Productivity is the American way. We are born and bred to work, to produce, to achieve, to put in those eight hours and then go home and use those small pockets of free time to relax and be unproductive.
We are ever in search of a balance between the calm and the chaos, the scales always seemingly tipped toward the chaos, most people wishing for the calm. I feel can testify that the grass just might be greener on yonder side. You see, I am currently unemployed, and not by choice. I am sure some out there can commiserate. Lately I have nothing but time, and being unproductive can burn you out just as easily as the daily grind. Having hours upon hours at one’s disposal may seem like the dream, but it can be overwhelming and frustrating trying to find something productive and meaningful with which to fill those hours.
So I had to take a few of my ample hours to reflect on what I am learning during my days of being so unproductive, and I am actually surprised to find some great importance in it. It is quite amazing what you can learn when life grants you with nothing but time. Whether you pray for the weekend or live in a seemingly eternal one, here are a few lessons I find worthy while trying to find a balance.
Solitude Is Empowering
Nearly every day, from the time I wake up to the time my husband returns home from work, I have a solid nine hours of day before me. My friends find themselves at their own jobs, so most days I spend these hours all by myself.
Initially, I was bored and lonely. You can only fill out so many job applications or exercise for so many hours or read so many books before you get a little stir crazy. And as a busy body, filling my hours with daytime television was simply not an option. So, as scared and uncomfortable as I was at first, I started taking myself out.
I can attest that there are very few confidence builders as effective as going to lunch all by yourself—without a friend, without something to read. And going to a coffee shop doesn’t count. I too used to feel the slightest bit of pity when I saw those diners out there requesting a table for one, but I have come to learn, those are usually the individuals who have the most confidence in themselves.
Eating alone in public is much like being on a date with mirror: you have no choice but to get to know yourself, and decide whether or not you really like the person staring back at you. Try it. Go to lunch or a movie or whatever you like to do alone, and you will quickly see what you’re made of.
Slow It Down
We live in a time when we opt to do things the easiest and most efficient way possible. We all text, email, Facebook, take the most convenient route. But when you have plenty of spare time like Yours Truly, you have the opportunity to slow things down and get back to when things were simpler and the long way wasn’t the hard way—it was the only way.
If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. It may take a bit longer, but the effects are immeasurable. Instead of driving through that fast food window, slow it down. Pack a lunch, or fire up the grill and make an evening of it. The holidays are approaching, so instead of running to the store to buy a present, try to make one. Cheesy, I know. But when I look through my hope chest at all my memories and things I found worth saving, I can assure you, you will not find a blender in there. And may I add yesterday I received a hand written a letter from an old friend in the mail. When was the last time your received an honest-to-god letter from a friend in the mail? Write one, and send some love the old-fashioned way.
Life Should Not Be a Space-Filler
We are human and it is in our nature to stay busy. If we are not stimulated, we get bored, and when we get bored, things get unproductive in a hurry. It is easy to turn on the television or surf the Internet or play games on our cell phones.
When we have nothing to do, we often fill those spaces of time with nothing of great importance, something completely inconsequential. I am absolutely guilty of doing so. But when I land a job or volunteer position or something that draws me out my current routine, I, like anybody else, want to look back on my free time and say I made it worth a damn. I have learned getting comfortable with participating in things that have no significant consequence carries with it the biggest consequence of all: doing nothing that will matter in the grand scheme of things.
I know in twenty years I won’t remember my high score on Angry Birds or the name of that reality show I like show much. I will remember what I learned from a book, that little old lady I had a conversation with in the grocery store, that article I wrote about what I learned from being unemployed. I will remember that perhaps the biggest challenge is not finding a purpose for each moment, but finding a purpose within it.