As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of being unproductive: trying to get stuff done when you’re not into it, and not getting stuff done when you’re on a roll.
There are times when I am so productive that I have cancelled plans (super lame, I know) to keep working. I’ve blasted through tons of things on my to-do list and toiled for hours and felt really good about it. I’m talking writing five-page papers in 45 minutes, learning a movement of a concerto in a few hours, and cleaning the entire kitchen with a smile on my face.
Conversely, there are times when I have had so much to do but I just couldn’t get into it. I’ve sat and watched twelve episodes of How I Met Your Mother the night before a term paper was due, avoided the practice room at all costs during the weekend of a concert, and sat on Stumbleupon while I was supposed to be paying bills.
This works, however, because they balance out. There’s an equilibrium between doing nothing and doing too much. It’s important to define which is happening, though. It has to do with honouring your body’s natural cycles- sometimes you have tons of productive energy, and sometimes you just need to mellow out. If you dishonour this, it’s entirely counter-productive. I know that if I’m trying to read for class and I keep reading the same sentence over and over again, I’m just going to have to do it again later. I’ll sit and get stressed about how I can’t focus, and that is entirely counter-productive. If I’m trying to learn a new piano piece and I can’t make the fingerings come naturally, I’m just going to have to un-do all of the incorrect practicing I do later anyway, which is even harder than starting fresh. At the same time, sitting playing Portal when I’ve got loads of energy is a waste of time as well. I could be getting ahead in my work so that later when my energy dips or my friends want to hang out, I can just relax.
Of course, if you’re constantly in a rut you need to make a lifestyle change to get more energy but if you plan ahead and work as much as you can when you can, slacking off is an important part of being productive. It’s just another one of the dichotomies that life throws at us. Point is, work hard when you can so that you’re able to play hard when you can’t.