In praise of pottering

Pottering is a greatly undervalued activity.

I suppose that the common expectation is that all life is about bashing out widgets, a task requiring neither imagination nor creativity, and so we do no need to potter, or to reflect, we merely get on with bashing out more widgets. We might periodically take time to sharpen our widget bashing tools, or plan our critical path for most effective bashing of widgets.

But we certainly do not have any time for pottering. Pottering is anathema. Pottering is the lazy inefficient waste of time, falling away from our puritan protestant work ethic, our idle hands lead us into the devil's work.

But is this really true. I suppose if you paid someone to work for you, you want to see them bashing out those little widgets as fast as they can. But reducing everything to bashing out widgets presumes that there is no quality dimension, it is purely a case of quantity. The more widgets the better.

But for many things there is not an infinite demand for our widgets. How many emails a day does our boss really want us to send him. Or the quality dimension is paramount. Is more blogging really better blogging.

Which all, in, a round about, way, leads me back to pottering. Because pottering is the antithesis to quantity. Pottering is the complete absence of quantity. In fact pottering can regularly deliver no perceptible outputs what so ever.

So why is pottering any good?

Because if you are ever to be truly great at anything you will probably need to spend a great deal of time pottering. It is the pottering time that differentiates the tradesman from the craftsman, the labourer from the artist. It is that ability to just step back, allow yourself to take a line for a walk, or let the line take you for a walk. To put words after each other just to see if they take you anywhere interesting. Fiddle about with something, take it apart, put it back together again, see if you can make it work a little better.

Just imagine the craftsman pottering away in his workshop, putting together a few off cuts to make a children's toy, sharpening much loved tools, browsing a catalogue, or sketching out impractical ideas.

Just imagine the gardener weeding slowly while just wondering how to arrange some new plants, or rearranging pots while she thinks about colour schemes.

Just imagine the endless hours tinkering with websites, or browsing for ideas for your blog.

I suppose the point is that pottering is defensible, we all need time to potter a bit, particularly around the things we love doing. The real art is in extracting the odd nugget from the pottering, making good use of the nuggets.

Perhaps what we need is a better methodology for productive pottering. Perhaps what we need is a better articulation of the relationship between pottering and bashing out widgets. Ideally they are in harmony, two sides of the same coin. We should not feel guilty that we are not always in the same mode. It is part of our strength.