Here's a new paradox for today's professional: According to a recent study, most of us are working more than we were a decade ago, but at the end of the day, we're accomplishing less.
The same study reports that declining productivity - in the face of climbing expectations - has led to increased on- (and off-) the-job angst. No matter how much we do, it seems, it's never quite enough.
I've been on the productivity treadmill myself - running and running, plagued by the feeling that I'm really not getting much of anywhere. Talk about angst. For a while, it was hard to have a day when I ever felt completely satisfied with what I'd accomplished.
Then, out of nowhere, a question hit me: What would it take for your day to qualify as productive?
I suppose the message could have sparked the development of a detailed and very specific list of standards for productivity. But actually, something quite different happened. I saw the question as a call to spiritualize my perspective. And I realized: It wasn't a template for productivity that I needed, but a way of seeing things that went beyond my own limited, and perhaps critical, view.
In the past, I've found that these kinds of questions are a reminder of just who it is that governs my life - God - because they force me into new, always broader concepts of existence. These, in turn, have revealed peace where I was convinced there was chaos, direction where I thought I saw only fog, health and well-being where sickness or pain seemed to be.
I took this question as a call to prayer.
God, I prayed, help me redeem my day. I wasn't sure how the redemption was going to happen. Better focus? Fewer interruptions?
Not exactly. Instead, my redemption came in the form of a demand to see my life in terms of the qualities I express, not the tasks I accomplish. This wasn't about check marks on a to-do list, but about discovering what it means to be the infinite and dynamic expression of an infinite and dynamic God.
I loved this idea because it linked so directly to the spiritual description of "day" that I found in the glossary of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." "The objects of time and sense disappear in the illumination of spiritual understanding," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, "and Mind measures time according to the good that is unfolded. This unfolding is God's day..." (p. 584).
"The good that is unfolded." What a refreshing definition of productivity. And as I made a concerted effort to redeem each day's activities, I began to see that there was a lot of good being unfolded in my life. More than I'd seen when I'd been busy berating myself for all I hadn't done. More than I'd acknowledged when I'd wished for a lengthier list of "things accomplished."
My concerted effort took this form: If I found myself frustrated with my productivity levels during work, or usually, just before I went to bed, I took some time to consider the good qualities I'd expressed that day. Much to my surprise, there were loads of them. Often, situations I'd narrow- mindedly deemed unproductive ended up being shining examples of patience or persistence. I found I was expressing more love, creativity, and discipline than I'd given myself credit for. And there were even qualities that I hadn't often associated with myself. I discovered I was wise and savvy. And that my intuition was right-on more frequently than I'd believed it could be.
The best part of this redemption project, though, was that it didn't just heighten my appreciation for everything I was "accomplishing" each day. It also gave me a fresh, more profound conviction of my intimate and precious relationship with God. In fact, I've discovered that my most productive moments are moments of simply acknowledging that relationship. Knowing I exist to express and glorify Him. And that there's nothing in the world that could be more satisfying.