Puzzling—How To Find The Perfect Balance Between Productivity And Play

From Diana Booher—

Should we never put off what we can do today until tomorrow? Experts and productivity experts have identified procrastination as a cause of unfulfilled dreams, wasted personal potential, business failure and broken relationships. Statements like this often ring true.

But it’s also true that as “the first kid on the block or the first expert on the market,” you may run into the proverbial brick wall if you sprint too quickly toward a life goal, business project, or work deadline.

My year in Miss Amos’ English class instilled my first dose of skepticism about this principle, which my father has been repeating to me since childhood. As a junior in high school, I had a part-time job to earn pocket money and fund my future college plans. My boss at Sears, Joyce Rose, scheduled me between 20 and 29 hours after school and weekends each week.

The problem? My working days and times varied depending on when older employees wanted time off. As a result, I worried about not having enough time to complete required homework in a given week. My constant worry was that Miss Amos would have to give up a major research paper the week Joyce Rose scheduled me to be at work for 29 hours!

Hence my philosophy (based on my father’s philosophy): “Get ‘er done!”

Once Miss Amos assigned a 10-page essay with a required 12-source bibliography, I hopped on it. After all, I couldn’t afford to wait for others to check out all the good books on my subject from the library. What if the source I needed wasn’t available for a week—the very week that Mrs. Rose scheduled me to work my maximum hours? Panic.

So I worked feverishly until I had this work done, with the 12 sources required and a few extras for good measure.

Then, day after day before the big deadline, I witnessed a disappointing scenario among my classmates:

––“Miss Amos, are you sure that we need to have 12 sources for our newspaper? There aren’t enough books in the library for all of us.”

––”I was in the city library and all the books I need are on loan!”

––”Why do we have to have 12?” “There’s no way. My mom won’t drive me to the college library.” “I don’t think they let high schoolers check out books.”

The complaints continued to circulate at the beginning of each lesson until Miss Amos grew tired of barking. She finally relented, “Okay. I’ll reduce it to 6. But you’d better have six solid sources and cite them correctly according to the MLA.

My reaction to the collapse: “now, she tells us? After killing myself finding these 12 sources!”

Ditto my last year. Ditto during my college years. I rushed ahead “today” because “tomorrow” a terrible catastrophe might strike me.

The stress multiplied when I became a writing career: you can imagine the hours I spent as a young mom with two toddlers writing books every night between 9pm and 6:30am.

As the stress mounted to complete one book, then another, then a dozen more, I paused when a close friend said to me, “Dianna, you’re intense. I don’t think I’ve ever dated anyone who works as hard at work as you do.”

That remark got me thinking. Why was I so quick to push to beat the book deal deadline? To ensure I can attend the children’s school and church events? To make sure my job is done in the event of an unexpected illness or tragedy in the family?

All of the above.

At some point during those years, my father said to me, “You look so tired. Slower. You work too many hours.” Then, as I sat in his den, the source of that vague do-it-now anxiety hit me: Dad and Mom always made us kids do our homework before we could play with the neighborhood kids — and before we could play basketball, volleyball, or softball practices or games in our weekend program.

The problem with this philosophy?

I’m an author! Books are rarely “finished”. Another chapter needs to be added. Another source must be consulted. Another conversation needs to be had. Another survey seems appropriate. Further editing would always improve my manuscript.

Once I identified the underlying source of my “productivity stress,” I realized that my work as a writer would do so never be done. It would never be perfect.

As a result, I learned the value of typing the “end” metaphorically. For work projects. For volunteer projects. on hobbies.

My sane self has learned to avoid the latest developments in software, mobile phones, social media or civic projects. Like Scarlet O’Hara, I’ve learned to say, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Should you learn the same lesson? The balance between productivity and play?

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 49 books, including Communicate like a leader. It helps organizations to communicate clearly. Follow her on BooherResearch.com and @DiannaBooher.

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