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Productive vs. Unproductive Activities

Productive vs. Unproductive Activities

As a follow-up to my self examination in Being a Productive Animal, I’ve taken it upon myself to assemble a list of the activities I do in my free time separated by whether I consider them productive or unproductive. It may seem a simplistic bifurcation, but at the end of the day the productive activities are the ones I feel make me more complete of a human being (mentally or physically enhanced, more fulfilling), and the unproductive ones are, well, brain-draining. Of course I quite enjoy many of the unproductive activities, but that doesn’t mean that their net effect is constructive.  I’ve also found in making this list that productive activities are not always chores, and there are quite a few leisure activities that can be, in my opinion, brain stimulating as opposed to passive.

My ultimate goal here is to force myself to do at least X productive activities per day and limit my unproductive activities to only a couple hours a week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Brian’s Productive Activities

  • Reading any book or audiobook
  • Social time or correspondence with close friends
  • Piano (playing, writing music, creative doodling)
  • Cooking/baking
  • Independent programming projects/Project Euler
  • Exercise
  • Talking on the phone
  • Blogging
  • Personal hygiene
  • Chess & Poker (only in conjunction with engaged learning)
  • Cleaning apartment/doing dishes
  • Creative writing
  • Brainstorming startup/product ideas
  • Travel
  • Learning a new skill
  • Photography
  • Playing cards
  • Taking a constitutional (walking, that is :))
  • Watching a movie I’ve never seen
  • Legos
  • Career advancing activities (interviews, updating resume, networking, etc)
  • Podcasts

Brian’s Unproductive Activities

  • Watching any TV (even Game of Thrones)
  • Reading the news
  • Watching a movie I’ve seen before
  • Arguing about politics
  • Listening to standup comedy
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Computer, video or mobile gaming
  • Browsing the internet aimlessly (reddit, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc)
  • Eating junk food
  • Hacker News (exception for participating in intelligent comment threads)
  • Chat/iMessage
  • Large social gatherings/small-talk in general

This list is obviously personal to me, but speaking with some friends I have found a lot of common themes (watching TV is a big one for a lot of people).

What would you add to your list?

November 7, 2014Comments are DisabledRead More
Being a Productive Animal

Being a Productive Animal

We all feel unproductive at times, some of us more than others.

For me, personally, I have high expectations of myself and what I’m able to do, so I feel unproductive frequently. It’s very rare that I put in a solid 10- or 12-hour day of work and feel good about it. Sometimes it’s because I don’t work solidly and I know it. Other times it’s because I work solidly but don’t feel like I accomplished anything.

I’ve been through long periods of employment and “funemployment” and it’s easy to feel unproductive in both cases. When I’m employed, it’s easy to work very hard and look back and not have anything significant to show for it. It’s not always clear if it’s the sort of work that adds up and pays off at the end or if the entire project, concept or enterprise is on the wrong track from the start. At other times you have a bad manager or conflicting goals from the top that make productive work in one direction difficult. In either case it’s easy to feel unproductive even if you’re spending all your time working.

When not employed, there’s even less of a way to tell whether your work is productive or not. If you’re spending your time looking for a job, a similar type of busy work can be had sending out hundreds of applications. It’s easy to be unproductive whilst seeming productive, especially when looking for a job.

If you’re spending your funemployment trying to start a startup or build a project, you face a similar crisis of confidence. You can spend all day building a website or a MVP only to take it to your first customer and be told it’s useless. Or you can scrape a list of all the hospitals and clinics in the world from a directory site only to decide that the market testing you spent $500 for came up a dud. Or you can do nothing, which sometimes feels more productive than working in circles.

I feel most productive when I feel like I’m building something, even if it’s something no one wants or will use (or read). But the sense of accomplishment is fleeting; then there is another task ahead, another project to tentatively poke and see if it’s got some life in it.

I don’t like committing wholeheartedly to a project unless I can see how it’s worth it. But that often means not doing enough work on it to reach the right conclusion. That’s a trap to avoid.

This is what I think the cult of “failing fast” is all about. Not simply doing something and failing, but doing something seemingly productive and then realizing it was all for naught. To then be able to pick up again and feel productive about something potentially useless is a rare gift.

I felt productive writing this post. I will hopefully feel productive later today when I’m done cranking out the finishing design touches to my new site so that people will actually buy what I’m selling. I think that’s probably the easiest way to tell if what you’re working on is productive: not whether you feel productive working on it, but if before you work on it, you can define why you’re doing it and how it will help your project succeed.

June 30, 2014Comments are DisabledRead More