Productive Wastage

I’m often accused of being productive which I find hysterical because I have had to dedicate a whole cupboard to my unfinished crafting projects and my list of ‘started’ papers is longer than my list of actual finished ones, never mind just the published ones.

Some colleagues and I were discussing productivity on Friday and one of my accusers said she’d read that the key to productivity was focussing on the process and not the end product. When I describe my work process I often say that I hate ‘kidding myself’. If I’m not going to do the thing that I’m supposed to do I don’t sit staring at it, instead I do something else. For example, my NSS package happened when I was supposed to be addressing some reviewers’ comments for our assessment paper. And on Friday, when I was supposed to be addressing those comments again, I went home and played Assassin’s Creed because it had had been a bit of a difficult week and the freedom to say “bugger it” is one of academia’s greatest perks. (Never underestimate the power of ‘bugger it’ when talking about productivity). I don’t kid myself about the work I’m doing.

I have never considered my ‘don’t kid yourself’ motto in terms of ‘process’, but it might actually be a more useful way to conceptualise it. I like exploring different processes. I usually have a little chunk of something I’ve tried before – you want to know about ‘play’? Well one Monday afternoon I randomly did a lit review for the beginning of a paper, here it is. You’d like to know how to make an R Package, well one week I wrote a data package for fun. While there is an end product for these things, I don’t necessarily bother with them.

One of the greatest examples of this is NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month takes place in November each year and encourages everyone to write a 50,000 word novel. I love NaNoWrimo and have taken part several times, and finished only once. NaNoWriMo does not care about the final product. A common solution to writer’s block is to have ninja’s jump through the window, which will take at least ten pages to resolve before you have to get back to wherever you were doing. To me, this is the ultimate test of process.

I’ve been idly playing with my own idea for 2018 and I decided to announce the name with this blog post – I’ll be writing “Love in the Time of Elk Cloner” this year, and I probably won’t finish, given that November has a lot of marking for me, but that’s not the point. The point is that I will work on those skills, and exercise my creative muscles, and next time someone needs something a bit left-field written, I’ll be ready.


So, academics and technical folks – this is my recommendation for being productive like me – waste more time on stuff that won’t be finished, especially ridiculous novels with barely thought out premises. If you want to give it a shot, you can start NaNoWriMo with me this year. Follow me over there.

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