Posts Tagged With: task list

Hitting the Wall and Breaking Out

IMG_2772It’s been a rough summer and several weeks ago I hit a wall. As usual I had a task list ready and knew what needed to get done to reach a set of goals. There weren’t any outside meetings to get in the way of completing the list that Thursday. Yet, I couldn’t . . . push . . . through . . .. Most of the morning I just read and re-read the list. Some internal barrier was stopping me.  I kept thinking that if I can just get through this list, then I could rest. But there was always another list.

The problem wasn’t so much in the lists, as in the thinking that I was alone responsible for accomplishing everything. Eventually the tasks had become so disparate that I didn’t see the larger vision of why I was doing them and I didn’t see the One behind it all. No wonder I hit a wall. For days on end these tasks became bricks that I thought I were adding to an expansive vision of life, when in reality I was walling myself into a solitary cell.

Gradually each task became a burden and I started living as if once I got through them I’ll then be good enough to connect with God or with others. Until then, it was just me on my own. In my mind I knew this was wrong and pictured the abundant life God promises, but my actions belied belief.

Fortunately, hitting the wall led me to see that I needed to somehow get out. Instead of thinking that I was building a life on my own, I needed to stand alongside others in its building. Nehemiah uses the phrases “Next to them” and “After” over 25 times in Nehemiah 3 to indicate a continuous line of people repairing the walls of Jerusalem, one next to / after the other. Here was a wall that was being built for a larger vision and drew people together.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

I needed to see that larger vision. So, I took a day off. No looking at task lists or e-mails. I slowly got ready and went for a walk then headed to the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky to pray in this space of quiet expanse. Afterwards I walked around the Cincinnati Art Museum for an hour. Not honing in on any specific work, but reveling in the beauty and craft of the paintings and sculptures. My breathing slowed and shoulders lowered. I could look and enjoy. Be inspired. Receive new breath from the work of others and from the beauty that God has created all around us. A quiet lunch and a stroll through Ault Park rounded out the afternoon.

Going home my trained mind wanted to return that list and find commendation in doing something. Maybe I would start cleaning. But I had to say no. This constant treadmill of trying to keep up with work was not life giving. I needed to think of other ways to fill time set aside for rest. Reading, writing, and organizing photos from a pilgrimage last summer took up the rest of the day. In these activities I found rest and started to again see a larger picture of the work before me, before all of us.

With a new view and breath, I am looking at these tasks differently. Not as a list to plow through, but as opportunities to serve God, one another, and enjoy life together.

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Putting Life in a Spreadsheet

Rows. Columns.  Cells.  It’s all so neat and organized.  What’s not to like about a spreadsheet?

A few weeks ago the writing group I’m in challenged me to submit my writing life to a spreadsheet.  This practice would be a means to prioritize all the projects I want to do and which are greatly outpacing my can-do’s.  For a long time I’ve rejected setting priorities and choosing among all the good opportunities and ideas before me.  But as the list has grown, I’ve only succeeded in being overwhelmed, not in getting anything done.

My first response to this ever growing list has been to break down projects into tasks – manageable activities to accomplish in a given day that will direct me to the eventual end product.  A seemingly sensible way to respond.  However, I’m finding that I see these tasks as void of the meaning of the project as a whole.  Afraid that I may get too enamored and lose myself in the work – or be lost focusing too much on the end product – I create a utilitarian list of work and lose the heart and enjoyment.

In this place of frustration, I submitted my life to a sheet.  Each row was a project and each column was a pro or con response.  In each cell, the intersection of the project and the possible responses, I made a check or left it blank.  Tallying up the pros and cons, there are clear patterns.  I would like to say that now all my scheduling problems are objectively solved.  They aren’t.  But a larger picture of what and why I’m doing started to emerge again.  It is definitely subjective, but at least it reveals the subjectivity driving my decisions instead of hiding it behind a mushrooming task list.

It became quite clear that I most enjoy engaging with content – travel, reading, study, pilgrimage.  These are life-giving practices that I often set on the back burner until everything else is done.  This is the stuff in which I can get lost.  Yet this is the heart of why I want to write and teach – to share what has encouraged me and help others discover their better stories.  In my current mode of working, I fail to see how this is part of my current life and how to incorporate it in the future – whether in my life or that of others.

It’s time to write and teach out of these interests instead of trying to take on someone else’s methods.  For example, instead of looking around at what others are doing in campus ministry and attempting to copy methods that ‘succeed’ or that I think others expect, I could more fully incorporate ideas of story and pilgrimage.  I could also do some exploring on UC’s campus in the areas of literature and travel to discover ways to be a part of this world on campus.  Now to find a pilgrimage/study adventure with others.

Community is important to me as well, whether it’s built through the internet or in local groups.  It probably needs to be both.  Though this is scary as I think about stepping out.  I’m so used to being cautious, hiding behind limits posed from external and internal sources, making excuses for not being involved, and then fading away as I return to safe havens.  But there is much more to true community.  I want to go honestly into these groups, no pretension or hiding, but with a joy of living as the image of God that I and others carry.

Editing this darn book on literary pilgrimage is close behind building community.  Why is it so painful?  Why do I continue to put it off?  It’s in a place of limbo.  I don’t really know what it wants to be, yet haven’t really done research to see where it’s going. There is so much of me within it I am fearful that it/I will be rejected.  But I’m also afraid that it will die away.  It is almost a decade since I went on the adventures.  Oh, I just need to take time to dive into it again.  Maybe I need to integrate the pilgrimage of publishing within the other pilgrimage work.

This is not the end of the spreadsheet – the neatness of the rows and cells still call me.  Ironically, the stark gridlines have emphasized that something was missing from all this prioritizing – the heart, enjoyment, and life of work.  It’s not that these haven’t existed in the work that’s on my list, it’s primarily that I’ve forgotten them under the weight of planning to finish projects.

Heart.  Joy.  Life.  Who wouldn’t want to jump into work where these are found?

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