Embrace silly time-wasting activity as a part of being productive

Originally published at GerardMcLean.com

It’s been a couple of months now since the life coaches and go-getters pushed out their brand of RAH RAH RAH and GO! GO! GO! for 2010. We’ve seen folks choose keywords for their life, new resolution for the year, non-resolution for the year, themes instead of resolutions and all sorts of various predictions and start-up dreams, etc.

And very little living. Only doing.

When I worked at a newspaper a long time ago* I spent about 70% of my time wandering around with my cup of coffee, talking with other people in the building; Gary in accounting, Ted, John and MB in editorial art, Jeff in photo and all the print shop and pre-print guys. Before that, when I worked at SPAR Marketing, most of my day was spent wandering around talking to people with my coffee cup. And before that, I did the same thing at Huffy.

And I got a lot done as a result.

But every year during my performance appraisal, my boss of the moment would take the opportunity to chastise and berate me on how much time I wasted walking around, talking to people instead of spending that time at my desk “producing.” And yet, each boss was amazed at my ability to produce a ton of work. No doubt they reasoned that if I could produce this much work walking around socializing, think about how much they could get out of me if I didn’t walk around.**

Here was the secret. What they saw as me wasting time, I saw as gathering stories about what mattered to people. I saw impromptu conversations over a cup of coffee as inspiration for change. I took away their frustrations and ranting as opportunities to solve organizational problems, to remove barriers. I saw my wanderings as keeping in touch with what mattered to people most, what worried them, what gave them fear. When I did “work at my desk” I worked on proposals that solved real problems and helped the organization become more efficient. I presented budget proposals that produced much more than busy work or boondoggles for management. I produced writing that talked to real issues that real people were feeling. The work seemed more real because it connected with real people, not just caricatures or stereotypes.

And that I think is the real value of all this time-wasting social media. To many, it looks like foolin’-around-time. But to those of us who know better, it is the inspiration and fuel of innovation and productivity..

*A long time ago = When the year started with 19
**About half as much, maybe less.