How to Maximize Processivity
The bulk of my academic career was pre-internet. Back then, research involved roving library stacks, checking out huge piles of books and microfilm. These were laborious, time-intensive tasks: walking through the aisles, up and down stairs, sliding through pages and pages of ancient articles and journals on the big microfilm machines. It was frequently a frustrating process, fraught with wrong turns and interesting, albeit irrelevant, byways. But man, when I got there, when I found the thing I was looking for–or found something completely different for that matter–it was so satisfying. And it was satisfying in a way that it probably would not have been had the answers come instantaneously. It was the process that mattered, and it was in the process that learning occurred.
Our present age is characterized by instantaneous product delivery. Need an answer, Wikipedia will give it to you in a flash. Need a scholarly article, Jstor or Google Scholar has it. Need toilet paper, Amazon Prime will get it to you tomorrow. Need a perfect route to get where you’re going, Google Maps or Waze will show it to you.
We have become insanely productive, but are we processive?
To be processive is to put a premium on how one produces or learns something, how one arrives at his or her destination. The processive person is not indifferent to the product; after all, a process is usually set in motion by a destination or desired result. But to the processive person, the process counts as much, if not more, than that destination or desired results. The processive person is not afraid to get lost, go down seemingly pointless avenues or wait around a bit. He or she is not afraid to strain mowing the lawn with a manual lawnmower or carrying groceries home. The processive person knows that means are often one and the same with the end.
To think that any of us are going to stop using our GPS’s, Wikipedia or Amazon is pretty unrealistic. These things, even if they are conditioning us to live in an on-demand world, are pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to show up in an unknown city for an appointment and not get lost en route. Perhaps a more realistic ambition is to start developing a capacity–and even fondness–for inconvenience, for getting lost, for straining a little, for process. Who knows, these things might be the most productive uses of our time.
Stack of books image via Shutterstock