Be More Productive Productivity By Lars Nielsen Okay, you want me to solve your waiting problem, don’t you? You’ve been driving, listening to your favorite music, and your mind has been on cruise control. Uh-oh…you’ve just hit a traffic jam. Bummer! On your negativity speedometer, you’ve gone from zero to sixty in two seconds. Your random thoughts now become self-critically specific.: “I’m going to be late, with awful consequences.” Why didn’t I leave earlier?” Why didn’t I, etc.” And so on…you get the idea. Is this you? If you recognize yourself, that’s a start. If so, radically improve the quality of your life…now. Get ready to make waiting an opportunity whenever you can. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: If you’re not content where you are, then you’re not content with who you are. No new accomplishment or destination will change that fact. Conscious and productive waiting, listening, and self-acceptance will make your moment and moments happier. Plus, they will prepare you to optimize external tasks and accomplishments. If you’re not happy in that traffic jam, you probably won’t be happy when you arrive. So, Bottom Line: I’m NOT going to solve your waiting problem. Why? Because it’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity…take advantage of it. The Truth Here’s the thing: accept that most of your life is waiting, so take full advantage of it. What are you waiting for? Completion of something? Getting somewhere? Getting a degree? No! You’re waiting… to feel well. to feel happy. to feel peace. You’re not a human doing, you’re a human being. No action, no completion, nothing outside yourself will add to who you are. I learned about waiting through difficult circumstances and over long years, and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. Disclaimer: I am NOT endorsing Procrastination. Procrastination is NOT productive. Understand Productive Waiting, and you’ll know how much it resembles Procrastination…no more than the Sun resembles the Moon. Remove Attachments If you are “attached” to completion of tasks, waiting is a problem. So, identify your attachments. Are you attached to impressing yourself or others by accomplishing everything, no matter how random or unimportant? Are you excessively attached to tasks because you are too attached to the outcome? Think that the outcome will transform not just your situation, but your worth? I’d learned the danger of attachments in my one ill-fated graduate school semester. As a senior in college, I was terrified of not having a plan. I was really terrified that I’d have to fall back on a dysfunctional family that I wanted to escape. During that one graduate semester, I was a wreck, despite the “full ride”. I learned that the cost of “accomplishing” something at the expense of my happiness was too high. I left. Translation: I chose feeling and authenticity over external validation. Right after, I stumbled into therapy. Nothing transforms the context of waiting like therapy. Fortunately, the feeling and sitting of therapy was the most productive non-doing ever. I got back in touch with my emotional intelligence. As a result, I reclaimed the patience that I’d too often lost in a difficult childhood. If I was happy and self-validating, patience was not only easy, it was instinctive. The Relationship After graduate school, I felt the “lack” of a romantic relationship’. However, I used that time to rediscover myself and my own satisfaction with who I was. Without self-acceptance and affection, good relationship outcomes were unlikely. I would either choose the wrong person, or be too dependent on even the right person. I needed to be ready for a partner, not a parent. Only fertile solitude could seed the ground. After sufficient solitary and productive waiting, I found my soul mate and life partner. The Job I first worked in bank administration in the 1980’s. Initially, I had a specific series of tasks around my job description. But, after success and changes, it became harder to measure my productivity easily. I became a manager, and my task complexity and overall responsibilities increased. My control over work progression decreased. I soon became anxious, but, I continued therapy and was introduced to Buddhist thought. I made my new situation an opportunity. I realized that the external tasks mattered much less than my patient perception of them. I couldn’t control other people’s project contributions, but I could manage my own expectations and emotions. I could achieve a balanced mind every day. As a result, the mind did what it does best, providing rational thought. I could avoid my thoughts racing ahead to the future or jumping back into the past. I could work on what are known as “dependencies” in project management. I’d wait to add my own piece of a project only at the right time. As a result, I eliminated frustration, mistakes due to incomplete information, and task repetition. This dependency management was a wonderful gift. I could manage my expectations so that if I only did one thing in a day, that was okay. Best of all, my mindful, balanced approach added to my capacity for compassion at home. It was an excellent approach to support my spouse and parent two young children. Sequential Stages of Growth No amount of balanced thought could remove the difficulties of a stressful job. The job had been fun for a single, uncommitted person, but now had to support four. Time for a change. So, my spouse and I, with two little children, moved and changed our life. We endured poverty and dislocation of all kinds. Looking back, I wonder that we survived it as well as we did. But, for me, it was the most productive waiting of all. Why? Because we knew and reaffirmed our relationship truth every day. We did whatever jobs we could to survive, but the parenting vocation always came first. When Children Leave At some point, if you’ve done your job right and gotten some luck, children leave. Of course, they’re always your kids, and you will help them from time to time. But, on a day to day basis, your job’s over. Now, you have the chance to parent yourself. You’re the only child left. You now have to treat yourself as you treated your children. You must provide yourself with the same compassion, support, love, and patience. The Fruit of that Productive Waiting: Self-Understanding There comes a point after the kids are gone when you look all that anxiety in the face. Maybe you realize that you may have accomplished already what you thought you had to in life. You’ve supported a spouse in every respect. You’ve raised children. You’ve done some sort of productive work. What’s it all about? How do you make sure that, if you haven’t already, you experience joy, happiness, and peace as often as possible? Consistent ability to feel and choose the positive is the best outcome of Productive Waiting. Here are some tips to make your waiting productive. Observation and Opportunity If you read GoodlifeZEN, you are probably familiar with “Beginner’s Mind”. Adopt it now before you read any more. With that Beginner’s Mind, get ready to observe, get ready to be mindful. Realize that people equate productivity with activity, and sometimes rightly so. But, sometimes stopping and waiting can be the most productive action of all. Ingredients: First, an empty mind. Empty minds have the potential for fertile, healthy, and creative thought. Consider how your background made or makes you intolerant of waiting. In my case, waiting wasn’t simply frustrating. It made me fearful. In a dysfunctional home, like my birth home, if someone sees you wait, you can become a target. Roots So, productivity to escape notice, to seem involved with something, to escape fear, is negative. It is unproductive in the search for self. It took me years to be able to stop. But, one thing bridges human being and human doing. Cognition. Part of Productive Waiting is writing things down. What to write down? Memories Reflections on current events or feelings, recording accomplishments, no matter how small. Doing diary work helps make for Productive Waiting. Remember, the purposeful pause is an enormous asset in any situation. Don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t let old fears, anxieties, and insecurities bully you into mindless and needless activity. Simply take a breath. Resolve to treat yourself well. Resolve to feel good. Resolve that you are enough without fulfilling any tasks or completing any process. These things may satisfy you, but they neither improve your self-worth nor complete you. Remember, most of your life is waiting. Accept it, and make it productive. After all, if you treat the traffic jam happily, think how happy you’ll be when you arrive!