Scattered Productivity for Mindful Monday

This past week was a scattered one, for me. I spent July 30 -August 2 at Unschoolers Rock the Campground, with my kids and no internet. It’s the major event on our social calendar, one we look forward to all year…

It’s consuming and exhausting in all the best ways, and, although I’d set myself some weekend goals that I felt were very minimal, it turned out that most of them were happily set aside in favor of being with friends, swimming, laughing, talking, going for walks, and other things we don’t get to do very often. Since we live in upstate New York, and the campground is in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the trip was bracketed by two four-hour drives (in theory; it was so hot on the way home that we took advantage of a couple of rest stops and hung out there for long enough to really absorb the air-conditioning).

With all the filling-up to overflowing, the exertion, the driving, the packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, last week just didn’t flow the way I had hoped. Where I’d hoped (probably unrealistically) for a laser-focused week of putting away camping gear, resuming my normal meditative and t’ai chi practices, home and yardtending, and various blogging, writing, plotting, and revision goals –

That didn’t happen.

Instead, it felt like a loop of puttering. I’d pick up this shiny pebble of a project, play with it for a while, then set it aside, let my mind wander, then pick up another, and another, and another. It really didn’t feel like I was making any real progress on any of them, just looking and toying…

Natural art by Annalise S. Burton, at age 10, during a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever then taken stock of what you accomplished during that time?

Because I participate in two fantastic writing accountability challenges – ROW80 and Ready. Set. Write! – I did.

And I found something surprising.

All that puttering and toying with projects led to some fairly significant progress. I completed a few goals, and moved most others forward. Of my numerous weekly goals, there was only one that I didn’t spend any time with.

So, what does this have to do with mindfulness?

Well, I’m the type of person who tends to look at my own behavior and choices, to see what effect they have. And then I look deeper into the hows and whys of it all – and that’s where mindfulness comes in.

I have some ideas about why I spent my week puttering, and why it worked so well for me then, when, ordinarily, I prefer to have many options, but focus my daily energies on no more than 3-5 projects, with a couple others for seasoning.

I think I needed time to absorb and process all the activity and interaction of the four-day camping extravaganza. I needed to rest – not only my body, but also my mind, my spirit, and my psyche, as well. I was full to overflowing, and there just wasn’t focus or energy for a lot of intense focus, after an intense stretch of days.

I think that, if I’d pushed myself to stay with things past the point where I wanted to engage with them, I would have ended up stressed and irritable. I’d already met my capacity for intensity; I needed something mellower, more laid-back. That’s how my mind processes big stuff – by puttering with ideas, connections, textures and imagery.

I’m not saying this non-method would work for everyone, or even anyone but me. We all have our own ways of being in the world, and with ourselves, and each of us has our own goals and priorities. We have differing life circumstances and realities.

Lovely tiny treasures created by my friend Litsong Lu. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

What am I saying, then?

Basically, just that I learned something about myself from this last week. In future, rather than feel guilty about these scattered times when I seem to need to flit from here to there like a butterfly, sipping and sampling various nectars, I’m going to trust my deeper self. My intuition will lead me where I need to go, if I let it. My focus times will return, when it’s time to resume a more intense effort.

So, if you sometimes find yourself scattered and puttering, it might be worth asking yourself what you’ve been up to in the days surrounding, and what it might have taken from you. If you’ve had a recent time of intensity that took you from your day-to-day routines, maybe you need to touch and feel your way more gradually back into your everyday life.

Maybe, like I discovered about myself, you need the time and space to recuperate and wholly integrate your recent intense experience into your life. Maybe approaching the puttering and its aftermath mindfully can offer you insights about yourself, too.

Are you the type who dives right back into your life-in-progress after times of special intensity? Or do you tend, like me, to putter and play, dipping your toes in and splashing around playfully while you reorient? Have you ever considered why? I’d love to hear about it – I find the commonalities, and the differences, fascinating!

Find more Mindful Monday

at Silver Threading!

Pattern block art by Jeremiah Burton, about age 11. Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.


  1. I always need to take some time to unwind, take stock, and come down off the huge high after finishing writing a book, watching an epic film, or reading an intense, long book. For films, I felt that way after The Crowd (1928), Ben-Hur (1925), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and a few others. And after I finished reading War and Peace in June 2004 (I’m still disappointed it took me 19 days instead of two weeks maximum), I couldn’t focus on and get interested in any other books. It was a mistake to almost immediately begin reading Leon Uris’s Trinity after W&P, since Trinity is also very long and epic. I had to break for a little while before continuing with Trinity.

    I’ve learnt my lesson about not starting the next book in a family saga right on the heels of the preceding one. My Atlantic City books are different, since they’re so short and largely interconnected, but my doorstoppers are an emotional tour de force. I began the short-lived original first draft of my second Russian historical right after I finally finished the first book in August 2001, and just couldn’t connect or write quickly enough. I had all the chapter-by-chapter notes, but it just wasn’t coming. I made the same mistake with the still-hiatused sequel to my contemporary historical Bildungsroman. Now I know better, and always take a break before continuing with those characters and storylines. It avoids burnout and builds anticipation.

    • That last sentence – it says it all, I used to paralyze myself with guilt about all the things I “should” be doing…and I ignored all the subterranean anticipation-building and renewal that were happening beneath the surface.

      I’m not perfect at trusting myself and my process, yet, but, as I learn how to relax into my own flow, i find that I’m actually accomplishing much more – and much more joyfully, too.

      I spent several hours yesterday reading a book that’s been on my Kindle for about as long as I’ve had it. I intended to just read a chapter or two – but it was a great and gripping read, it’s been a while since I read a fiction book, and I needed the downtime.

      After, I finished a step in prepping a revision plan for a 10K word story, and added the rest of my IDIC stories from this year to their proper chronological point in my Scrivener binder.

      I think there’s a lot to be said for that breathing space. And knowing how prolific a writer and researcher you are, your comment definitely says we’re on to something, here!

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