One trouble with productivity is the sense that one can always do more.

The term “productivity” is messy. As there has grown such a cottage industry around it, it is hardly surprising to find a myriad definitions, defined and undefined. But as definitions are left unclear, terms tend to take on all of them at once.

At least two definitions we contend with are:
* Doing as much as possible in as little time as possible
* Doing meaningful work

It is easy to see how these concepts overlap. After all, many of us would like to do as much meaningful work as possible throughout our limited lifespans.

The distinction, of course, is in the word meaning. So let’s define “meaning”…

Meaning is a depth and breadth of connection, conscious and unconscious.

As there is often an unconscious element to the meaning of our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, it takes time and attention to allow a full recognition of something’s meaning to blossom in mind. That time and attention is deliberate. It is a time during which we are not working on something else. It is a time of reflection.

Which brings me to another matter of meaning: meaning is not stagnant. Meaning develops and grows over time. It is conceived in play, grown in exploration, and cultivated in habit. Each of these take time and attention.

Translating this into practical matters, we can address the sensation that we must always be doing something. That feeling can find its way into overburdened today lists, or if there is no today list, then endless lists. As supportive as they may be, their infinite depth can resonate with the pressure/guilt/shame one may feel for not being in current motion.

While I continue to use a “Today” list, it is a well-curated list. It refers only to those things I wish to “touch on” today, and I leave room for spontaneity. Beyond that point, I am done for the day. That finish line is quite helpful. It says that my responsibilities, to the extent that I can reasonably carry them, are done for the day.

But having a finish line rests on the acknowledgement that time and attention cannot be scheduled to the last second. It also rests on the fact that if I feel overburdened by responsibilities, that I can renegotiate them. I add to my lists the calls, emails, and agenda items that are needed to clearly address them. It rests on gradually cultivated habits, repeating actions on my today list to enable me to engage short and long-term projects. I still get done those things that need doing, some of which I have asked for, many of which I have not.

The list rests on my regular acknowledgement that time to reflect, explore, and play is not a waste of time. It is an act of tending to the health of a garden’s soil.