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Productivity: The Challenge of Balance

When it comes to productivity, almost everyone struggles with work-life balance and Salvation Army officers are no exception. I find it impossible to get everything done that I want to achieve.

The Never-Ending To Do List

David Allen says:

Behind closed doors, after hours, there remain unanswered calls, tasks to be delegated, unprocessed issues from meetings and conversations, personal responsibilities unmanaged, and dozens of emails still not dealt with (quoted in What’s Best Next by Matthew Perman).

Unbalanced Productivity

In The Emotional Healthy Leader, Pete Scazzero outlines the main problem of feeling that work and life are out of balance. For him, as a pastor, it led to him avoiding hard or stressful meetings; not always being completely honest; avoiding tackling someone doing a poor job; failing to ask difficult questions; walking into important meetings without a clear idea of the goals or agenda; failing to follow through on commitments; struggling to take the time for silence and abiding in Jesus and ignoring the indicators that life was out of balance.

A lack of balance affects your productivity too and as I look back at my diary, I note numerous times when I did not spend time on personal inspiration time with God. I spent a minimal amount of time with our new Lunch Club volunteer before passing her on to the team to look after. I had only perfunctory conversations with the couple I helped with a utility top up.

Can You Choose Balance?

Christopher Jamison reminds us all this is a choice:

Put simply, if somebody says they are too busy, then either they are too busy or they think they are too busy. Either way, the responsibility lies with them; they choose to lead a busy life or they choose to think that they do (Finding Sanctuary).

Can Salvation Army officers choose work-life balance? Dr. Steve Brown suggests balance is elusive, even unbiblical. Jesus Christ did not frantically juggle his commitments to achieve balance. Instead, he lived in constant communion with God in the busyness and messiness of daily life.

I do not agree with Brown’s hypothesis. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. He did not have to fight to achieve balance, because he was fully integrated in God in his nature. As a fallen human being I, in contrast, will always have to fight to be fully connected to God and to be in balance.

Balance in Season

Having said that, in a bid to redress the balance, The Salvation Army, in common with many others, is in danger of believing that perfect balance is available at all times to those who wish to make the choice. My experience chimes with Wendy Capland, who argues that work-life balance is cyclical. Sometimes, we have to work really hard for good reasons, and I would add, perhaps some balancing practices might go by the board. Then there are others times when we can better integrate those practices into the workload we have. Capland concludes:

It’s about feeling satisfied with where you are at the moment (quoted by Minda Zetlin).

So for me, as a Salvation Army officer, the Christmas season is always very busy with a heavy workload, but January is much quieter, and I recognise and am satisfied with this cycle.

The Importance of Integration and Character

Perhaps the goal should be integration instead. Bill George and Peter Sims define this as:

Integrating all aspects of your life so that you are true to yourself in all settings (True North).

Jamison emphasises virtue. Whatever my workload, I must strive never to act in anger or nurse a grudge; never give a hollow greeting; and never turn away someone who needs my love; always speaking the truth in heart and tongue. Perman emphasises character:

Who we are is more important than what we do, and the true basis of effectiveness in our lives is not strategies and techniques but character (What’s Best Next).

Love must be my guiding principle. If it is, then I will find the integration I crave. If my character fails, it is often a symptom of a lack of work-life balance.

Protecting Character

How do I protect my character or virtue? Michael Hyatt, following Stephen Covey, suggests putting the big rocks in first. I must schedule time for my most important priorities, the ‘crucial 5 percent’ as Wayne Cordeiro calls it. So, my full diary includes time set aside for pursuit of God through personal inspiration time and prayer; for intellectual growth through reading of both blogs and books; for physical exercise; for time with my spouse; and for time on important projects. And this actually helps me be more productive as well as protecting and growing my character. The problem remains sticking to these time blocks. Too often, these big rocks are the first to be dropped when my workload increases.

Fighting for Balance

I continue to fight for the time to pursue these things. I take time to pursue God and practice mindfulness using the Headspace app. Not only does this connect me with God, but it relieves tension too. My wife Gail and I have a ‘two career marriage’, which makes integration in our relationship more difficult to wrestle with. We make conscious decisions to spend time with each other and recognise, with Gail McGovern that we cannot give 110 percent to everything. We too have let go of mundane things in our lives and do not feel guilty about it. We also cultivate a couple of close friendships. These friends provide candid feedback and constructive criticism when needed, but are also a great source of encouragement.

Productivity Plays Its Part

Effective productivity plays its part too. Tim Challies describes productivity as:

Effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God’ (Do More Better).

I aim not for efficiency, but for effectiveness. That for me defines productivity. This means knowing my biblical values and living and working by them. I try to ensure my schedule reflects these values. I look to delegate, eliminate, automate or defer the rest. I have a ‘Don’t Do’ list, as suggested by Stephen Cherry in Beyond Busyness, which includes a number of things that limit my productivity.

My bid to find integration, is, as I am sure it is for all Salvation Army officers, a continual work in progress. The seesaw is always moving, as Zetlin concludes. It’s a constantly changing mix, but I watch for warning signs that I am in danger of tipping too far one way or the other, and do what I can to ensure that I heed Perman’s advice:

Make the goal of your life to show the greatness of Jesus Christ by doing good for others, and organize your life around this purpose.

That truly is work-life balance and productivity for a Salvation Army officer.

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