Non-epiphany: Why it’s ok to feel like you’re wasting time

This past week, I’ve done a lot of work that feels disingenuous in name.

Copying down vocab words and definitions for a quiz doesn’t feel like “learning.”

Watching someone do their homework for an hour doesn’t feel like “tutoring.”

Being at a 40 minute meeting where exactly two things get established doesn’t feel like “getting something done.”

Doing unnecessary work at an event doesn’t feel like “volunteering.”

Misreading my calendar and going to the wrong place an hour away doesn’t feel like “doing important work.”

Spending most of my time doing Congress work sending emails and bugging people to do things doesn’t feel like “making an impact”

Most of this work isn’t unique to this week, and it’s been bothering me lately. Why can’t I just be efficient and get done what needs to be done?

Then, my non-epiphany: Maybe that’s just the amount of work it takes to get something done. In order to do good work, there has to be bad work. Large quantity produces good quality. (At least that’s what I tell myself.)

Copying down vocab words might be considered “busy work,” but the only reason I knew some of those words is because I “mindlessly” copied them down.

Maybe they didn’t need you at that event, but the more events you help out at, the more likely you’re going to find a worthwhile one.

The world isn’t built around your productivity, and the spontaneity makes everything all the more beautiful, all the more worthwhile.

Relevant quote from the Drunkard’s Walk (frankly, the only part that I remember):

What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”


There has to be a balance between productivity and non-productivity though. I can’t work 5 hours non-stop on homework, nor should I have a 60:1 Youtube to homework ratio.

Enter the Pomodoro technique. Yes, the tomato method.

Just look at that wonderful red-ness

Work for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes. This is one “pomodoro.” After 4 “pomodori,” take a 15 minute break. Repeat.

I have an app on my phone that schedules these time chunks, but I’ve been unable to keep up with it for more than 2 hours. Still,  I consider  staying focused on an assignment for 2 hours a pretty big accomplishment, especially if it’s not the class period before it’s due..

But it’s hard to define “being productive” in some cases. Working on a worksheet or doing textbook work is clearly being productive, but online time is different. Is waiting for a friend to respond to a Facebook message about homework considered “being productive”? What if that conversation goes off topic? What about writing an email? What about scribbling down an epiphany down on Google Keep?

I clearly need to set some better standards before the tomatoes start working in my favor. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the feeling of being productive.


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