to be done quickly and effectively. If this is ‘home’ time and I’m only chopping carrots then I can listen properly to the boy’s chatter, as well as being less likely to lose a finger or two.
But what about when an idea for my company website strikes when I’m chopping those carrots? Or I think of a great blog post in the middle of writing a funding application? How rigid do the boundaries need to be?
We need to allow for a bit of permeability. I don’t want to lose these creative ideas, or forget the important thing I’ve suddenly remembered, but I don’t want to let it sidetrack me either. (For all my commitment to keeping the boundaries, I am still extremely easy to sidetrack some days.) I need to capture the idea and keep it until it’s time to deal with it. So I make a quick note and go back to the task at hand.
It’s like collecting butterflies and keeping them in a jar to admire later.
In fact, I’m finding that focusing on one thing at a time actually allows the parts of my brain that aren’t needed now to wander off, admire the scenery and come back with some interesting butterflies, in the shape of ideas about often unrelated things. Cross-fertilisation between the separate compartments of our lives can be very useful. That’s why I love living and working at home. It means that the boundaries are flexible.
All this, of course, is excellent justification for my ever-growing and ever-changing collection of notebooks of all shapes and sizes. There is one by the cooker (stained and bent and accompanied by a very blunt but still functional pencil). There are several on my desk, one in my handbag, one by the kitchen table, a pile of scrap paper by the back door and post-its absolutely everywhere. As long as I remember to collect up the day’s (or the week’s) pile of notes, I’ve captured all the butterflies and can hold them and nurture them until it’s time to set them free and see where they’ll take me.
Focus, but watch for butterflies.