I wrote An Essay on Productivity, Production, and Productive Leisure in March 2021. My purposes were twofold. Firstly, I made the case against the productivity porn of the productivity industry, specifically against the concept of productivity as divorced from its proper end (actual production). Secondly, I made the case for well-ordered productivity, that is, productivity to achieve a specific end rather than productivity for its own sake. Productivity well-conceived, I argued, can be applied to leisure as well as to the sorts of endeavors the online lists usually consider.

I thought of my essay when I came across an interesting passage an Ms. Trina O’Gorman’s interview with a gentleman named Paul Ward about how he uses his Franklin Planner. Ms. O’Gorman was interested in interviewing ordinary people about how they use their notebooks and planners. Fortunately, she found a good interview subject when she struck up a conversation with Mr. Ward about his planner after seeing him use it at a Starbucks.

Mr. Ward went into detail in the interview about how he grew to rely on a planner and his methods for making the best use of it. I recommend reading the interview in full. In this article, I am interested in how Mr. Ward uses his planner to ensure that he has “downtime” to spend with his family. See the following passage:

Part of Paul’s commitment to staying organized always had to do with protecting his downtime, and he’s been doing that for his entire career, dating back to when he was a young father. He would plan to do everything that he needed to do, including exercising and going to the barber, so that he could spend quality time with his family. As Paul explained, ‘I’m very precious about my downtime.’

Let us key in on the productive passage:

He would plan to do everything he needed to do … so that he could spend quality time with his family.

This is exactly the sort of idea I promoted in my essay on well-ordered productivity. Mr. Ward keeps a planner to help him be productive. But he is not seeking to be productive for the sake of patting himself on the back and talking about how productive he is. No, he wants to be productive within the confines of certain time periods in order that he can attend to his downtime, or leisure, when he is with his family.

Paul protects his downtime by making good use of the time that is not downtime. To that end, he doesn’t waste a lot of time; but rather uses his time wisely. … Whenever Paul finds himself with unexpected free time, like in between appointments, or even waiting on hold during a phone call, he will refer to these lists, complete a task, and check it off. … While most of us are using that time to check social media, Paul is working away at his list of things that need to be done, so that his downtime is truly downtime and he accomplishes the things he wants to accomplish.

I pieced together a few passages of the article in the above quote (read the original for his specific method). We see again that Mr. Ward’s productivity has a well-conceived end. Why does he use unexpected free time to complete tasks? In order that he does not have to complete those tasks when he is spending or instead of spending time with his wife and kids or engaging in some other leisure activity outside of work. In an essay on using feeds in conjunction with a read-it-later solution in lieu of mindless browsing such as scrolling through social media, I argued that the best way to avoid spending time with frivolous online content is to replace it with something better. Mr. Ward offers a different something better – the prospect of being able to do more meaningful things at a later point by attending to the things you need to do in the present.

In pure productivity-speak, one can say that Mr. Ward prioritizes being productive at work and with respect to clerical tasks in his personal life in order to be more engaged in the time he spends with his family and in pursuing personal interests and projects. Family time is hardly productive if one is spending his or her time responding to emails or paying bills. It is hard to attend to a book or game when your mind is thinking about tasks you should have finished earlier. Mr. Ward appears to have not only thought of methods to make him productive, but also why those methods are important to helping him live well.