What are you actually doing right now?
A few days ago I was playing on the back deck with my daughter, just stacking toys and pointlessly moving buckets around. As I was doing this I thought ‘I really should be doing something more productive’.
And then the question came to me. Why do we feel so guilty when we’re not doing something that can be immediately quantified? I think it’s because we love to immediately measure how we’re spending time. And the easiest way to measure it is by the improvement we see straight away, or the financial reward we get for what we’re doing.
It’s a real struggle to measure our time in other ways, but it’s a very important exercise to go through.
We first have to start with what our priorities are. For me it’s my faith, my family and friends and the well-being of others. In that order.
Obviously to cater to these priorities we need to do a whole lot of different things. We need to provide a home for our family and ensure that it’s maintained. We need to provide food and therefore need to earn money to buy that food.
On top of that though are the less tangible things. We need to love and nurture our children so we have to spend time with them. We need to keep in touch with our friends so we should call or visit them. If we want to be around for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren we need to stay healthy.
The problem is that these less tangible or immediately measurable things we do often feel like doing ‘nothing’. So if there’s ‘something’ to do instead of doing ‘nothing’ we’ll immediately decide to do that instead, even if it’s just checking emails for the 10th time that day.
So instead of asking ourselves ‘is this productive?’, the better question to ask is ‘what exactly am I doing right now and how does it rank on my list of priorities?‘.
When I was sitting on the deck playing with my daughter I had a number of ‘productive’ things I could have been doing. The lawns needing trimming, I had a few things I needed to buy and I had a couple of not very important emails I needed to send.
But if I was to ask myself what exactly it was I was doing right then? I was spending quality time with my daughter and showing her that she’s important and worthwhile to me. I wasn’t just aimlessly shifting buckets round.
How does that rank on my list of priorities? Suddenly very high. How do the lawns rank? Very low indeed.
Eventually I’d need to do those lawns but there would be plenty of time for that. It’s not often you get the chance just to muck around on the deck with your daughter.
So the next time we start to feel like we’re not being ‘productive’ we need to ask ourselves what we’re actually doing right now.
Often the seemingly pointless activities are much more important than we think. Conversely, those urgent or ‘productive’ tasks, when measured against our priorities, don’t rank highly at all.