Productivity vs. Presence

Dec 12, 2014
Joe Buhlig
~1 min

We are taught to accomplish tasks. In school and work, grades and reviews measure our ability to accurately complete an assignment.

The question is – were you present during the task or looking forward to its completion? Did you make plans for what you would do afterwards or take in the details of the experience? Were you just being productive or were you being present during the activity?

This isn’t easy to wrestle with and I’m terrible at it. I struggle with it on a daily (if not hourly) basis. I want to get a lot done in a day, but I also want to enjoy the time I spend doing it.

Being present

Vacations are the worst. The idea is to take a break and re-energize. But I find myself focusing on the outcome of what I’m doing. I’m focused on getting to my destination instead of enjoying the trip. Or I want to get through lunch so I can start something else. I’m still trying to check things off even when I’m “taking a break.”

I should be enjoying lunch and not devouring it. I can do the thing and enjoy the process of doing the thing. It’s ok. It might take a bit longer, but that’s the point. Savor the time.

Being productive

I can’t always take more time to do things. I have work to do and work that I love doing. If I were to slow it all down, I would become frustrated with myself for falling behind. Not to mention my employer would need to have a chat with me.

And there are instances when we don’t have time to slow down. I have a meeting at noon and sat down to lunch at 11:45. Taking my time to savor lunch over 30 minutes isn’t an option.

Productivity-Presence Tension

The line between productivity and presence is like the work-life tension we all battle. Let’s define work as “accomplishing tasks” and life as “enjoying moments.” I’m not saying you can’t complete a task and enjoy the process. But are you focused on doing it or enjoying it?

It’s a tension. It’s not a black and white balance. It’s a struggle that we need to be aware of and grapple with daily. Do I need to be productive or present in this moment?