I have a lot on my plate these days – book writing, speaking engagements, a part-time job, shuttling kids to a seemingly endless lineup of soccer games and cross country meets and tennis practice, and squeezing housework and errands into the fringe hours. With a deadline looming in three short months, I’ve calculated exactly how many words I need to write each week to stay on track, and I’ve scheduled my time accordingly. This means aside from family obligations and work commitments, I don’t have much going on in my life.
My system hummed along perfectly for a while. I was efficient and productive, cranking out chapters, meeting my freelance deadlines, getting my kids where they needed to be, and keeping my house clean (or at least keeping the Board of Health from knocking on my door).
Before long, though, I began to sense a problem. The words weren’t coming. The ideas weren’t sparking. I found myself sitting hour after hour at my desk, a blank screen in front of me. I’d type a sentence, then delete it. Type another sentence, then delete it. I wondered, panicked, how I would finish a book if I couldn’t even finish a paragraph.
As the weeks passed, my writer’s block began to seep into other areas of my life as well. I felt sluggish and unmotivated; bored, yet restless and agitated. I complained to my husband: “I feel so…I don’t know…blah.” It wasn’t depression exactly. More like the doldrums.
Routine is good. Experts advise those who struggle with distraction and lack of focus to adopt a strict schedule and stick with it. Our brains adapt well to structure and pattern. The less we have to think about the mundane parts of our days, the more we can focus our creative energy and brain power on the projects that matter.
Yet in my pursuit of maximum productivity, I overlooked something vital: we can’t routinize our lives at the expense of actually living them.
Human beings are made for connection. That’s why God made both Adam and Eve – he saw that one was better with the companionship of the other. That’s also why he created sea and sky, mountains and plains, forests and deserts. God created us to thrive best in community and in creation.
Last week, when I complained once again about my lack of motivation, my husband offered a suggestion. “Get outside,” he said. “Go stroll around Holmes Lake.” Not a power walk, he added. “Walk slowly, look around, let your mind wander. And then go get lunch out someplace where there are other people.”
That same morning I took my husband’s advice. I walked the circumference of Holmes Lake, greeting the dog walkers and joggers who passed by, noticing the Great Blue Heron standing like a statue at the water’s edge. The sky was brilliant blue and cloudless. The grasshoppers clicked in the tall grass. I tuned in to a piercing bird call I didn’t recognize and snippets of conversation drifting down from the hill.
After my walk, I opened my laptop at a picnic table and wrote for a while under an ash tree. When my stomach started to rumble, I packed up and drove to Bagels and Joe, where I settled at a table near the ladies playing bridge.
It’s too soon to tell if this departure from my rigorous schedule will have any impact on my productivity or creativity. I suspect I’ll have to make these kinds of forays into nature and community a regular habit, rather than a one-time occurrence. But that morning under the ash tree I know for sure that I felt my soul beginning to be replenished.
Turns out, no matter how busy we are, we aren’t meant for all work and no play.
This post originally ran on October 7 in the Lincoln Journal Star.