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The GOSPEL of Productivity

In Christianity, the word gospel refers specifically to the “good news” about the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the son of God, who was sent to earth to save humankind.

But the word gospel preceded this definition. According to Britannica, the word gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning “good story,” a rendering of the Latin evangelium and the Greek euangelion, meaning “good news” or “good telling.”

Over time, an additional meaning of gospel as “a set of principles or beliefs” has evolved. This is the definition that I’m referring to when sharing my GOSPEL of productivity. The steps represent hard-learned strategies.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to books and presentations that promise the keys to optimum productivity. I pored over Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I recently watched an excellent TED Talk by Dan Shipper on the hidden key to being productive. I’ve also taken courses on time management. I even completed a course where participants mapped out goals and plans for the rest of their lives.

At this point, I could list dozens of articles, books, talks, and courses I’ve found helpful over the years.

The Perception of Time

I’ve also been fascinated by the perception of time. When I’m completely engrossed in a compelling task, time ceases to exist. When I’m having a great time and wish to preserve the moment, time flies.

When I am miserably sick and uncomfortable, time seems to stand still. Even so, the illness robs me of precious time I’d prefer to spend in more enjoyable ways. When I’m waiting in line to buy groceries, I try to kill time. And I try to save time by being efficient in organizing my tasks.

When my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I wanted to slow the march of time. But of course, I couldn’t.

And I’ve always sensed that time was far more precious than money. Money could always be replaced. There was no limit on the creation of money. But lost time was irreplaceable. Seconds, minutes, months, and years could never be replaced once they passed.

Time experienced in conflicting ways

Moreover, when I was a child, the time from one birthday to another seemed like an eternity. But now, it seems I have barely put the Christmas decorations away before it’s time to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving again.

Time passing more quickly as we age is explained by neuroscientist Patricia Costello, PhD. Her research has led her to conclude that this discrepancy “is more likely attributed to the fact that children have had less time on the planet, such that a year feels weightier, as well as the fact that we aren’t forming as many new memories once we reach adulthood.”

The distortion of time

What evolved from all my observations about my experience of time and attempts to achieve my goals within time constraints was an approach to managing myself that worked for me. None of the elements are original. Most, if not all, of the ideas evolved from experimenting with the advice I’d gleaned from various sources and then observing whether it was helpful when I put it into practice.

After years of trial and error, I boiled down everything I’d learned about productivity into six elements. I noticed that the six items spelled out GOSPEL, hence, the name of my methodology.

G: Goals—For most of us, setting a goal is the starting point for conscious achievement. I’m sure some people are fortunate enough to have massive good fortune and reach all their goals with little or no intentional effort. But the rest of us must consciously and conscientiously work to achieve our goals.

For this example, my goal is to write a mystery novel. I’ve written informational articles, fictional autobiographical novels, and a how-to book. But I’ve never written anything even remotely like a mystery novel.

This goal has been on the back burner of my mind, simmering away for a long time. But the time to begin was never right. Then, in a flash of insight, I realized the time would never be right. Moreover, yesterday was gone, and tomorrow did not exist. All I had was now. And given my advancing age, I would run out of time if I didn’t start writing it now.

O: Objectives—I must define my objectives or measurable milestones to achieve my goal. In this example, the first objective is to map out the storyline. Once that objective is completed, I will begin fleshing out the chapters and characters.

S: Strategies—Next, I need a plan for how this objective will be reached; otherwise, nothing will happen. In my case, I will set aside three hours each morning to devote to writing. For example, I may need to do research during that time. Or I may be redrafting earlier versions or constructing new scenes.

P: Priorities—Most of us have more than one goal in life. In my case, I also aim to exercise (outdoors, if weather permits) for one hour each day and eat healthfully.

Competing goals

I’ve decided to write during the morning hours when my mind is most alert, and I scheduled walking in the afternoon when I am ready for a change of pace and activity. I will use my noon and late afternoon hours to cook, shop, and plan meals.

E: Evaluation—Assessing the results of one’s effort is a task that’s easy to avoid. If, for example, I’m finding excuses not to work on the novel, I have to be honest with myself and figure out what is going on. Maybe three hours of writing each morning is too long to maintain my concentration. Or maybe this isn’t a project I genuinely want to do. In that case, I am free to drop it.

L: Learning—From my evaluation, I might conclude that I’ve failed to write a mystery novel. But that would be harsh and inaccurate. Instead, perhaps I’ve learned that my effective period of concentration in the morning is less than three hours and I can adjust my time commitment to two hours or even one hour. Or maybe I’ve learned that I prefer to write short pieces rather than one long novel. Once I have this self-knowledge, I can abandon an obsolete goal and create a new one. Or I can continue on a more sustainable path.

Why Have a Goal at All?

Given that I’m retired, why, you might ask, should I burden myself with goals? Shouldn’t I kick back and enjoy retirement? More importantly, though, why should you have goals?

Having goals is important

We all need a purpose to find meaning in life and make living worthwhile. A sense of purpose is the overarching awareness of what we were born to do with the gifts we received. If my gift is the ability to—and love of—writing and my intention is storytelling that entertains and enriches readers, then setting goals within that framework adds meaning to my life.

Achieving a goal simply for its own sake is boring. However, achieving a goal that allows us to express our purpose in life is deeply satisfying.

As the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The mystery of human existence lies not just in staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”


(All photos courtesy of Canva)