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Most professionals talk on a regular basis about being productive. But what does that word even mean? Episode 77 of Faithful on the Clock seeks to redefine the term toward a more meaningful application that gets you away from dollars and cents and one-upmanship.
[00:33] - A recent article implied that it’s not OK for people to simply BE—instead, they have to always be doing MORE.
[01:17] - There’s a hierarchy in terms of what is productive and what isn’t.
[02:55] - Defining productivity only in terms of dollars and cents is damaging because it limits the positive ways we could spend our time.
[03:53] - Productivity needs to be defined individually based on goals and personality.
[04:25] - You probably wouldn’t label God’s 6 days of creation as unproductive. In the same way, many other things on Earth are productive but often are not properly assessed as having good value.
[05:40] - Productivity might be defined simply as working toward the completion of tasks. This definition acknowledges that many productive activities cannot be quantified, as well as the fact that results can take a long time to gain.
[07:34] - Productivity ties back to your priorities, which connect back to your values, which always should connect back to God.
[08:00] - Assess what gifts you have and what you feel matters.
[08:48] - All of us need some productivity to yield dollars and cents, but don’t make it a hierarchy. You will know you are using your time productively because you will feel more human. Consider the thesis of Jenny Odell’s book, How to Do Nothing, Resisting the Attention Economy, which is that we have the power to decide where to put our attention.
A recent article offered tips for how work-at-home moms could be more productive, suggesting that productivity is something that attaches only to work or paid time. That concept reveals a bias toward a hierarchy system in which we tend to see productivity in terms of quantifiable metrics and attach it to careers instead of general tasks and goals.
Defining productivity only in terms of dollars and cents or competitiveness limits the positive ways we spend our time. It’s better to define productivity based on how we personally want to prioritize and pay attention.
God was enormously productive during the six days in which He created the world. Yet, He was not paid for it and none of the work was measured. The creation story demonstrates that there are many things that are productive that we’ve pushed aside as not having value.
Productivity can be defined simply as working toward the completion of tasks. It is constructive and always includes improvement, even when innovative destruction is a step in the process. It’s often necessary to play the long game and wait to see results.
Productivity, as a matter of prioritization, should always connect to your values and God’s commandments. It should take His plan for you into consideration, meaning that you should be mindful of the gifts He’s given you and how you could apply those gifts.
Avoid turning productivity into a hierarchy. Many things that are not quantifiable are productive and have a great influence on you, others, or the world. You can know you are being productive when what you are doing makes you feel more human. You can explore this concept more in depth in Jenny Odell’s book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
Identify 3 key areas where you would like to focus your attention and energy and define why you want to be productive in those areas above others.
Read Jenny Odell’s book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (or listen to an audiobook version). Note any parts that particularly resonate with you.
What’s coming up next:
One of the strongest ideas in the corporate world is that if you just put in more effort, you’ll get noticed. Episode 78 of Faithful on the Clock uses a recent study to show how pushing too far to get the attention of a group or boss can backfire and make them overlook you. It encourages you to reflect on your current assumptions about fairness and reward, as well as your current work-life balance beliefs.
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Well, hello to all of you out there listening today. I'm Wanda Thibodeaux, your host for 100 percent of today's episode of Faithful on the Clock, the podcast where all the ketchup on the French fries goes to get your faith and work aligned. If you've ever struggled with the concept of being productive, stuck around, because we're redefining what productivity means in a big way. Come on with me, 'cause here we go.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an article where the author was, you know, throwing out a couple of ideas on how mompreneurs could get into a better morning mindset so they could be more productive. And dadpreneurs, I'll just say right off the bat, I see you, too. I know there are a lot of guys out there running a business and taking care of the kids at the same time. So I don't want to look at this in terms of a gender thing. But what struck me about the article was that there was this undercurrent idea that it’s not OK to just BE, that you always have to be getting a result to have any real sense of worth. Like, you can’t just be productive, you have to be MORE productive, and everything is always just biggering.
Now, maybe it's just because I've been a stay-at-home mom, but that just felt so offensive to me. Because I've done that job. Like, I have had those mornings that start at 3:00 a.m. because the baby woke up and I'm, you know, doing laundry, making breakfast, running errands, all of these things, and at the end of the day, I have done so much that I'm just exhausted. And like, I AM doing things. I am knocking things off the home to-do list. Yet, somehow, compared to when I do my client work, somehow all of that isn't productive enough, or if I’m trying to work and be a mom at the same time, the kids are somehow like this millstone that I’ve gotta throw off or find a hack to get past to the quote, unquote, real work, which there for some reason needs to be more of. Like, really? But we do. At least in the United States, there is a bias that says that parents aren't productive when they do parenting work. And even within the corporate space, there's bias between jobs. So for example, we can assume that a CEO is more productive than, say, the janitor, when in reality, they're both getting things done according to the job description they have. They're both achieving throughout the day the best they can. And even when you’re working hard at your job, you’ve got a million people throwing all these hacks at you telling you that you should be doing more with less if you want to get ahead, and everybody’s always trying to race the clock to make sure they don’t lose the ability to compete.
Now, why is this so damaging? I think it's damaging because when we define productivity in terms of dollars and cents, when we constantly emphasize that productivity is something you can quantify or that you always have to be, like, one-upping the next guy with, we end up limiting the positive ways that we spend our time. So for example, my daughter, she desperately needs me to be coaching her and guiding her and just really teaching her about life. You know, she's a teenager. She's smart. But she still doesn't have a ton of life experience and she needs me to still explain some things to her. But if I constantly turn her down when she wants time with me, if I'm always saying, well, I can't because I've got work to do, I've got to stay productive, what do you think that's going to do to her? You think she's going to develop the life skills she needs to get very far? I don't.
So just like we define success in different ways based on our own goals and personality and what fulfills us on an individual level, we have to define productivity very individually and say, in what way do WE want to be productive. Because you can be productive at work or in any number of areas, but you have to prioritize where you put your attention. And right now the priority for a lot of people out there is just making money. That's all productivity means to them.
To see if I can kind of illustrate this, I want to take you all the way back to the beginning, way back to Genesis. So God comes, and he goes on this big creativity spree. He makes the sky and the oceans and the birds and animals and everything on the planet. He puts that together, makes it work. And of course, he makes Adam and Eve. And I don't know about you, but I think that's some pretty darn productive time. I mean He does all of these things in 6 days, right down to the little pipsqueak bug you barely notice by your face. But it's not like there were a bunch of managers or HR people checking his output. You know, He didn't get paid anything for this. And if you think it doesn't have value, if you think it wasn't productive enough, well then, would you honestly go to God right now and say, "You know, God, that time you spent on me, that didn't make any money, so I'm just going to tell you that was pretty stupid." Like, honestly would you go to Him and say that? No. Why? Because on some level, you recognize that you have value. And in that same way, there are a lot of things that have value, that are productive, that we've been pushing aside like that.
So how then should we define productivity? I would like to suggest that we define it simply as working toward the completion of tasks. And I say working toward on purpose, because so often, life throws us curveballs despite our best efforts, and we have to know when to stop when we're ahead. You know, some ventures just don't pan out, and that's okay. And under this definition, it does not matter if those tasks are quantifiable. And in fact, I would argue that some of the most productive tasks cannot be measured in dollars and cents, but rather have to be assessed based on the influence they have on individuals or society. So that's looking at, you know, are you improving yourself, other people, or what's around you. To me, productive time is always constructive. It's always gonna build up. And that's not to say that you can't intentionally break down what exists to build something better, right? That's what we call creative or innovative destruction. It's what drives markets forward all the time. But productivity means improvement in some way, or at the very least, you're trying to get that improvement to happen. And sometimes, and every entrepreneur on the face of the planet will tell you this is true, sometimes you have to play the long game with productivity. Sometimes you don't see the end result you're looking for for a long time, and part of being intelligent is being patient enough not to quit before you win. And I point that out because there will be people who tell you you're not being productive just because you don't have proof of concept yet or you're not getting a paycheck. Right? They kind of look at you and think that if you've got 99 cents, somehow you're nowhere near close to a dollar and you shouldn't keep looking for the extra penny.
So I just want to come back for a second to that idea of productivity being a matter of prioritization. Because this is where we start getting into your goals relating to your values, and in my humble opinion, your values should always connect back to God and His commandments. They should always connect to His plan for your life, even as you understand that He might not give you the details of that plan all at once.
So just stop for a second. What gifts do you have? What do you genuinely feel matters? And again, I'm not talking about what the boss says matters or your mama, or your neighbor Chuck from down the street. They can all tell you what they think you should do. But what do you think God wants you to do? You know, I have people who suggest I should quit the podcast because it takes so much of my time, but it's productive, it's worth it for me to do, because I understand that the purpose behind it is to help people understand God a little better and to make their work a little bit more bearable while they're on this earth. That has value to me. So, you know, I might not get a dime for any of this. But it's still wildly productive to me.
So my takeaway is this: Yes, some of our time has to be productive in a dollars and cents way. We've all gotta eat. We've all got bills to pay. But don't turn it into a hierarchy. The time you spend mentoring, that's productive time. The time you spend laying out on the grass getting your heart in the right space, that's productive time. And here's something that might blow your mind: You'll know when you're using your time productively and putting your attention on the right things because you'll inevitably feel more human. I just read a fantastic book by Jenny Odell called How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. And her whole kind of thesis was that when she stepped back out of the whole attention economy, as she calls it, you know, social media and work and all that, when she paid attention to all of the other things around her, you know, simple things like birds or the plants that were growing around her, she suddenly was able to see her world in a completely different way. She just felt more alive than she had before. And that's the sense that I want you to have with this, that you have the power of where to put your attention, and putting it somewhere other than a metric is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. So if you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it. I'm not getting anything for that recommendation. I just really think the book is terrific.
So, in the hope that you are thinking about your productivity a little bit differently now, let's pray.
Lord, I know that when You come back and You look at what everybody has done, You're not going to be looking at their productivity in terms of dollar value. You're gonna be looking at it in terms of influence and whether what we did followed what you taught. So Lord, I just pray that when people look in the mirror today, when they look at their to-do lists, they will prioritize in the same way. And if there's something that could make them a million bucks but doesn't align with what You'd do, let them leave that on the table for what matters. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
Well, all right, everybody. Those, right there, are my thoughts. If this episode has gotten you thinking, I’d like to invite you to support the show financially. Our podcast host, Captivate, has just released a new monetization system, so you can become a member for the show at faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm/support. You can become a member there OR give a one-off tip. Those tips, you know, if you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to commit to membership, that’s a great way to just kinda stick your toe in the water a little bit. Next episode, I'll be talking about the idea of consistency in getting noticed. So if you just stick with it over time, is that really a guarantee that people eventually will pay attention to you? Find out in two weeks, everybody, and until next time, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.