One of the issues I find most intriguing working on Float by Boat is the idea of being productive. Somewhere along the line I’ve adopted an unconscious attitude that is very subtle, deep-rooted and, in all likelihood, common. When I first dreamed up FbB, my motivation was derived from the idea of a retreat-like lifestyle. Trying to find some way to live every moment – or at least as many as possible – with the appreciation, depth and simplicity found on retreat. Maybe naively, I still want my whole life to look and feel like that.
In reality, it doesn’t live up to my aspiration. Not because it can’t, but because there are concepts and attitudes deeply held within me around being productive. Around what work is and what it should look and feel like. Around how much work I should be doing. Around what it means to be a worthy, functional, successful, useful human being. For example:
- Anything enjoyable definitely isn’t work
- Work should take place between the morning, no later than 9 of course, and the late afternoon
- A computer is vitally necessary for doing work
- As is having an agenda, stress, deadlines and generally feeling oppressed
Rationally approaching life, I know that sitting still in nature, noticing all the tiny details and sinking down below my thoughts is one of the most wholesome, healthy, stimulating, inspiring, relaxing activities I can engage in. It’s a gift. A time that I return from feeling rejuvenated. And out of that, comes lust for life and a desire to do things, maybe even productive things.
When I’m busy with my task-list and my imagined, made up deadlines, everything becomes a chore and hard work. I can’t think clearly or prioritise. I’m tired and miserable. Plus, I miss out on this beautiful, free lifestyle I’ve created. I don’t notice the kingfisher perched outside my bedroom window or make time to spend an afternoon with a friend. And once I’m spinning off into the world of being stressed out, it’s very hard to stop again.
It’s the irony of the person trying to live freely, simply and contentedly, driving themselves bonkers with their own self-created stressors.
I think there’s also an ego thing with being ‘A Busy Person’. Like being busy is also synonymous with being important, useful, needed, interesting and successful.
Funnily, despite seeing and saying all this, the notion of productivity lurks a bit deeper, a bit more murkily, than at first glance. Sitting here, writing for pleasure at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, it seems like I should be working. Maybe when you’re self-employed it’s hard to shake off the background feeling that you should always be working? Well, especially when your business is small, relatively new and financially wobbly. How much work should I be doing? What is enough? Too much? There’s always more to do, in fact what you could do is limitless. If I clean my boat, is that work? What about planting some flowers on the roof?
Obviously I’m working and being productive if I’m on the computer. Computer equals work, ey?
On the one hand, I’ve created this lifestyle in order to get more value out of life; more freedom, less digital input, more nature, a slower pace, more opportunities to be creative. Although, on the other, it’s a fledgling business and we’re not yet financially independent.
I’ve noticed that when I give myself time to develop the qualities that I value most. I actually get more done, feel more positive, more capable and essentially happier. When I chase myself with sticks and deadlines, I slog my way through, fighting myself at every turn. Everything becomes a battleground and life’s vitality passes me by. And yet, seeing all this, I still can’t let go of the drive to be productive; the guilt of staying in bed that little bit too long or picking up my pen or paints in the afternoon. Bonkers! Who defined productivity anyway? Or decided that it was to be found on computer screens? And stated that we definitely needed to demonstrate it if we are to be taken seriously as human beings? I never wanted to be serious anyway.
It’s not like this everywhere in the world. In other places I’ve been – India, the Mediterranean, Africa, South America – people have time to stop for a cuppa and a chat if they meet an old friend, time to loll around and soak in the day, to spend 2 hours over lunch if they want, or a whole morning doing whatever. OK, they’re not typically the economic powerhouses of their oh-so-busy cousins in the UK and USA but when did earning money for money’s own sake become a good enough reason to forget about quality of life? Being productive used to be simple, practical tasks for putting roofs over our heads, keeping things clean and feeding ourselves.
I’ve started to carve out a life that will enable me to slow down but won’t let myself enjoy it for shame of not being productive.
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distance of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.