Getting Done vs. Being Productive


On a recent day, I got quite a lot done by most accounts. I visited several offices, set appointments for future actions, and resolved some problems. But looking back over those 8 hours, I feel like I didn’t accomplished anything. It was a day of crossing off items on a long to-do list.

When I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything, it usually means that I haven’t done anything creative. I’ve not produced anything. I have merely been beating back the bureaucracy that creeps upon me like a sinister vine. I understand that some days are just like that, but I don’t have to like them. I don’t sit down at the end of those days with any feeling of satisfaction, but merely relief that it is over. Days like that are like dental work—I’m glad to have it behind me and I hope it’s a while before I have to do it again.

Part of my dissatisfaction is that I am only an employee/client/patient/customer on those days. There is nothing about me that requires me to do all this, other than I am the possessor of the ID card, Social Security Number, signature, or other identifying token. They are all things that the rich and powerful entrust to personal assistants. They don’t require me to think beyond where things will fit on my calendar. No real skills are required, other than a bit of patience and tenacity.

My wife recently asked, “Why do the first two hours of the day always seem to go faster than the rest?” I think it is because the first two hours are the most productive, or at least the most fulfillingly productive. I have a 2-hour morning routine: I awake, get a cup of coffee and bowl of cereal, and sit down for morning prayer. With a second cup of coffee, I attempt to complete my 500 words for the day and normally, I can accomplish all of this in about two hours before I shave, dress, and get on with my day.

I’m trying to come to grips with all this because for the next 3 months, a lot of my time is going to be just getting things done. I’ll be finishing one assignment, moving across the globe, and starting a new assignment, all of which require a lot of small steps. My mental focus is already being assaulted by what to pack and what to ship when, and “oh yes, I mustn’t forget that, and that other thing as well.”

For months, my briefcase will become the epicenter of my work even more than it is now as my desk and bookshelves disappear into boxes. My wife will be by my side, so all will be well, but our bed and our stuff will be gone, requiring more energy to go into “making do.” Unknowns will loom on the horizon.

My commitment to 500 words per day does not allow for exceptions, however. Indeed, I am working to get ahead so I have some slack. There will be days that even if I am able to write, being able to “publish” may be a bridge too far. I find, though, that the longer I write daily—over 100 days now—the more I want to write. I don’t know where this will all lead, but it has become one of the highlights of my day.


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