Living The Heretically Productive Life

July 14th, 2010 | Shonali Burke | 17 Comments

A couple of months ago, I was asked by the estimable Thursday Bram to contribute to a blog post on Constructively Productive that would focus on “heretical’ productivity.

Image: woodring’s Flickrstream, Creative Commons

A fine idea, I thought. After all, is life worth living if you’re not a little heretical now and again?

Here’s what I said:

Put away the smart phone except for when you really, really need it. I don’t care how cool your iPhone or BlackBerry is, one of the worst things you can do is to make it your de facto computer. You’ll lose all your sense of rhythm if you’re constantly emailing back and forth from it.

When I was chained to my BlackBerry, I found myself constantly trying to keep up with myself. I wasn’t necessarily working better, just crazier. Sure, there are times when it comes in very handy, like emergencies, or when you’re not going to have access to your computer for a significant period of time.

But otherwise, treat it for what it is; a device that can help you stay in touch when you need to, not one that starts dictating to you.

I suggest you read all the responses if you’re intrigued by the concept of heretical productivity.

They’re from a bunch of fine, upstanding heretics, all of whom I’d be pleased to share a stake with as flames nip at our comely ankles.

Can’t you just see it?

“Darling, these ropes are chafing terribly on my wrists. Think you could nudge ‘em up a millimeter or two with your elbow?”

“Precious, consider it done.”


“Precious, I believe my elbow’s been consumed. So sorry for the inconvenience.”

Last weekend, I decided to put this into practice.

Because what is more heretical than advice from a heretic who doesn’t practice her own heresy?

With a trip to Alaska coming up

(Eat your heart out. No, seriously, eat your heart out and then tell me what it tastes like because if it’s good I’ll post the recipe on my blog. It’s fine. We’re bloggers. We feed on each other.)

… my class at Johns Hopkins to prepare for, a new business proposal to submit in less than 24 hours and much writing and “deliverables” for clients, it wasn’t like I was lacking in a to-do list.

And don’t get me started on the household chores; my list was about two pages long (including things like getting my husband to clean up his record collection, and more) and indented to boot.

So I did the only thing that made sense.

I walked into my garden – which I must admit, at the risk of sounding smug, is very pretty these days – and inspected the crab grass.

Not six inches high yet? OK, no worries.

Back Yard Squirrel

and I had a temperate discussion on whether or not it was appropriate for him to steal bird feed from my bird feeder.

I pointed out that if he kept up with his kleptomaniac ways, the cardinals, blue jays and hummingbirds would go hungry, not to mention might suffer irreversible psychological damage.

He said, “Yes, but I’m bigger.”

I couldn’t dispute that. What was difficult for him to argue with is that I am bigger than him.

So after an amicable exchange of boos, hisses and tail-shaking, he wandered off to scavenge elsewhere, and I settled down in my hammock.


Before I continue, I must tell you that Back Yard Squirrel shares many of the deplorable tendencies of Common Squirrel. Not only that, he could teach CS a thing or two.

“Blink blink blink”?




That’s all you got, CS? Come on over and BYS will give you a night on the town.


Three hours later, I awoke, much refreshed.

During my slumber, I apparently invented a new kind of measuring cup that ensures you don’t gain weight no matter how much you put in it, figured out how my proposal should read, and honed in on what references I should use in my class.

In addition, when I woke up

There was actually a bird eating from the feeder!

And my husband was cleaning up his record collection!

My proposal went in on time!

Now I’m not suggesting that the minute you shut your baby blues, all your problems will disappear. Um, well, they will, but they’ll come back.

Shut UP, BYS.

But there’s something to be said for just hitting “pause” when you have so much to do that you don’t know if you can do it all and still remain sane.

Studies have shown that we live and work better when we sleep well – and enough. At the risk of sounding new-agey, it refreshes our bodies, minds and souls.

See how well I’d fit in at the stake?



Juggling Too Many Balls.

These are things all of us have to deal with. PR pros, clients, in house practitioners… we’re all painted with the same brush when it comes to Getting Things Done.

So to me, that hammock and what it gave back to me? That’s constructively productive.

You might enjoy reading:

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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You are 100% right about the sleep aspect. I just edited a very interesting bit of research on that topic. Did you know that people who get enough sleep also tend to burn kcals a bit faster? I'm for that.

Jen Wilbur
Jen Wilbur

LOVE it, Shonali! I've been a non-practicing heretic lately, and it's just ugly. Pause is my favorite button (after play). You can go back to it as soon as you're ready.

It may be 7 AM, but maybe I need to take a little break? ;)

Thanks for the reminder. 2-week vacation countdown in the works in effect! 6 days and counting...

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

I think I did read/hear that somewhere, Alexandra. So now the question is: if you dream about exercising/some form of physical activity, does that help even more? Seriously.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Jen - I'd better not see you online anywhere during the vacation. ;-) Here's to getting back to our heretical roots!


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