There’s an article being shared all over the internet this week titled, “Don’t Waste Your Two Most Productive Hours.” The article reports on the statement by behavioral scientist Dan Ariely that our two most potentially productive hours are the two hours after we are fully awake. This is when we supposedly have the best mental capacity to get things done.
The first thing I wonder is what qualifies as “fully awake”? I usually measure my wakefulness in cups of coffee. That first cup always reminds me of the illustration of salvation that Arminians like to use:
You are drowning and completely helpless. Someone has thrown you a life raft and all you have to do is reach out and grab it and you are saved.
My coffee is my morning life raft. Unfortunately, I have to get it myself. Even so, I am probably what people would categorize as a morning person.
And yet, this article insults me a little. Melissa Dahl gives commentary on Ariely’s plea that we not waste our most productive hours on mindless activities such as scrolling through social media. I get that. I do. Dahl concludes with a suggestion: One way to fight against this tendency is to decide the night before what you want to accomplish in the morning, so you can jump right into your day. There is a time for mindlessness, but maybe save it for later. This statement is a complete joke for a mother.
Sure, I predetermine what I would like to accomplish all the time. I even wake up before the rest of the family to try and be more “productive” before the morning officially starts. But the morning begins pretty early in the Byrd house and it is littered with interruptions to my list. By 6:30 (only one cup of coffee in, mind you), I am braiding hair, making breakfast, four separate lunches (MTO), signing folders, feeding the dog, barking out reminders, encouraging young minds, dealing with drama, and driving my rounds. It’s so easy to look at the first couple of hours in my day as the ones that hinder my productivity.
With this frame of mind, my family members become obstacles to the mindful things that I would like to be fruitful in. After all, I’ve created even more hindrances in the process. Now I also have to clean a kitchen and reassess my resources for when they return. Sure, we can all be kind and say, “But you are being productive, look at all you’ve produced!” But I don’t think that is the kind of innovation to which this article is referring. That’s why it’s insulting.
I take pride in my morning routine, even if I fail to serve with the godly joyfulness that I should. And in some ways it is quite mindful. It takes a level of skill to multitask in beast mode like that. I am thankful for the many blessings God has given me and want to be a good steward of them. Even so, I don’t look at the morning send-off as my most productive hours of my day. It’s just a part of my day.
Scrolling social media can also be a mindful activity, especially for a housewife who just pumped out lunches and breakfast at the same time and wants to see what’s going on in the world while she’s waiting for her slow 9-year-old to turn off lights, get his backpack, and get in the dang car (“Did you remember your lunch?!”). That’s how I found the article and began thinking about productivity.
I had a list this week that I would like to accomplish, but I have been pelleted with one interruption to my productivity after the next, such as friends going through a trial, a sick kid, and that dentist appointment that I somehow didn’t enter into the calendar. And what about that blessed half hour in the morning before it all begins? Do I soak up this sacred time of half-wakefulness to write or edit? Do I spend time in prayer? Can I even stay awake if I pray first thing? Do I read? Well, often that time is interrupted as well. That is normal life for a mother.
Sometimes when my husband returns home he will ask, “What did you do today?” It’s meant to be a friendly question to engage in conversation. But as I file through my day, I wonder whether to share my “accomplishments,” that is the tasks that I completed that I had planned to do that day, or all the interruptions that didn’t make the accomplish list.
Maybe my most productive hours are still ahead of me, but I don’t want to begrudge the blessed interruptions to them. Most of all, I thank God that I am a girl interrupted. He has interrupted my false delusions of my own accomplishments with the good news of his own. As much as I love to contribute to my family, friends, and society in meaningful ways, I also know that my worth and my value aren’t in my productivity, but in what I have received from God (and it wasn’t a life raft that I had to reach out for).
This knowledge helps me to serve without the fear that I missed my most productive hour slot, or that others can’t measure my accomplishments in material ways. I can also face the rest of my day with vigor (and two cups of coffee in me), even though I’m already hours passed Ariely’s professional advice. Or maybe I’m right on schedule, and the morning whirlwind and caffeine has rendered me fully awake.
*Originally published on November 14, 2014.