Reconciling the Call to be Productive with the Messiness of Life

Posted On May 22, 2015


Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

One of the difficulties in affirming that God calls us to be productive is that this can sometimes be mistaken to mean that there is always an easy solution to our productivity challenges. We can think that there is no place for messiness, difficulty, and even falling behind in the life of truly productive, God-honoring people.

For example, if your car has a problem, you take it to the mechanic and he ought to be able to fix it. That’s what they are trained to do, and most automobile problems are well understood. If your mechanic can’t fix diagnose and fix a broken fuel pump or heater core, there is indeed something wrong with that shop.

Lots of things in life are like this, so it can be easy to think that productivity is supposed to be like that as well. We can easily reduce our thinking to something like this: “You feel like you are always rushing and are pulled in a thousand directions? Well, just do these three things, and it will be all fixed by tomorrow. Oh, and, by the way, how did you not know that? [Implication: Something is wrong with you, and look at how great I am for being able to easily “fix” your problem!]”

But managing our tasks, workflow, and lives is not like that. It is not like getting the oil changed or fixing the radiator in your car. The reason is that we are often dealing with the unknown and with ambiguity.

Hence, there are two errors we can fall into. The first is, as I mentioned, to think that there is always an easy solution and that if you are having a tough time keeping up with things, then the problem is always you. That’s simply not true.

The other error, though, would be to conclude from this that there is not any way at all to actually get on top of your work. That would be a very depressing, discouraging reality.

Fortunately, it’s not true. It is possible to be on top of things.

Yet, at the same time, there will be seasons where you aren’t — and perhaps can’t be. 

How do we reconcile these two realities?

By recognizing that productivity is a learning process. Further, by recognizing that it is sometimes a tough learning process. You can grow and get better — but that doesn’t mean it will always be a smooth ride.

It is like learning calculus. You can learn calculus. But it can also be a big challenge.

The challenges along the way don’t mean something is wrong with you. Rather, they are part of the learning process. Further, as we achieve certain levels of effectiveness in managing our work, we graduate to new challenges — which require a new level of learning. So sometimes it can even feel like two steps forward and one step back.

I remember when I was learning Spanish in high school. We reached a point where, when some certain advanced material was introduced, we actually fell backwards in our abilities. It was strange. But our teacher said this was perfectly normal. It’s what happens. It’s part of the learning process as you graduate to new levels of difficulty.

And, it’s temporary. If you keep at it, you make it through these periods and emerge with entirely new, amazing abilities.

If the calculus analogy seems a bit off-putting (since calculus is so hard!), maybe think in terms of learning a foreign language, or even learning algebra. Most productivity stuff is not calculus level. The point is simply that in learning anything, there will be ups and downs.

I think this allows us to account for the biblical teaching that things will not always be going perfectly for us (including our productivity abilities) while also affirming the equally true other biblical reality that we can indeed make a difference in our lives for the better.

It helps us avoid a prosperity gospel-like view of productivity, thinking that everything is always supposed to be perfect if you are just doing the right things, without falling into a defeatism that says we are somehow supposed to be always stuck.

We aren’t supposed to be stuck, and there is hope. It just takes a learning process and persistence, not a magic wand.

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