Productive or Busy?
How often had I heard the word productive? The words resonated in my mind constantly, ‘Be productive.’ ‘Life is short.’ Isn’t that what I was doing? Being productive? I wondered when I would wash that same red Spiderman shirt only to have it reappear on that little body the second he saw it hanging in his closet.
Productive. I was being productive.
Several times a week, I would ceremoniously mop the hardwood floor removing all traces of footprints. Moments later, a child rushed through the door tracking the same spots back onto the floor. A clean floor. It was only a concept.
But I was productive.
As my small family grew into a larger family, I witnessed my serenity and cleanliness vanish rather quickly. I kept my hopes alive knowing that one day they would leave home and I would longingly look at the order as we reminisced the ‘old days.’
Soon the day arrived when my children one by one left the nest to encounter a life at school. My once productive life of keeping up with three preschoolers drastically changed.
I looked around my home noticing the long-forgotten finger prints on the basement walls. I quickly went to work scrubbing off each little mark, pondering on the once small hands which couldn’t reach the stairwell banister. It didn’t take long until our home sparkled as it once had. I walked through the empty home like a lost soul wondering what to do with myself. How would I be productive now?
A friend entered my home one day. She stood at the front door looking across the wood floor. “This is the cleanest I have ever seen this floor. It is amazing!” Instead of beaming with pride, I quickly dismissed the compliment knowing it had taken two hours that day to clean that floor. Two hours. I realized I was simply trying to be productive, but was I productive or just busy?
I hastily took on one project after another to improve my home. Every wall was painted. Old wall paper stripped off. Holes mudded in. As the weather turned warmer, I started evaluating the front of my home. The trim desperately needed painting. Without a second thought, I jumped into my car to seek the perfect new color for my home at the hardware store. In haste, I purchased the paint and began the process. Soon, the easiest to reach areas were completed.
Reluctantly I pulled out the ladder and faced my fear of heights as I slowly lifted one foot to the first rung. My breathing became labored as I continued the ascension to my very real doom. Each slight wiggle of the ladder sent chills through my soul. Repeatedly I closed my eyes, inhaling what was sure to be last breath. Only moments later, I gave up on the ladder and decided to paint the trim by exiting through an upstairs window.
Slowly, I lifted one leaden foot after another as I crept out the window. I gripped the side of the house so tightly as to embed splinters deep in my skin. Methodically, I inched my way around the edge of the house, slowly painting as I moved. Each new shuffle brought a terror to my thoughts. Who would call 9-1-1 when I lay sprawled across my driveway?
“You need something to occupy your time.” I cautiously glanced to see if someone were speaking to me as the words were audible in my head. Not a soul. Again, the thought returned. I did need something to occupy my time. Besides, painting the trim of my house was not my forte! Victoriously, I edged back to the open window and carefully slid back in being mindful to not get a drop of brown paint on the white curtains. As I washed out the brush, I mentally added ‘finish painting the house trim’ to my ‘to hire’ list.
What should I do with my time? I hastily began volunteering. Soon my days were so full, I wondered if there would be time to do the necessities –like mopping that hardwood floor. I put together the day camp program for eight-hundred cub scouts in two neighboring cities through our scout council office. I volunteered to work at the school. I made copies and prepared bulletin boards. I typed and cut out cute little things for teachers.
Each evening as I went to bed, I carefully organized my next day. I’d have to get up early so I could finish one load of laundry before making breakfast. I could slip in grocery shopping between my volunteer work but I would only have time to put away the refrigerator items. I became quite efficient. I even trained a bagger at the grocery store to always sort my groceries into freezer items, refrigerator items and dried goods. On a quick dash home, I swiftly dropped freezer items into the deep freezer in the garage without even removing them from the bag. The same fate awaited the refrigerator items.
My life was full. I was busy. But was I productive? No. I had simply filled my life. By being busy. The thought echoed through my soul like the sound of knocking on a hollow log. I was not fulfilling the measure of my creation. I had simply filled the measure of my creation. I was not productive. I was busy.
What was the difference between productivity and busy for me? Busy was filling my calendar and always moving around. It was the ability at the end of the day to say I had not wasted time. Productivity was much higher than busy on my scale of accomplishments. Productive was arriving at the end of the day knowing I had been busy accomplishing more than a task list. I progressed toward my goals. I had a purpose. I knew my purpose. I need to follow my values. Take time to recall what was most important to me.
In agony, I dropped to my knees in solemn humility before God. I thanked Him for the gentle guidance and reminder. As warm water flowing over my soul, the anxiety was erased as peace resumed its place. I had a special job to do in this life. I possessed a role. I didn’t have to do someone else’s job. All I had to do was to fulfill my job. That didn’t mean being busy. It meant being productive, being busy achieving my goals and following my vales.
Productivity had a more profound meaning to me.
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners and learning styles. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.