Word-Of-the-Week #824: Productivity

May 22, 2020 by · Comments Off on Word-Of-the-Week #824: Productivity 

Productivityabundance or richness in output.

This week features the second half of “BOREDOM MIGHT BE ENGINE OF PRODUCTIVITY” by Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post.

“Mann and van Tilburg, among several other researchers, have in the past decade conducted experiments trying to tease out the potential benefits of boredom. A tricky aspect of conducting such studies is inducing sufficient boredom — far less of a problem during a pandemic. 

In van Tilburg’s case, he has conducted experiments in which participants are told to count the number of letters in academic footnotes about imperial Rome. Those who became bored became nostalgic for more productive times in their lives. His boredom studies also showed a tendency for bored people to replace feelings of emptiness with caring acts, such as blood donation. 

Mann, in her experiments, has asked study subjects to copy numbers from a telephone book. “Meaningless, boring repetitive, it ticks all the boxes,” she said. Mann then gave a creative task to the bored people and a non-bored control group: come up with as many uses as possible for plastic cups. The bored did better than the non-bored. 

While these and other studies show the tantalizing promise of boredom, scholars don’t yet know how bored people, in moments of boredom, choose productive vs. nonproductive paths. The answer might be related to personality type or the setting around them. Scholars are anxious to learn more. 

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of “Out of My Skull,” a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.” 

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter. 

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.” 


 “Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.” 

So what should bored people do? 

First of all, children and adults should embrace boredom, the experts say. When the brain is bored, it is magical, finding connections, devising ideas, making plans. Remember why you doodle during meetings. Because you’re bored. The doodles are creative, even if they aren’t pretty. 

Another suggestion: Parents shouldn’t create too much structure for their children. If they’re bored, let them be bored. But they also need to create the right conditions for boredom to be meaningful, and that means limiting screen time. (This reporter, who has two children, realizes this will be painful at first.)

“There is literally so much time with absolutely nothing to do,” Mann said. “Their minds should be wondering and wandering. What will they come up with? There’s enormous potential that we risk losing here if we don’t capitalize on it.” 

As for Westgate and her new doctoral student, they came up with a survey that they are sending to bored people, asking them how they are spending their time and why and when they chose to do certain activities. If they were bored, how did they deal with it? Did they do something new for the first time? 

“This is like one of those party game prompts,” Westgate said. “Like, ‘You’re stuck on a deserted island. What book do you read?’” 

Only now, the question is real. 

“You’re stuck at home for weeks, possibly months,” she said. “What do you do? That’s what we’re living.”

This week’s focus is on productivity. How often have you felt bored in the last two months? Have you been more creative at times? Did you do something new for the first time?

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WOW Word-Of-the-Week #304: Productivity

May 24, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Productivity – abundance or richness in output.

Would you say that you are extremely productive, mostly productive, or somewhat productive when it comes to your work? How often do you feel creative? Can you easily tap into your creativity?

Ultimate Positive Distractor

Ultimate Positive Distractor

Following up from my WOW two weeks ago on Robert Masello’s article for the Parade Magazine titled, “Make Happiness Happen” did you seek out any “positive distractors?”

Tal Ben-Shahar the author of “Happier” says, “We’ve all been trained to maximize every minute of our day. But people who are able to focus on just one thing – even for one or two hours a day – are not only happier at their work; they’re also more productive and creative. Less can be more.”

Robert Masello writes, “Studies done at the University of Utah reveal that drivers who talk on their cell phones – hands-free or not – are as impaired as if they were driving drunk. Truckers who text are 23 times more likely to have an accident or narrowly miss causing one. Our minds, it turns out, can’t be in two places at one time any more than our bodies can.”

I must say that my productivity goes up after my morning coffee and my walk. I use that quiet time to plan my day and collect my thoughts. That is a very “positive distractor” for me!

This week focus on your productivity.  Are you constantly juggling more than one thing at a time? Do you find it difficult to complete all those tasks? Knowing that behavior is changeable, how would it feel to focus on just one thing? How would it feel to leave your cell phone turned off for two hours or more?

Reader Responses

“I just knocked out a personal letter to the Honorable Beverly Perdue, the new Governor of North Carolina. I politely took the drivers in her great state to task for their so-called ‘multi-tasking skills’ (cellpones and texting)! I laid out a suggested plan for Governor Perdue to do a new round of highway safety promotions and told her she could sell it to the public!!! Why cover this with you? I overlooked a critical factor; “…our minds cannot be in two places at the same time.” Thanks for sharing, and in this case – caring. Great as always.” PC in Tennessee

“So true.  Love the picture.” – Elaine

“When Kristen calls from work to let me know how much she has to do and how little time she has to do it in, I remind her to “Take one thing at a time, and it will all get done. Don’t try to do everything at once because it won’t get completed the right way. And the reward for that is: Then you get to do it all again! My eight-year-old daughter, Erin Grace, usually tries to get her math homework done as quickly as she can after school so that she can play with her friends there. Invariably, there are careless mistakes in her assignments. When I correct them, I gently remind her not to rush through her work. Of course, she insists that she was not rushing. I also tell her the same thing I tell my wife: Take your time. It will all get done. Hey, I have learned that the hard way myself. In the editing position I hold, there are a lot of things that cross my desk – in some cases all at once – and I prioritize the most important assignments and work on those first. I take them one at a time until they are done – CORRECTLY! This focus, of taking things one at a time, is extended to all parts of my life. Susan, I can multitask with the best of them. But if things are not done correctly, I just have to do it again. That is a big waste of time. And not just my time. Now, I do admit that I like my morning coffee on the drive into work. I try to take special care not to sip or take gulps while driving. I wait until I get to a red light and take my sips. But I do know that I have to watch out for the other guy and stay alert and not concentrate on my coffee. My productivity in all aspects of my life is good. And I try to work routines around both home and work so that my productivity is positive. But if we can remember to take one thing at a time, we will all be better off in ALL aspects of our lives. Great word, Susan. Take care.” Joe”