"I really accomplished a lot today," I often tell my husband when I get home from work. What do I mean by that? I mean that I resolved some conundrums, produced a few documents, advanced some projects, maybe even came up with a great idea for a professional learning session.
Even on Saturday, some time in the evening, I might reflect : I accomplished a lot today. What do I mean in that case? I might have vacuumed, dusted, thrown in a few loads of laundry, made muffins, led a liturgy, and worked on a personal project--in short, systematically crossed the jobs off my to-do list.
Other days, I’ll get home complaining, "I really didn’t get a lot done today." What might have happened there? I might have replied to questions advanced in emails, or adjusted some planning to accommodate a new idea. I might have spent a few minutes chatting about a colleague’s workload, or mulling over possible directions on a new initiative. I might have read, visualized, and dreamed a bit.
On a Saturday, I might have written a letter to a friend, spent some time on the phone, gone out for coffee unexpectedly, or greeted people who dropped by unannounced. I might say that I have "lost a day" because I was sick, or because getting absorbed in a good book derailed my plan for the day.
It occurred to me that we could have it all backwards. Might it be that the time wasters are really big accomplishments? Can it be as important to help someone, recover from an illness, spend time with people, read, dream, write a letter, show interest in a colleague, as it is advancing our formal agenda? The older I get, the more I think so.
Henri Nouwen quotes an old priest who once told him, "I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted when I realized the interruptions were my work." Well said. Whatever I might be doing on a particular day, that’s what needed doing at that particular moment, whether it was cleaning, advancing a project, reading, or having a glass of wine.
Having read Marsha Sinetar’s Developing a 21st Century Mind as the millenium dawned, I decided to turn my work into play. I decided that, since I was spending so much time at work, I was going to have even more fun there. Students would just have to cope with crazy questions on exams, shooting plastic arrows in class, doing an integer dance, using Smarties to draw circle graphs, or seeing what they could trade for a paper clip. I do firmly believe that the ability to mesh work and play, to fuse the boundaries between the two, leads to more satisfaction and, paradoxically, more "productivity."
Making that shift requires a conscious change of language. Words like "accomplish," "losing a day," and "productive," need to be used selectively, if not eradicated completely from my vocabulary.
What a paradox, I think: It is when we are engaged in activities that might be perceived as unproductive that we are actually accomplishing the most.