2012 Plans: The Problem with Productivity

I usually do some kind of resolutions, but I’ve been unbelievably busy already this year.

I do have a lot of concrete plans already, but I feel like that’s not quite the point of resolutions. Presumably the point is you hope you can look back and go: “That was good, that year. I’ve come out better than I went in,” without actually standing outside the door with a clipboard. So I need to think about less concrete things that can’t, necessarily, be check-listed.

Looking back, in some ways, 2011 was pretty good, by the check-list method at least. It might even have been my best career year on record.

One way or another I spent a lot of last year writing. I wrote two significant profiles for WIRED UK and other bits and pieces for them most months. In a fit of enthusiasm triggered by a health scare early in the year, I started a habit of speaking at events, with the result that I spend most of my lunch hours working on talks, and getting up on stage about once a month. I did loads of work, basically. Magazines, newspapers, events, and in the middle of it all, an actual full-time job.

So what about this year?

Well, this year I have ideas, naturally. I have an idea for a book I want to write with a friend, but know from bitter experience that only a humungous fluke will help me to get the attention of a publisher now. So… no false illusions. But quite genuinely, the reason we want to write it is we know writing together is fun. So, we’re just going to. We’re just going to bloody well write it, for the action of writing it, like we’re Buddhists or something, and think about what to do with it later, if there IS a later.

The list of practical things I’m going to do year is worryingly long. I’ll be trying to make progress with digital art competitions. I’m putting on numerous science and arts events with various friends. I’ll be trying to get bigger, better journalistic gigs, which means learning to tell stories better (I think I’m an arguer rather than a storyteller, can that be changed? I’ve also identified myself as somewhat defeatist, which is a bit of a circular diagnosis, as you can imagine). And I don’t know if it was researching Jon Ronson for our Christmas episode or just that lingering feeling our interviews deserve a wider audience, or what, but I find myself suddenly totally consumed with the urge to make a radio documentary.

In 2011 I made things fast and I made things slow, but I never stopped making things at all, even for a minute. Thanks to this, and particularly all the talks I did, I now know many more people. My network has multiplied and with it, opportunities for learning and new projects. I can’t recommend public speaking enough to anyone trying to feel like they’re part of something, or who wants to motivate themselves, or get their thoughts straight, or get things finished.

But – and apologies if this is going a bit confessional – this crazed need I have to make things does bother me a bit. Just a tiny bit. Because, what is it? I mean, it’s not storytelling: it’s not about recounting or educating to any end. It’s absolutely simply about trying to invent, for the sake of it. And I think: what’s up with that? Then sometimes, I suddenly think of Jordan Mechner’s diaries and remember that I’m not the only one.

It’s not the work that gets you, is it? The work’s wonderful, and very much the whole point. No. It’s the responsibility. Fairly obviously, I get a kick out of running the show, working out how to put things together. The right amount of responsibility, though, that’s the key. One reason I think I do so much, and so many different things, is that I never feel like I’ve had nearly enough recognition for any of them. The more I do, I think, the more chance there is I’ll get a break. Maybe if I make a really good X then someone at wherever will actually reply to my emails. Maybe if I set up a really persuasive example of whatever – maybe then – we’ll get past the first coffee meeting. But I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t want to end up in a vicious vortex of low-achieving workaholic bitterness for the next 10 years. Or indeed, the next one year.

So what can I aim for, to safeguard 2012 from future-me disappointment? I’m looking at this list of resolution ideas for inspiration, and most of them are totally irrelevant! I certainly don’t want to learn how to cook, and I’m already a vegetarian and hardly drink. Productivity won’t be a problem, I already know I’ll push on all my events, journalism, broadcasting etc. It’s just a given.

I’m not interested in becoming more friendly and approachable, that seems like setting everyone up for disappointment (even though, quite obviously, those kinds of people are more likely to be life’s winners).

But maybe I could spend more time embracing the unproductive, in 2012, if only for the sense of progression from last year. Let’s keep it simple: 2012 might not be the year I arrive at peaceful acceptance of the fact that none of my projects or work will ever be widely enjoyed, but given that relentless production is getting me nothing but relentless products I don’t have the charm to sell, well, I’d at least like to spend some more time outdoors.

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