Being Present vs. Being Productive: Four Tips for Living in the Moment
After about twenty minutes of playing with my two-year-old nephew in the grass, I realized I had been pre-occupied with everything but my nephew–emails I needed to send, calls I needed to make, blog posts I needed to write. I was totally consumed with my ‘to-do’ list that I was totally missing out on precious moments I had with my nephew, who I only get to see a few times a year. I was physically there playing with him, but I wasn’t really there, ya know?
God never intended for us to be so pre-occupied with being productive that we forget about being present to our surroundings. Acts 17:28 says, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ Deuteronomy 30:20 says, “For the LORD is your life…” When we truly derive our meaning and significance from Him, rather than what we do, we will experience a level of peace, joy, satisfaction and fulfillment that no amount of productivity can bring.
I believe it was this very truth that made Jesus so effective in his ministry. Just like us, he had so many demands vying for his time and attention and distractions threatening his focus, but he never seemed pre-occupied by ‘getting things done,’ but by doing the will of His father. Sometimes this meant sitting on a mountain top with his small group of twelve, talking, teaching and discussing Kingdom business. Other times it meant retreating and finding time to pray alone and away from the crowds. Some might say, “He could have done so much more!” But for Jesus, it wasn’t about quantity. It was about the quality of the work he was called to do. He was a master at being present to the very specific and select moments and relationships into which his Father directed him.
Speaking to this point, one verse that always gets me is when Jesus himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Some of us are so busy doing, doing, doing, that we are honestly missing out on being who God wants us to be as He directs us according to His will. We can do a million things that are considered ‘good’ and ‘spiriitual’ but if our Father never told us to do them, then we have no business doing them! And we wonder why we are so overloaded, busy, tired and exhausted. When our addiction to and pre-occupation with productivity inhibits our ability to be healthy, whole and fully present in the moments of each day, we need to make some intentional changes in our lifestyle and habits.
After I had a wake-up call the other day while playing with my nephew, I have been consciously asking the Lord to help wean me off my addiction to productivity and teach me how to be present in the moments of each day like Jesus was. Here are a few tips that have helped me out so far:
Get Real. Before we can even begin to take steps toward more present living, we’ve got to be realistic about how far off the mark we are. Take some time to do an appraisal of your own ability (or lack there of) to be present. Can you go to the gym without taking your cell phone? Or to dinner without your blackberry? How about the train/bus without your iPod? How serious is your addiction to it all–the busyness, the connection, the stimulation and the need to feel productive 24/7? Be honest with yourself about where you are at. Its time to get real!
Unplug. As in go ‘cold turkey.’ I recommend taking at least 2-5 days totally unplugging from the online world–email, internet, cell phone (as much as possible), iPod, iPad and whatever other gadgets you use in your daily life. This exercise not only helps to expose your level of addiction and dependency, but it helps to shift and re-balance your priorities and perspective. For example, you realize that no one skips a beat when you’re not online for a few days. Seriously. The world still turns and your network of connections still exist. Few will even notice your absence. A sad but liberating truth!
Set Boundaries and Stick to them. After a cold turkey period, and you begin to feel the benefits of a less distracted life, you should have some clarity as to where you need to make adjustments in your habits and lifestyle. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is key to living a life in the present. Some examples of boundaries that have worked for me are:
- On the weekends and during vacations, I do not open my computer in between the hours of 9am-9pm. This allows me to truly be present to the needs of my family and/or friends throughout the day, rather than spending it on my computer.
- I start out each day reading my Bible and praying, rather than getting online to check email or read current events. Oh what a huge difference this had made in starting off each day in the peace, purpose and clarity of God’s will.
- I leave my phone in the car when out at a restaurant, at church or doing some outdoor activity with a friend or family member. When I don’t have it, I am not thinking about it.
- I run/exercise without an iPod to leave more room for thinking, meditation and contemplation. This has done wonders for my writing and creativity!
Rely on God’s Strength. For any type-A personality, learning to value being present over being productive is no easy feat. God wired some of us as innate achievers, and this can be a huge asset in the working world. But sometimes God directs us against our own nature and our culture, which can make it extremely difficult and even impossible at times. Obedience will require us to acknowledge our own weakness and rely on His strength like Paul who said, “…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). It is when we can admit our weaknesses that we will be made strong in our endeavor to experience the fullness of joy and satisfaction of living in the present.
Evaluate your own life. Do you thrive on feeling productive? Do you feel more satisfied and more fulfilled when you are achieving something? Do you find it nearly impossible to ‘do nothing’ even for a day?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps it is time for a re-calibration of your priorities. If anything, chew on this: God values being present with the people and situations around you over being productive. So let today be the day you resist the need to be productive and choose to be present in each moment that comes your way. Sit at a park and look at the individual leaves on a tree…help an elderly lady cross the street…teach your nephew how to tie his shoes…listen to a friend in need…take a nap…shout your favorite song at the top of your lungs while driving to work.
Be present…it is the most productive decision you will ever make!