Ah, a four-day New Years weekend. I have reached new heights in slovenliness and laziness. It has been delightful, but will come to a screeching halt tomorrow morning when work resumes.
I am a fan of taking a break, but even as I am flexing my indolence muscles, that little voice in the back of my brain tells me that I should probably be doing something…productive.
When I look back a the dumpster fire that was 2020, I can’t help but acknowledge that I ignored that little voice a lot over the past nine months. Sadly, part of my memories of 2020 will be missed opportunities.
Most of my life, a handy excuse has always been, “I’ll tackle that project when I have more time.” Well, 2020 gave me more time than I have ever had in my adult life. Church and professional meetings went away, social events, school programs, sports – all those things that filled my life were suddenly gone. Their absence left remarkable swaths of time that I could fill with whatever I wanted.
As it turned out, apparently what I wanted was watching a lot of TV, being a political junkie, and surfing the internet. Um, hooray for me?
Now, I did get some stuff important stuff done, and I did work hard a lot for the year, but I squandered a lot of my newly acquired time, and I was not nearly as productive as I could have been. But, I’m not going to get down on myself for it – live and learn. There is little use for castigating myself for the past – better to adjust for the future and be more productive.
But there’s that word again, “Productive.”
I know some of you choose a word for a motto for each new year. I would submit that “Productive” is my word for 2021. As I was looking more closely at that word, I found something I think is pretty funny. If you search for a word in Google’s Ngram viewer, it will show you how often that word is used in books each year. I did a search for “Productive,” and this is the graph that it gave me:
You will note that use of the word “productive” reached its peak around 1980, and has been on a gradual decline ever since. Coincidentally, I was on my mission and in college in the early 1980’s, and have been on a gradual decline ever since. Not important – but funny, in an ironic sort of way.
As I wade into 2021, being “Productive” is going to be my focus. I don’t think I am going to define it much more than that, but I am going to add a couple of constraints:
- When I find myself doing something that lacks worth, I will ask myself if I can be doing something more productive. (And yes, I recognize that taking an occasional break, vacationing and sleeping are being productive if used wisely.)
- I will try to make sure that being productive is applied to worthwhile things. It is easy to work your tail off, or dedicate your life to something that essentially has no real value. (My apologies to anyone who dreams of climbing Everest.)
Gospel teachings across generations have taught the importance of working, building, growing, and producing, as contrasted to the dangers of slothfulness and procrastination. President Kimball said it well. You remember President Kimball – he’s the prophet one who preached “Do it!” (13 years before Nike suggested we “Just Do It.”)
“One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination, an unwillingness to accept personal responsibilities now. Many have allowed themselves to be diverted and have become addicts to mental and spiritual indolence and to the pursuit of worldly pleasure” (link) (I, for one, have had my bouts with indolence this past year, and it seems to win a lot.)
How am I going to be more productive? Here’s a few things I am aiming for:
- I am going to pay more attention to what I am doing when I’m not doing anything. For example: It would be just as easy for me to surf the internet on FamilySearch and Ancestry as it would be to click through a list of “400 Movie Mistakes.”
- I could read things of worth – both religious and secular – rather than stream programs on TV that I would never have watched in a theater because of their content and/or rating,
- I am keeping a massive list of things I need to do. It is amazingly unrealistic – but I do know myself well enough to know that if I have three items on my To-Do List, then none of them will get done. However, if I have 100 things on my list, 80 will get done. Funny, that.
- I am setting very few goals, but those that I set are very specific, within my control, and attainable in reality.
I find that I am a creature of momentum. Failure stifles that momentum. Bite-sized items on my To-Do List and attainable, quantifiable goals help me maintain that momentum.
The Lord expects us to be busy. He expects us to be productive of our own volition. Our calling is to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” not merely hunkered down with Netflix. (D&C 58:27)
One last tip: It is not a bad idea to get the Lord involved in this process. It is likely that He has some really good ideas as to what we should be focusing on, and how we should be spending our time. It might be a good idea to ask Him. (If you dare.)
Three days into the new year, and even in this holiday weekend, I have been able to look back at each day and say to myself, “Well, at least I got that done today.”
Now to do it 362 more times.
Have a wonderful new year!
NOTE: Thanks to all of those who have contributed blog posts to run this year. I will start running them soon. To those of you who plan on submitting, but haven’t done it yet, “Do It!” (You know who you are.)
I was just sitting here checking my email and my EC was next to me. We had been talking a little and I said something about getting more accomplished. (being more productive?) Then my last email was your column and I turned and said, hey, you want me to read Brad’s column to you? You can only imagine the feelings that we both experienced in that split second when we realized what you wrote this week. It was almost scary or eerie but it was most definitely the Spirit and we both reached for the tissues.
Glad to know I’m not alone on this one!
Thanks for your confessional which mirrored my less than stellar use of much of my downtime this past year. I have been often haunted, but not sufficiently motivated, by President (then Elder) Dallin H. Oaks’ talk on Good, Better, Best, as well as Elder Bednar’s book and talks regarding being an agent unto ourselves, to bring to pass much good. I am grateful for opportunities to move forward and do better, one day at a time.