So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).
I’m a “Penelope” . . . if that means anything to you, we understand each other, at least a little—planners, office supplies, a good life-hack—you are speaking my love language. As to the productivity genre, I’ve read the books. And while I think it is hard to argue that a basic level of organization doesn’t have its place in a well-ordered life (not that some of my children haven’t tried!), productivity has a dark side. The never-ending quest for efficiency and self-improvement applied without prudence and supernatural vision leads to the tyranny of what Josef Pieper calls the “total world of work” (Leisure: the Basis of Culture). This mentality is bent on wringing maximum productivity out of every human life and valuing people accordingly. The productivity quest also tempts us to reduce the people around us—immortal souls and living, breathing images of God—to problems to be solved, to do lists to be checked off, or to obstacles to the efficiency and self-improvement we seek.
When I find myself going down the path of the dark side of productivity, there is a quote I bring to mind. In “Character Building,” a masterful treatise on the virtues, David Isaacs writes on the virtue of orderliness: “Regarding order in the home as a necessary condition for family life and good relationships between all the members is very different from imposing it as a requirement based on parental obsession. Orderliness should never go so far as to smother a spontaneous and loving way of life. We are not suggesting that our life should be structured in every detail, but only sufficiently to make it possible to pursue certain important objectives. And this means being prudent.”
Ah, and here we are at prudence, which leads me to my book recommendation, Off the Clock, by Laura Vanderkam. This book is squarely in the productivity genre and purports to help us “feel less busy while getting more done.” Ultimately though, Vanderkam’s theory is more about choosing the important things wisely (exercising prudence) and then disciplining ourselves to experience what we are doing in a focused and undistracted manner. As a mother of a large family with the pervasive feeling of being “too busy,” I found this little book both thoughtful and helpful. Vanderkam’s book is both philosophical, as she touches on ideas of how we experience time and how we create memories, as well as practical, as she offers many suggestions to ease our sense of busyness and exhaustion. The book is arranged in seven short chapters titled after her “Secrets of People with all the Time in the World.”
- Tend your garden.
- Make life memorable.
- Don’t fill time.
- Invest in your happiness.
- Let it go.
- People are a good use of time.
Ultimately, her advice amounts to a radical awareness of the gift of time and our ability to spend that gift in a mindful and prudent way. As she points out, “The days are long, but the years are short.”