On Mastering Unproductivity This Year // Trina O’Gorman

On Mastering Unproductivity This Year // Trina O’Gorman

Dear Friends, 

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I found myself in couples’ therapy with my ex-husband, who is now deceased. (I always feel that I must add that he is now deceased because it changes the entire dynamic of our relationship and my identity as an ex-wife, though it really has no bearing on this story.) The therapist, whose name I can no longer remember and to whom we only went a few times, had an office just down the street from the apartment we shared in Millburn, New Jersey. I remember sitting on the sofa in her office, where he and I were talking about our compatibility issues. She suggested that we find pleasure in doing things on our own, instead of relying on one another for entertainment. She then asked each of us what we enjoyed doing in our free time, and I told her what my hobbies were. I liked to read, knit, and write. I can still remember her frowning at my list of leisure activities, and asking me, with judgment in her voice, whether or not I ever did anything that wasn’t productive. 

Here I sit in early January 2022, which spilled over from late December 2021, trying to write an article with what I feel is little to no inspiration because I have, like many of you, been doing very little over the past two years, as a result of the pandemic. I, like all of you, find myself in the midst of another COVID surge, and only weeks out from my own positive COVID test results (I thankfully had the mildest, if any, symptoms), struggling with the question of what to do next. My life seems to have lost its momentum, and upon doing so, has left me feeling persistently lethargic, sometimes a bit lost and grim one moment, but at other times silly and playful. I waffle between feeling fearful of impending doom and wildly euphoric. 

What madness is this? It’s quite hard to say, as a shock to our everyday lives and our very existence really comes only once in a lifetime, and each time comes in different forms. There really is no historical preparation for our responses to this particular pandemic. Sure, we can look back to other outbreaks and pandemics, but never before were we who we are today, as a collective. Life, globally, nationally, and individually, with all of the progress and challenges that we are faced with, has never existed as it exists today because we are ever-evolving. All of this to say that life during previous pandemics would have been so different. And yet, here in the US, we have likely always been plagued with the need to be doing something productive, a byproduct of our cultural Protestant work ethic. Productivity is seen as good and makes us feel as if we are accomplishing something and spending our time wisely. And so, we felt like we should all be doing something productive in all of our newly found free time. 

Here, in the analogue-tool-loving world, there are probably few of us who haven’t tracked some activity, from logging our daily exercise to how many glasses of water we’ve drunk each day. All so we will feel a sense of worth, value, or accomplishment, some sense of validation, as if we are a contestant in some sort of contest with no real rules, except that we meet the expectation of productivity, lest we be seen as lazy bums, and no one wants that. No one wants to grow up to be a bum, and evidently, people become “bums” by way of not spending their time wisely,

doing productive things. That is the very definition of a “bum” really. “Lazy” and “bum” are nearly redundant. Bums are always lazy. You never hear of a busy bum. Maybe this therapist was right, perhaps I would have been a better partner if I could have focused on leisure activities that were less productive and been more of a lazy bum. Though, I’m laughing, because thinking back now I can’t imagine what that had to do with why we’d gone to see her in the first place. Whether I was being productive or not, I would not have been relying on my partner for amusement. I wonder how many partners were dragged to see her because they were, in fact, lazy bums. 

When I was a kid, I read all of the time. I was bookish. A bookworm. No one ever called me a lazy bum because I always had a book in my hands. It wasn’t to see how much I could read or to seem intellectual. For a time, I used to get four Harlequin Romance novels in the mail per month, which was hardly highbrow reading. I used to just read to pass time, to kill time, to escape. I didn’t keep a list of the titles I’d read nor did I try to beat my personal best by reading more this year than last. I always had a book with me, so that I could check out, unwind, decompress, de-stress, and escape. Reading wasn’t an accomplishment, it was my way of wasting time, akin to binge-watching TV, I suppose. 

This year, I was going to set a goal of how many books I’d like to read in 2022 because I’d heard a talk show host say she wanted to read 100 books this year. ONE HUNDRED books. That’s nearly two books a week. How? I tried to do the math and couldn’t help but to think she’d find herself under some sort of stress trying to keep that pace all year. Maybe she was speedreading. I’d taken a speed reading class when I was in high school, but these days I am a very slow reader. I considered taking a refresher course. But, I would like you to know I have reined myself in. I did not set a numerical goal. I will keep a list and maybe rate them, because I would love to come up with a list of my favorites, like Barack Obama does every year. That might be cool. Not only am I not going to set a numerical goal, I’m also not going to seek out books that if I read them, I will be granted any sort of cultural capital. Instead, I am going to approach it like I used to when I was a kid, and full of wonder and adventure. Some of it, maybe a lot of it, will be complete trash. 

And there are times you may just find me curled up with a book, but not reading. I’m going to allow my mind to wander and my eyes to stare off into space, just like they did when I was young. I’m going to zone out and daydream and rest and settle into this new normal, until which time it will seem more glorious in that it allows me more time to do just that, and then I will relish it. 

To that end, I am wishing you all a healthy and unproductive new year. 

Love, Trina



  • Donna: January 26, 2022
    Author image

    Hiya! I wandered here through a mention on a blog about planners on nymag.com. I hike, doodle, and read (and ALWAYS have a book in my bag, too).

    Can I ask about the yellow leather folio in your photo? It looks like I might love it.

  • tcmbos: January 26, 2022
    Author image

    I love the idea of not being productive all the time and going back to the idea of doing something solely for pleasure, without a goal in mind. Or my second favorite activity, zoning out. For me, it’s not intentional, but the things I love to do are reading, knitting, writing, and cooking.

  • donna chiarelli: January 26, 2022
    Author image

    I so enjoy your posts on here and Insta!
    Thank you for doing what you do.

  • Sari Slater: January 26, 2022
    Author image

    Trina -

    Thank you. Thank you for this specific piece of honesty and comfort and wisdom. A friend calls us a “confessional” society, which means our sense of modesty (and decency) has been long gone. I agree with her. There is a difference between a general outpouring of self-absorbed ravings . . . and wisdom. Your contributions on Baum-kuchen have always struck notes in me of response, sympathy, admiration. I read maturity, courage, the too rare ability to actually learn and become a better human being by virtue of your experiences in this lifetime. The drive to be what we call productive has produced not only harmful obsessions and exhaustions, but a couple of generations of somewhat shallow, self-obsessed people. When I read your thoughts just now, I read the kind of honesty which springs from an intelligence which includes interest in the welfare of others. I always read that when I read your writing. Again, thank you.

Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing