Earlier this week, my youngest son came down with strep throat. Like most illnesses, it came at a rather inopportune time. We were out of town, a meeting was scheduled for that afternoon, and I had about a million other work obligations and chores that I should have been getting done.
But when my son awoke with a fever and complained of a sore throat on Monday morning, the schedule and to-do lists were thrown out the window. Adjustments were made. Plans were cancelled. Projects fell further down on the to-do list.
Instead of sticking to the plan and accomplishing what I had set out to do that day, I spent the day schlepping my kids to urgent care and the pharmacy, giving extra hugs, doling out medicine, and drying tears. Add a flat tire to the mix and the day just continued to unravel.
Throughout the day, one word kept coming to mind: unproductive.
I – like many others in our technology-driven, multitasking, busy-is-a-badge-of-honor society – tend to measure the value my day through the yardstick of productivity. How much did I accomplish? How many items were crossed off the to-do list? How many work obligations were met? How many projects moved forward?
We all have our own goals and dreams – not to mention our obligations and responsibilities – so we make our plans, write our lists, and schedule our days. And we should. Goals give us direction, helping us work to make things better. Schedules keep us on track, giving us a tool with which to allocate our time. Plans give our day and life purpose, creating a path to get from where we are to where we want to be.
But could it be that there is something more tucked away amongst all those plans and schedules and to-do lists? Could there be some quieter, calmer purpose hidden within all the busyness of our days and of our lives? Is purpose and achievement really meant to be measured by all that we accomplish in a day, in a lifetime? Or could our purpose actually be that we just take care of each other? Could our divine calling be something as humble, yet challenging, as taking care of each other in any way and whatever way we know how?
Does accomplishment lie in our own personal successes? Or does it lie in our ability to build someone else up so that they can achieve theirs?
Does efficiency lie in a busy calendar, scheduled to the minute? Or does it lie in deeper relationships, a calmer mind, and knowing that we have made someone else’s day just a little bit better?
Is productivity measured in the number of completed projects and tasks accomplished? Or can it be measured in back rubs and uplifted spirits?
I know myself well enough to know that I will always rely on my lists and my plans. I will always strive to be busy, to be doing more. And I will forever have projects, goals, and agendas. I will always strive to be productive.
As individuals and communities, productivity is not only worthwhile and valuable, it is essential. In order to grow and learn, to do better and be better, we need to continually strive to move forward, accomplish the impossible, and aspire for the unattainable.
But, at some point, the how becomes more important than the what. As the ever-wise Maya Angelou has said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Finally back at home on Monday night, when I tucked my sick-but-on-the-mend son into bed, drawing up the soft covers, I knew that by all objective measures my day had been highly unproductive. Yet, I also knew deep-down that I had accomplished more in that day than anything that I could have put on my to-do list.
Still later that night, my husband came home from his own busy, hectic, and stressful day, filled with his own important meetings, difficult clients, and an ever-growing to-do list. He spends his workdays being productive (in the objective sense) and providing for the family (in the traditional sense). Nonetheless, when he walked in the door that night and hugged me long and hard, when he said “I’m sorry you had a rough day” and then listened attentively and sympathetically, when he smoothed my hair before I fell asleep, I knew in my heart, that those minutes were – by far – the most productive and purposeful things that he possibly could have accomplished in even the busiest of days.
So here is an item that we should all put on our to-do list, today and every day: Take care of each other.
It’s that simple. It’s that hard. It’s that important.
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Hands down, one of my favorite. Thank you for this reminder before the Holidays.