Consuming, Continuing, Creating, Community
Any action that you do can fall into one of those four categories, and there needs to be a delicate balance between them in order to be happy.
Sometimes we think too much about productivity, without thinking enough of what we are productive of. Because productive can be viewed as just answering and responding to emails, cleaning up, cooking, etc. But those tasks do not truly nourish you in the way that you ought to be nourished. Granted, life necessarily requires these kinds of continuing tasks. But the process of doing these tasks is not the purpose of life.
Many tasks seem to fall at the intersection of these; ie, talking with friends. It might be context dependent - is the conversation for the purpose of you venting? or are you coming up with new ideas together? are you maintaining a relationship through regular conversation? or are you just enjoying the sound of someone else's voice? Again, it isn't crucial that everything is classified one way or another.
Consuming is often seen as "unproductive" in general. But learning also falls under consuming, and in fact, creating can't take place without consumption. You need to learn what the present landscape is in order to create something of value. Otherwise, you are creating in a void, and the product that you create might simply be purely derivative of something else. Furthermore, you are creating by synthesizing something else, as your ideas come from somewhere. Whether you take that everything is a function of your past experiences or not, there must be some origin to all of your thoughts, and if nothing else, then the medium that you are creating in has a context that your work would eventually be placed into.
Continuing might also be a bit controversial. I think that most work can be put into this context, at some point. While at the beginning of the job you are learning new skills, at some point, you are purely applying skills to solve problems. If it does not lead to the gaining of knowledge for yourself, or for someone else, then I think it would fall more into continuing than creation. I'm not saying that it is bad! In fact, continuing is just as necessary as consuming for the maintenance of a healthy person. If you completely give up on your personal grooming, on maintaining the status of your house, it is easier for you to fall apart in your personal moods. Letting your regular habits, patterns, and routines fall away can typically lead to more loss of purpose, which usually defaults to a state of consumption.
Community was the last of these that I came up with, just because it felt like there needed to be a special category beyond what a single person is capable of doing. Humans are very much social creatures, and there is something seemingly fundamental about our interactions with others. Without sufficient community, not only does mental health suffer, but we also become more disconnected from reality.
But of these four, it is easiest to fall into the trap of not having enough creation. We tend to default towards consumption, as it is the task that has us be most passive and can be the "easiest" way to hit our own dopamine buttons. Anything that you consume necessarily needs to have been created by someone (ie, even advertisements, which might be a task created by continuation of some other artists, is still the creative task of the director of the project, or perhaps the creation of a marketing strategy by some kind of executive). Continuation is the way that we maintain ourselves. We cannot consume or create without a healthy amount of time continuing - if nothing else, we need money in order to sustain our creation and consumption. We need money even to just continue, to feed ourselves!
I guess consumption vs creation is a choice that we make in our "free time", as to what we choose to do. If we don't have good patterns of transforming what we consume into some new idea, then the consumption is more of "junk food" - it becomes like fat, stored energy and thoughts and ideas to emerge at some other point in time. However, excessive consumption can weigh down just as excess fat can. It pollutes the thoughts, as consumption is sometimes better to have a more direct line of thought. We are told to "clear our minds", because that helps us focus on creating something more specific.
Creation is ... why is creation good? Because creation doesn't necessarily benefit ourselves, or even benefit others for that matter. Creation can be evil in nature, or destructive as well. Just because you create something does not mean that you created something good or useful. I was thinking about creation as adding value to something, but I now realize that you can also add negative value to something. ie, if your creation is in hate, your actions can hurt and damage others just as much as you can heal and improve.
But in general, I feel like creation has a better purpose. That we are put on this Earth to worship God and to create something that is pleasing in His image. We have the intention of living out a life that is honest and upheld to a higher standard. We want to create something that has an impact on other people, instead of just on ourselves. Selfish creation vs selfless creation also seems like a useful category to consider. If you are creating something that is not intended to ever be seen by anyone, then the intent behind the creation is also fundamentally different. Even then, things can be good in the long run - ie, Diary of Anne Frank. There is still somehow, inherent value in the creation of something. Is it because of our interaction with the material world that brings something of value? That anything we create can then be interpreted by someone else, and create something else?
Some additional, unanswered questions...
NB: These are incomplete thoughts/notes from October 2019. I find it fairly useful to put things into this kind of mentality in my day-to-day, as some sort of a mental checklist for when things seem stuck in a rut.
NB2: Republishing this in the public, because this kind of thinking seems particularly useful at the present moment. This is partially motivated by CGP Grey's recent video, but mostly driven by the framework that gives my life a bit more structure right now during this pandemic. I think the one main thing that I would add to all of this is to have the capacity to forgive yourself when your life gets out of balance. Holding on to frustrations leads to downward spirals, but being able to acknowledge that sometimes, things just don't quite work out, and being able to move forwards nonetheless, can be very powerful.