The Productivity Parabola

There is an experiment that I’ve seen referenced twice in books I read this year(the first time was in How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and the second was in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). I will spare you the details of the experiment and skip to the conclusion: our subconscious brains can pick up patterns (and act on them) long before our conscious brains can explain them. It’s an explanation of the “funny feeling”, that initial emotional cue that you get when a situation or person or place just doesn’t feel right; something is wrong and you don’t know what it is.

In keeping this result in mind, it has taken me about ten days to figure out something that seems very basic as I type it out now.

I’m tired.

Not in the physical sense, although the gym and keeping late hours certainly does not help that. I’m talking in the emotional and spiritual sense, a feeling at what I can only describe as being the psychic level. It is a deep, inward tiredness of the mind, for want of a better phrase.

In looking back at the past six months, I have come to realize how busy I am. Some of it is pretty obvious in terms of spearheading the HarperCollins petition, doing presentations for ACRL, ALA and Pennsylvania Library Association, coordinating the Tech Lounge at the NJLA conference, and trying to get the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights out into the larger discussion. The rest is more behind the scenes work in terms of maintaining conversations across Facebook, Twitter, and now Google Plus, reading a vast array of librarian blogs, and writing about noteworthy stories and topics over the course of a year.

It is a full time job on top of my actual paying full time job. Being well informed in the myriad of librarian topics, both of the moment and long term, is not a casual commitment for me. In order to write, you have to read; as someone who tries to build on a conversation, it is a matter of finding out what has been left unsaid or unspoken so that you are not simply regurgitating the talking points of another (not that I always succeed, but as they say, great minds think alike).

I do not regret my involvement in all of these things, but the experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to what kind of energy and the importance of pacing is involved in these endeavors. It is one thing to write a blog post on a position and place it online, referencing it again as the topic returns. It is another to engage in a protracted campaign, whether it is for a library themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor or a company to retract its odious limited circulation policy or to get people to consider how they want to see eBook evolve. It goes on and on, a movement that requires constant tending for continued growth. It’s a longer commitment compared to some statewide efforts I’ve been involved in, albeit as the creator of these campaigns it is far more personal.

In the time it took me to come to this realization, I think I hit the trough of my productivity parabola. A parabola, as illustrated at the top of this post, is perhaps the best way to describe my productivity. I’m either on my way up or down in terms of creating or working on a project. The hard part is figuring out whether I am on an upswing or a downswing; in other words, it is hard to determine whether I’m entering a project on an upswing of creativity and energy or coming off of one. Of course, sometimes you have to get involved in order to find out but that’s just part of the deal.

Even in plotting out this blog post in which I was planning on talking about just how tired I was (how exciting, right?), I was struck with a question that more than piqued my interest. I’m curious about how librarians share online, whether it is through social media or bookmarking sites/tools or other websites. I’m putting together a survey that I’ll be linking to in the near future. (I’ll need your help to spread the word.)

In keeping with my very own tradition, in the depths of what felt like a creativity dearth I found something new and invigorating. (Go figure.) As I put together my survey, I’m wondering how my colleagues deal with hitting the bottom of their productivity parabola. I’d love to hear how you get out of your rut.

(By the way, the HarperCollins petition is 405 signatures away from 70,000. If you wouldn’t mind sharing it again, I’d like to at least reach that milestone.)

7 thoughts on “The Productivity Parabola

  1. Is it wrong that I’m happy to read you admit that you’re tired? Whenever I read about a new project you’ve taken on, I think “my God. He’s unstoppable, in the best and most intimidating way.” As far as moving out of the bottom of my productivity parabola, I find that (surprise, surprise) doing something intensely relaxing kick starts my work ethic. Usually, I take this to mean something like an eight-hour Mad Men marathon, but if I’m being honest, that leaves me feeling lethargic. A long bike ride, cooking a really delicious meal, or not looking at my computer for over 4 hours normally does the trick. Looking forward to the survey!

  2. When I’m at the perceived creative bottom, I walk a different way around the neighborhood or ride the bike into a new area. Its amazing what you see for the first time if you just take a time out . . . .and that regenerates.

  3. Never underestimate the value of PLAY. When I go out and try to get on a running schedule, I always fail when I’m just pounding the miles, punching a card, following a rigid schedule. Only when I can find ways to play do I keep at it, be those ways creek running, choosing sometimes to bicycle rather than run, or just deciding to jump over that hedge rather than run around it.

  4. Andy,

    Well, I sort of feel like an expert at this. In 2005, I sustained a mild brain injury and since then have learned a ton about how MY brain works. Our brains are extremely resilient. According to my brain Dr, one of the most resilient parts of our bodies. My brain is healed now. But, one of the lasting effects of many people who sustain brain injuries and recover (fully) is that there is a constant need for monitoring fatigue. Basically, your brain tires. This happens to everyone, not just folks who’ve had an injury though for me it happens much more quickly. Interestingly, sleep deprivation (even mild forms), brain fatigue and brain injury have very similar symptoms.

    Andy. Your brain is tired. My doctor told me these things help with healing: sleep, exercise, good healthy meals, sleep, ping pong(sort of a joke but not really).

    This is what works for me…you may find a different solution: Lots of sleep. Naps and early to bed. And this might be hard for you: a day or two of being disconnected from gadgets/internet/information overload. People have suggested a lot of outdoor activities and I think that helps too…especially if you leave the gadgets at home. Walk. Breathe. Relax. Socialize with friends.

    Even super productive people need to refuel.

    Good luck!


  5. Pingback: Librarians Online Survey « Agnostic, Maybe

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