That seems like something of a confession, because I find that there is a strange fixation in our culture of a certain kind of productivity. One where you have to be “always on,” always “crushing it,” always stressed, always available, always buried by email.
Too often, this creates the expectation that “overwhelmed” is the only reasonable state of being. That, if you aren’t overwhelmed, that somehow, you aren’t doing it right; if you aren’t overwhelmed, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.
Yet, I find the following to be true:
- Sleep matters. (Seriously)
- Unscheduled time matters.
- Time with family or loved ones matters.
- Alone time matters.
- Seeking broad experiences outside of your profession or niche matters (maybe this is travel, reading outside your genre, experiencing different kinds of art, learning a new craft, etc.)
I work with a lot of writers, and in a recent course I teach, 30+ writers were sharing their short/mid/long term goals. One writer mentioned a short-term goal of writing four books per year. A few others had similar goals. This goal – write four books next year – was amidst a list of many other responsibilities, both personal and professional.
When I pointed out how bold this goal seemed, the writer explained how within their genre, writing/publishing four books per year was the expectation.
Now, if you want to write 4 books next year, that is awesome. I support you in that.
If you are doing it because it is “what is expected,” that’s simply not healthy. It is no more healthy than corporations that expect their workers to pull 12 hour shifts everyday… to give up weekends… to work on Thanksgiving Day… to spend time away from family… to cut their maternity leave to the bare minimum… or to diminish the value of personal health by adding on more hours, more responsibly, more pressure.
I’m reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar. One of the stories he shares is that of the production of Toy Story 2, and how it turned into a mythology for the company. It was one of those impossible deadline scenarios, where the team pulled together, raised the bar for their standards, and were rewarded with incredible success at the box office, and in terms of artistic respect.
It’s a story that begins with Steve Jobs saying, “Disney doesn’t think we can do this, let’s prove them wrong.”
This sounds like the setup for how great things are created, right? Or the setup for every great sports movie ever, right? Well, there is a flipside to that kind of story that we rarely talk about. Ed continues it:
“For the next six months, our employees rarely saw their families. We worked deep into the night, seven days a week. One morning in June, an overtired artist drove to work with his infant child strapped into the backseat, intending to deliver the baby to day care on the way. Some time later, after he’d been to work for a few hours, his wife (also a Pixar employee) happened to ask him how drop-off had gone — which is when he realized that he’d left their child in the car in the broiling Pixar parking lot. They rushed out to find the baby unconscious and poured cold water over him immediately. Thankfully, the child was okay, but the trauma of the moment — the what-could-have-been — was imprinted deeply on my brain. Asking this much of our people, even when they wanted to give it, was not acceptable.”
Ed put into place a number of policies and resources after that movie to ensure his employees could not only prevent risk to themselves and their families, but actually improve their well-being beyond pure work metrics.
In other words: when a team at an office works overtime to meet a deadline, I have never heard of a group meeting afterwards to assess the damage, “How many of you missed an important milestone with your kid? How many of you have gotten into fights with your spouse over all the overtime you have been pulling? What kind of health damage has this project done to you, with stress, diet, and lack of exercise?” Questions such as these never get asked.
So back to this: I am a grown man, and I take a nap every day. I literally change into sweat pants, get into bed or a chaise lounge, put covers on, and allow myself to go to sleep.
This happens in the middle of the day, at a time when I would normally be expected to be “providing for my family,” by working working working. Instead, I have a deeply personal experience that involves not only no email or social media or work, but no “productivity” as we would normally define it.
I work from home, and my wife is home with our 4 year old son. They both expect me to nap. They expect me to walk upstairs, close a door, and that they will have to not be loud for awhile.
Even though I have napped for years, and firmly believe that it makes me healthier and yes, more productive, I’m aware that this is uncommon. I’m aware that at the moment I am having personal time by taking a nap – emails are coming in, a client may call, and there is a general tenor of “crush it!” in the world. (if you are looking for resources to justify including naps in your day, Michael Hyatt has a nice post on the topic.)
I teach a lot of online courses for writers and creative professionals. In the past year, I have added a key term to them: “White Space.” I actually use this term in place of the word “homework,” because I want White Space to be the thing that is added to their life via the course.
White Space is a place where we discuss the possibilities of what can be; where bad habits are negated; and where we honor the need for the space in between other things in our lives. That metaphor extends from your daily schedule – to your creative process – to the nuances of the work you create.
For me, naps are one way that I experience White Space in my life. How do you create White Space in yours?