Verbing Your Noun
You can do stuff or make stuff. Pick one.
Last Saturday, I had the second in my series of talks with Matt Labarge. He’s going to be a recurring guest on my podcast for a few reasons, not the least of which is he’s a fun guy to talk with. During our conversation, I mentioned a character from my old podcast named Oliver Townes. Oliver came about because of the explosion of self-help and productivity books that has happened in recent years. For my part, I read all the books in this genre that I could for almost two years to research this character. And while there are a lot of cruel jokes and roasts I could make about all of those so-called experts, that’s not what this podcast is about. This podcast is about getting you set towards True North from a creative standpoint with the knowledge and wisdom that comes from practice, not theory. So, I have something to say about “Productivity.”
As the saying goes, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the root word of productivity is PRODUCE. I KNOW, RIGHT? I mean, this shouldn’t be rocket science, but we lost that part somewhere and the guru books don’t help. Especially if you’re riddled with self-doubt and ADD not unlike the host of this here poddlement.
Generally, here’s the scenario: You and I know that if we don’t write it down, it generally doesn’t happen. If it’s not in the calendar, it’s not going to happen. If it’s literally not in front of my face, it’s not going to happen. So we grab a copy of the eleventyith Edition Getting Shit Done and we read it and say YEAH. I NEED TO MAKE A TO DO LIST. I NEED TO WRITE ALL THIS STUFF DOWN AND I’LL REMEMBER. So we put everything we think we need to do, or stuff that is due some time, or things that every relative down to your third cousin twice removed asked you to do, and then you stare at this Mount Kilimanjaro you just created and you have a seizure.
Or, let’s say your gears don’t lock up looking at the monster you just created. You completely embrace the To-Do List, and as it grows to roughly the size of Toledo you’re checking things off the list so it stays about…the size of Toledo. But you’re dedicated! It’s admirable, it really is. It’s just…you’re getting shit done, but when you look at the finished results column, Mr. and Ms. Creative…there’s nothing there. Because you’re busy doing shit.
So I have to ask you all a question: If the root word of Productivity is PRODUCE, what are you producing? Are you doing shit, or are you making shit? There’s a big difference.
Yes, you’ve still got to do the dishes. Yes, you’ve got to clean the bathroom. YES, YOU STILL HAVE TO DO YOUR BEST TO MAKE SURE YOUR LIVING SPACE DOES NOT BECOME A BIOHAZARD EVENT. But we’re creatives, and we need to create. Or, as a friend of mine says, “Fucking Ship It.”
So let’s stop calling what we need productivity, and let’s start calling it effectiveness. Effectiveness, in this context, means results. How effective is that to-do list related to having a tangible result at the end of the day? If it’s not, maybe we need to have a little rethink, and let me anticipate the next question because I’ve asked it myself. NO, rethinking how you tackle your day and get shit done does not mean you failed. It means that you have found one way that doesn’t work for you, and that’s the bottom line. As creatives, we need to find that magic method that works for us. For me, that starts with turning all the inputs off in the morning. My morning work period is sacrosanct. My wife comes in and starts her call center shift at 10:30 because of COVID, but for the first 2.5 hours of that time, I don’t have anyone in the room with me. The ‘productivity’ part of my day starts prior to 8 when I turn off all the ways people can reach me, pull up my calendar, and plan my day. Yes, I have a to-do list but it’s not trying to declare itself a sovereign nation. Any ‘someday’s’ I have numbered no more than five at any given time. My list is that day only, and it’s usually about the same. I have two podcasts to write, I have a Saturday Show to edit, I have graphics and audiograms to produce, and I mine my tickler file for what I want to talk about next. Somewhere, I want to get a vlog of some kind worked in here, but I’m not trying to overdo it. That’s where my effectiveness drops, as I mentioned in a previous podcast.
Do you know how I judge if it was an effective day? If I have something to show for it at the end. A d let’s be clear. A project is more than one step. I’m not talking about finishing a project. But did you write that script? Edit that file? DID YOU VERB YOUR NOUN?
The Noun’s the Thing.