The Problem With Productivity

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

Whether we’re finding ourselves with more free time than before or we’re trying to perform our normal job duties from the new, monotonous, often chaotic home “offices,” we’re likely all feeling the pressure to be productive. Very productive. Just as productive as we normally are. Or, improbably, more productive, if only to prove that we’re not going to let this pandemic get in our way.

You know what? Maybe some of us do have the energy to do that. But for the vast majority of us, we’re struggling, we’re maybe even barely holding it together. How are we expected to be more productive if we barely have energy for our (new) normal lives?

Maybe the answer is to just forget about productivity and embrace the art of doing nothing. In this article by Connie Wang for Refinery 29, she explains the Chinese concept of wuliao. She explains that it,

translates to ‘the absence of conversation,’ and generally means ’too bored.’ It’s not just bored — the ‘too’ is key, describing the kind of extreme restless energy born from an overabundance of time and a scarcity of substance. In French, enfiler des perles — to string pearls — gets at this same idea. In Spanish, it’s comerse un cable (to chew on a cable); in boricua Spanish, pajareando (sitting around like a bird). Russians have duraka valyat and duryu mayatsya. But as far as I know, there’s no English word that adequately describes boredom as an art form, the specific mindset in which spectacularly chaotic, meaningless bullshit springs to life.

Wuliao, then, is the art of creating something out of nothing, creating productivity out of boredom — not out of a sense of obligation at being productive, but out of pure, mind-numbing boredom. Where could your mind take you if you just let it… do whatever it wants?

What I love about wuliao is that it treats the output of extreme boredom with the actual reverence it deserves, even when it’s wielded as a pejorative: the utter nonsense of a project, the sheer amount of labor in service of nothing really, the total waste of time and brainpower in the pursuit of a craft that’s only value is its tedium. Boredom is baking focaccia. Wuliao is creating a full Turkish meal in miniature, with kabobs the size of dates and a cheese künefe pastry as wee as a silver dollar. Wuliao is using every eyeshadow you own to paint your legs like a rainbow fish.

Give her article a read for more examples and see what you can do when you give yourself the space to just be bored!

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