You know the feeling. You’re tired, grumpy, and uninspired. You know you haven’t been productive all day but you just. can’t. bear. to do something productive.
You’d rather browse Reddit and nap. Or binge YouTube and nap. Or just nap.
Time feels like a quagmire. No matter how hard you try, you can’t crawl your way out of the quicksand of “meh.”
Productivity is important. As is rest. But what if you can’t commit to one or the other? While half-assing isn’t the noblest of pursuits, there are some easy things to do on days when you want to be productive but don’t feel up for it.
Here is a list of ideas.
1. Read a book
If you’re a writer, reading is training. Consider it continuing education.
If you’re not a writer, reading is still training. Just choose something meaningful to read. It can pertain to your job, your studies, or your general wellbeing. It’s always nice to learn something, whether that’s investments, home repair, firearm safety, or wherever Wikipedia takes you.
Reading is also good for your brain. Research has found that reading strengthens empathy, expands vocabulary, lowers blood pressure, and decreases stress among other magical things. People who engage in mentally stimulating activities from a young age also have fewer physical markers of dementia.
2. Watch a documentary
Don’t have the energy to look at little black marks on a page and parse meaning out of them? Sit back, relax, and watch an educational documentary instead.
Just be careful about what you pick. Science and nature documentaries from reputable producers like the BBC tend to be serious about keeping things real without exaggeration. However, some “documentaries” are designed to sensationalize. For example, I find that celebrity “documentaries” like Miss Americana should be interpreted more as memoirs than documentaries.
I also find that it’s good practice to cross-reference what you learn in documentaries. After you watch one, do some background reading.
3. Write a poem
If you’re a writer of any kind, poetry is a fun exercise.
I don’t identify as a poet — so poets, please don’t crucify me if you disagree with this — but my personal definition of poetry is to capture a moment in as few words as possible with as much sensory detail as possible.
Which is not an easy task. But writers do something like this all the time in some shape or form.
Therefore, writing poetry is good practice. It’s also creative and fun. Kind of like solving a puzzle where the pieces are seemingly disparate words.
I wrote this poem just now while writing this article:
Someone has dug up the sunbeams.
Streets gush with children’s screams and roaring motors
To take advantage of the Sun-day.
Dad says “don’t go out” —
Air’s awash with afterbreaths.
A chickadee lands on the windowsill. Flies away.
What I was trying to capture was the rarity of a sunny day during Vancouver’s rainy season and choosing not to go out because everyone is out on a rare sunny day, making it easier to contract the coronavirus in crowds.
It’s not the prettiest poem ever, but writing it was fun and exercised my brain.
4. Go for a walk
Hours when I walked were some of the most productive hours of my life. I planned the bulk of my current novel-in-progress walking up and down the laneways behind my house.
Walking is healthy for your muscles and heart, but it also makes your mind tick. One study found that creativity increased by about 60% in participants who walked instead of sat.
If you want to be extra keen, bring a notebook or voice recorder along with you to jot down your thoughts.
Make your walks interesting. Explore a trail one day, visit a suburban sprawl the next, and mosey the downtown core the day after that. One thing I like to do is walk to the fancier residential neighbourhoods and admire rich people’s big houses.
If walking seems like too much work, find a destination that motivates you. Walk to the coffee shop. Walk to buy a burger. Sure, you’ll eat back the calories you’ve burned, but you’ll still gain the creative benefits and mental reprieve brought on by walking.
5. Just sit there
Yeah, sitting and doing nothing is boring. But even boredom has a point sometimes.
Scientists think boredom drives us to think more creatively as we try to escape the tedium. Like walking, I find that some of my best, most creative ideas come to me when I’m doing something boring and tedious like showering, chopping vegetables, or cleaning.
But what if you’re completely stuck for ideas? I think that’s okay, honestly. Sometimes, having a completely clear and blank mind is refreshing.
Keep passive productivity to a minimum
Of course, it’s best to get stuff done when you have stuff that needs to get done.
And when it comes to rest, focusing on rest (and not half-assing it) is also important. For example, I feel guilty when I rest. So, I tend to think about all the things I have to do in the near future. This screws up my rest, and when it’s time to hit the books, I’m burnt out even though I’ve “rested.”
So, before you do anything passively productive, ask yourself why. Do you feel legitimately burnt out? Then perhaps it’s time for a real day of rest. On the other hand, if feel antsy, maybe it’s time to buck down and get stuff done.
The key is balance. Passive productive activities are valuable, but so is your time. Use your time wisely.
Li Charmaine Anne (she/they) is a Canadian author and freelance writer on unceded Coast Salish territories (aka Vancouver, Canada). Her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines and she is at work on her first novel, a contemporary YA about queer Asian skater girls. To read Charmaine’s articles for free (no Medium subscription required), sign up for her newsletter.