Productivity: A measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc., in converting inputs into useful outputs.Oxford Dictionary
It all sounds rather mechanical, right. Something that puts us in the category of human doings rather than human beings. It leads to days measured by to-do lists and calendars. Or one measured entirely by production. Our personal versions of the DOW and GDP. But just as I would argue that those are abhorrent measurements for the well-being of a nation, so our individual measures are poison to the soul.
Still, I spent years trying to find the right system to help me be my most productive self, and while there were spurts of getting stuff done and focused planning, I generally found myself, at best, unmotivated and at worst miserable.
So I gave up on productivity and, suddenly, I terms of output, I find myself more productive than ever. But, more importantly, I feel more vibrant and alive … as if everything I do actually means something. And this remains true even as the world burns amid a global pandemic.
But I am not disconnected from the realities around me. Rather I find myself enraged at the injustice I see and deeply concerned about the health and well-being of my neighbors. However, even these things hold a place in my new “productivity” system.
How I Got Where I Am
To make sense of where I am we need to go back five years. If you know anything about me today, you know this story. Me, staring at a blank computer screen. The page awaiting the words of my doctoral dissertation in spiritual formation. Me with nothing to say because the dull image reflecting back at me revealed a spiritually deformed man. Angry. Addicted. A victim of my past.
I began to doubt my basic understanding of the divine. I am a former Lutheran pastor who could no longer believe in the God he once preached, yet still felt compelled by the story of Jesus. So I spent the culminating project of my doctorate asking the introductory question, “Jesus, what is God like?”
While the text of my dissertation offers the fullness of my answer at the time, an answer that continues to develop today, a simplified version is available in the ebook I offer when you sign up for my monthly email list. But for this moment, let it suffice to say that I became aware of my innate belovedness. That belovedness is where my understanding of productivity begins.
Belovedness simply means that I am a beloved child of the divine. The way I felt about my son when I first held him in my arms thirteen and a half years ago, that is the way the divine feels about me.
On that Friday morning, after twenty-four hours at the hospital, Robbie’s mom and I welcomed him into the world and loved him. Not because of anything he did, but simply because he was and is our child.
Even today, when that baby turned teen deems an odd mix of grunts and shrieks as functional communication, when he seemingly begs me to deem him unworthy, I love him unconditionally. That is how the divine sees me at my worst. And if the divine sees me that way, what more do I have to prove?
Think about that for a moment … you have nothing to prove. You cannot earn more worth than you already have. When it comes to your value as a human being, what you produce is inconsequential. All of our striving in hopes that we might someday be enough is an exercise in futility, not because we will never get there, but because we are already there. We have always been there but failed to recognize it.
Not recognizing our innate belovedness is one of two fundamental errors Western society makes when it comes to our thoughts on work.
- Through our work, we earn our value. No, we each hold inalienable belovedness apart from anything we do.
- Our work is how we live out our purpose. No, our purpose is to love our neighbors by living out of our values. Our work is one way we can do that.
These distinctions form the next layer of my thoughts on productivity.
Productivity and Purpose
Because I constantly root myself in my belovedness, I no longer need to spend my day thinking about me. Instead, I am free to think about my neighbor. What I do with my day is ultimately about allowing them to experience and live in their own belovedness.
My neighbor could be the person next door, the person I wake up next to, my teenager, a client, or anyone or anything else that shares this planet with me. Ultimately, at the end of the day, my hope is that they all experience the same belovedness I embrace for myself.
Loving my neighbor as I am loved is my purpose. However, that purpose is not unique to me. Rather, I would argue it is the purpose of anyone who seeks to live a fully human life. The uniqueness comes in how I love my neighbor.
Productivity and Values
Obviously, I cannot single-handedly impact every other person on earth. Instead, I am called to simply play my part by living out of the values that help me define how I am uniquely situated to love my neighbor.
For me, values are deeply personal and cannot be taken away. This means neither my job nor my family can be values. If any doubt remained about the temporal nature of work or human life, COVID-19 destroyed it.
Instead, values are words that describe behaviors that stir passion and creative energy. When I think about my values I am inspired to act. Moreover, I can act on them in an array of contexts, including at home, at work, and at play.
So my four values are:
- creativity: through both the spoken and written word I combat the fear and shame that prompts people to question their belovedness
- connection: as I encounter people throughout the day they will feel both seen and heard
- growth: I am perpetually learning to enhance my creativity, connection, and health
- health: caring for myself enables me to care for others
- creativity – warrior – east
- connection – lover – west
- growth – magician – south
- health – king – north
This is not necessary, but as I seek to further move from the toxic place I lived when I sat down to write my dissertation, it is comforting to know that the values I build my life around mesh with perennial wisdom.
Given all that, how do I measure my daily productivity?
My primary tool for planning my day is Trello. My primary board includes five labels. Every card is categorized with at least one label. As you might have guessed, there is one label for each of my values and one for “other.”
On my main Trello board, I have four main lists I use. They are labeled:
- priorities: this of these as projects or goals
- priority tasks: specific actionable things I will work on today
- secondary tasks: specific actionable things I will work on in the future
Every evening I review my priorities and what tasks I need to focus on to move forward towards accomplishing specific projects or goals. I either create those cards or move them from secondary tasks into my priority tasks. I also add one card for every event on my calendar.
At the end of the day, when I look at my “done” list, the only thing I pay attention to is the color labels. If I have accomplished something that builds on each of my four values, I consider it a productive (or should I say successful) day. After taking a moment to celebrate living my values, I archive those cards.
After that, I simply trust everything will work out. A few months into the experiment, the results are simply fantastic! More gets done. The things I do hold meaning. I live from a place of inspiration.
What Happens When the World Reopens?
The big question is how this system, which took its present form as the world shut down due to COVID-19 will look once things reopen. For the past eight and a half years I have worked a retail stocking job to provide medical insurance. I am also a freelance funeral officiant expecting a huge surge of services shortly as public gatherings resume.
Here are a few thoughts:
- Given that I stock in a warehouse I can spend my days listening to podcasts and ebook. This serves the ever-growing magician.
- Each interaction with a fellow employee or in those moments where I step out on the floor and serve a customer is a chance for the connective lover to see and hear another human.
- Every time I sit down with a family who lost someone, I get to be the connective lover.
- When I prepare and officiate a funeral service, I am a creative warrior.
Essentially, reopening means less time doing the researching and writing that largely consumes my “stay at home” days, but working on the book Abundance Reconstructed is only one way for me to live out my values. So while my day to day activities change, living out my purpose through my values stays the same.
Afterward: Productivity, Protests, and COVID-19
As I opened this post I mentioned the protests and riots following the murder of Greg Floyd and the current global pandemic fitting in with my productivity system.
The systemic abuse of blackness in America makes me angry. Actually, anger is not an intense enough of a word. Rage is more accurate. This is true on a normal day but intensifies following another murder caught on video. I could easily allow that rage to take control of my day, leading me to get nothing done, not living according to my values, and not loving my neighbor well.
Instead, I seek to channel that energy into my creative warrior, my connecting lover, and my eternally growing magician. One of the tasks on my list above is to finish reading, Black Theology and Black Power. In my recent newsletter, I linked to several reviews of books on race and racism. I have also reached out to Black friends just to check in on them and see how they are doing. The same can happen with issues surrounding COVID-19. This allows me to respond to what happens in the world around me from a place of strength and love.
Life is not about the tasks you accomplish or being productive. It is about embodying purpose manifesting values that invite others to know their belovedness.