One of my children once asked me what I would choose if I could have anything in the world. I think that if I were given that choice, my response would be “more time.” Time is the one commodity which is bestowed upon all of us equally—at least in the days that are allotted to us. It seems that we should take this most precious and scarce gift of time and invest it wisely.
For me, the keys to being productive are prioritization and organization. Set your priorities and schedule them. It’s simple in concept, but I find it to be more difficult than it sounds. It’s definitely a discipline that has to be practiced. I’ve found that ruthless time management is typically the only way I can gain some semblance of control over the time I’ve been given.
Of course, it’s important to schedule personal time, recovery time, and family time. The point is not to become a more efficient workaholic but to get better at not wasting time. I tend to measure the quality of my day by how productive I’ve been. If that sounds awfully harsh, I consider spending time with my wife, kids, and friends as “being productive.”
A “good” day might be one in which I went to work, took the dog for a jog, paid bills, caught up on some yard work, and had a meaningful conversation with one of my kids. A “bad” day might be one in which I got no exercise because I slept in because I binged watched some Netflix show the night before, came home from work, spent an hour reading about all of the bad things that were happening in the world, then spent another hour futilely scrolling through social media, hoping to find a positive balance for the bad news I’d just read.
I don’t have much time for frivolous things. There’s definitely some goodness in that mentality, although perhaps “frivolous” things have their place. I’m a long way from achieving perfect balance in my life.
Nevertheless, in trying to be as productive as possible, I’ve concluded that my priorities should be, in general, those things which have the longest-term payoff. Watching television pays off immediately. Spending time with my kids will pay off for the duration of their lifetime—and maybe their children’s lifetime. Yes, I still have to mow my lawn so we don’t get evicted. No, the dishes aren’t going to wash themselves. So “mundane” chores must be done, but it seems better to me—to the extent that I’m able—to invest my time in efforts that will be meaningful to others and to, hopefully, help manifest the deeper kingdom in the darkness of this world.
Time, for the individual, is a one-way trap door. Every moment is a decision that irreversibly affects everything which comes after—for infinity, so far as we can tell. Perhaps that’s not the case. I certainly can’t prove it, but it seems like a useful axiom by which to live. So when deciding what to do, I try to ask myself, “what is the most important thing I can be doing now?”
If we’re trying to carefully mange the precious commodity of time, we can become easily frustrated when our carefully planned schedule is disrupted by unforeseen circumstances. But there’s another way to think about disruptions. Most (perhaps all) disruptions offer an opportunity to help someone or to grow in maturity.
When such an opportunity presents itself, we can become disheartened at the disruption that threatens to diminish our productivity, or we can consider that if we’re inhabiting the deeper kingdom and that eternity isn’t just an interminable future but a perpetual “now,” then we have all the time in the world to do those things which pay off forever.
Productivity is important. Time management is important; and time is, in one sense, a scarce commodity which should not be wasted. But when it comes to doing things that will pay off for eternity, it might be useful to remember that we also have all the time in the world.