Introduction I am the kind of person who always likes to have a project. There is rarely a
moment when I am not writing, gardening, cooking, organizing a social event,
or playing music. People like me are sometimes called productive.
For the most part, our culture approves of people who seize the day and
accomplish a lot—it is part of the American character. On the other hand, I know
firsthand that people who are never idle may seem hyperdriven and can get in
over their heads. In fact, one of my best friends recently asked me, “Why are you
doing all this stuff?”
There is a strong temperamental strain of high activity in my family. Though
my mother is now in her seventies, she works a demanding job; grows vegetables
and fruit, including olives; keeps chickens; belongs to a quilting group; and on
and on. And I can still remember her nagging her mother not to constantly sweep
up around our house on a Sunday.
The truth is that constantly busy people can have problems with organization
or follow-through when they take on too much or don’t know how to manage
or finish what they start. There can be a deep well of discomfort at the heart
of their activity. Society has even discovered—or created, depending on whom
you ask—a disorder to describe certain people like this: attention deficit disorder
(ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Others can simply
hyperfocus or get too preoccupied doing something over and over again until it
resembles exactly what they have in mind. There’s a name for people like this
Although I have been “diagnosed” as a perfectionist, what I like most is the
process of creating—the imagining and discussing and experimenting and muck-
ing around—rather than the perfect end result. Thanks to my years of learning
from children, I prize improvisation, abrupt one-hundred-eighty-degree changes
of direction, accidents, surprises, and even problems that come up in the doing.
The most productive people still need to explore the steps and questions along
the way toward a goal. Productivity, regardless of individual style, is a matter of
process and product, determination and flexibility, curiosity and certainty.
Everybody has a productive mind and body, but people are busy in differ-
ent ways. Society values creativity, perseverance, originality, vision, expression,