This is a tale of relearning a lesson that I know to be true and yet seem to forget with regularity.
Monday evening I made the decision to show up at work early Tuesday morning and get at the myriad tasks I was responsible for before spending the afternoon in a more meditative state. I had an appointment with my spiritual director scheduled for early afternoon and thought it would be good to use the whole afternoon to do some writing and reflecting. This was a change from the routine that I was trying to get established; namely that I would spend an hour writing and reflecting in the morning before going to the office.
So Tuesday morning I was up and out of the house extra early. But on the brief drive to the office I admitted to myself that I was avoiding. I realized that I had come to a place in my writing that I didn’t want to face and putting it off until the afternoon was simply a form of procrastination. So I sat down and started to write. At the end of the hour I put my writing away with smug satisfaction that I had tackled a difficult task. Which was exactly the problem. I was in task mode as I wrote, not reflection mode. And when I was done writing I moved right on to the other tasks on my list.
It wasn’t long before frustration set in. One after another, little hurdles appeared. Nothing major, just a steady stream of interruptions and annoyances. Tasks that should have taken 20 minutes were now taking 90. I spent 45 minutes chasing down an unannounced change in my internet browser settings (thank you Google) that affected one of the tasks that needed to be completed. I got further behind. I left for lunch 20 minutes late and with several tasks unfinished. That meant that I would be arriving at my spiritual direction appointment with no time to spare in a frazzled state of mind.
The time with my spiritual director was good. It calmed me down and helped me realize everything that had happened in the morning was simply annoying, nothing else. But as I left that time of reflection, the rest of the day became filled once again with the unfinished tasks of the morning and was topped off by an evening council meeting. I went to bed feeling like I had been tossed around in clothes dryer.
Wednesday was a different story. Wednesday has come to be known in my life as Never Ending Wednesday. It is a day that I often get to the office by 7:30 am. and leave somewhere around 9:30 pm. It is a day that is normally a jumble of tasks, meetings, worship, teaching and preps for all that is going on that day.
But on this particular Wednesday I didn’t go in early. I spent time writing and reflecting first. By the time I looked at the clock I had just enough time to shower and dress and still swing by the coffee shop to pick up some quality brew to carry me through our staff meeting. At the coffee shop I ran into members of the congregation and even though I knew I didn’t have time, I decided that I could be late for our staff meeting (something I usually deplore) and visit a few minutes with this couple. Since I was late to the meeting I left my laptop in my bag and went to the meeting with pen and paper which meant that I wouldn’t be slyly working on other tasks . When the meeting was done I spent time with individual staff members (in the meeting after the meeting which is where the real work gets done) and then walked out of the office to go take my dog for a walk.
It was a great walk. I found a trail where she could run and I could walk and think and pray. By the time I got back to the office and finally sat down to the tasks on my to-do list, over half of the day had gone by. But with a clear, undistracted mind I began to tick off the tasks one at a time. I didn’t procrastinate. My mind didn’t wander. I didn’t find extra websites to browse. I was focused and was able to deal with distractions. I simply worked around the kinds of things that had annoyed me on Tuesday. I went to bed tired after such a long day but much calmer than the night before.
I sit here today and wonder how many times I am going to have to learn this lesson. When I put tasks and work first those are the only things that ever get done. The idea that I can get my work done and out of the way so that I can have time for other things later is a lie. Work is never done. If I ever get today’s tasks done I eagerly start on tomorrow’s tasks, telling myself that I will have more free time the day after that. But it doesn’t happen that way. The free time doesn’t come. There is always another task, and another until we break down and our free time is taken up with getting healthy.
In some strange way (that probably isn’t as strange as it seems) when I make reflection, meditation and prayer first on my priority list all those tasks end up getting completed anyway. Additionally, I end up having reserves of energy and patience for use in personal relationships. I don’t know why I keep forgetting this lesson that seems so intuitive every time I relearn it. I hope that some day the lesson sticks.