Yesterday I made my every-other month trip to the Northern Tier for our “clergy council” meeting, our informal gathering of the area clergy with their bishop for conversation and prayer. Each of our seven convocation clergy groups meet with me this way; it is one of the more important set of meetings that I have on my calendar.
I’m a “morning person” so the three-hour drive with an ETA of 10 AM is comfortable. I leave the house by 6:45, stop for coffee and gas and then I get to enjoy a really nice chunk of time driving through some of the prettiest countryside in our diocese. Most of the time, I have a few (hands-free) phone calls to make. Honestly, it’s not the best arrangement, as I shout at my GPS (that’s my conduit for the Bluetooth set up in my car) and hope that my words are understood and that my shouting has a modicum of pastoral tone to it. (My sister tells me that talking through my GPS makes me sounds like I’m shouting from the bottom of a well.) So, I try to keep those calls to a minimum.
I do spend much of my driving time thinking. Praying. Rolling sermon ideas around in my head. And just enjoying the sustained, “long space” of the drive.
In doing some research, I have discovered that there is a lot of ink spilled on the optimal number of things to put on your to-do list each day (here’s one article that claims that 3 is the best number of things to accomplish each day: https://timemanagementninja.com/2016/03/do-three-important-things-every-single-day/) and that the success rate of achieving all that we’ve set out to accomplish in a day is a disappointing 59 %, (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-kruse/forty-one-percent-of-tasks-on-to-do-lists-are-never-done_b_9308978.html) but there is little written about the average duration of our daily tasks. My guess is that for many of us, the duration of our daily tasks is, on the average, less than one hour per task. Think about morning routines: hygiene practices, breakfast, going to the gym, housework, cooking- in my life, I get a lot done each morning before I leave for work, but few of those things extend, individually, for more than an hour. At work, my day is carved into hour-long appointments, for the most part. Evening meetings are longer units- two hours or more- but that is because we have made an effort to come together for a specific purpose and have, in our diocese, probably driven a distance to get there, and have a certain amount of business to conduct before we leave. Most evening meetings, for me, are a minimum of two hours. Liturgy, I was taught, needs to come in at an hour’s mark. When I was a kid, the director of our Junior Choir joked with us and told us the that IHS insignia emblazoned on the altar stood for “one hour service.” (It is, really, a “Christogram” that, using the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, IH∑OY∑, signifies the name of our Lord. IHS is also decoded as “Jesus Hominun Salvator-“ Jesus, Savior of Mankind.) I never really understood why worship had to finish up with in an hour… don’t we gladly sit through movies that run at least an hour-and-a-half to two hours? Yesterday, I learned that one of the slogans of one of the mega churches around here is “The Best 90 Minutes of Your Week,” so, clearly, some traditions have broken the hour-long mold.
But back to the long space.
How many long spaces do you have in your day, other than the 6-8 hours that you spend in bed? (notice that I did not say “asleep,” as I am guessing that many of us of a certain age experience age-appropriate insomnia, make trips to the bathroom, and toss and turn during the course of our nights.)
How much time do you get to spend on one thing?
I read a study from the digital project management discipline distinguishing between the duration of tasks and the effort required to do them. Apparently if you work harder at some things (increased effort), you can reduce the time it takes to do them (duration). And, if you put more people on a single task, you can reduce the duration of the job. The author of this article was careful to point out that this is not a fail-safe formula for every task using this example: “Headcount can, to a certain extent, be traded for schedule, but remember that there is still a minimum duration for some tasks e.g. it is impossible to make a baby in one month by putting nine women to work on the task.” Duh. https://blog.forecast.it/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-effort-and-duration
I would argue that much of the work that I do cannot be accomplished more quickly with greater effort. (“If I think really, really, hard about this sermon, so hard that steam comes out of my ears, I can write it in 30 minutes instead of two hours.”)
And, while I value collaboration and group processing and often prefer to work in groups to achieve a desired outcome, I find that true collaboration- the intake, processing and working with several people’s input on a project- takes longer than if I were to do something by myself.
So, if I am reconciled to some work just taking time, to achieve it in its best form, then… when does that happen?
For me, in the car. As I drive the “long spaces.”
How about you?
What kind of schedule do you keep? What amount of work or tasks that you do every day cannot be accomplished more quickly with more effort? And what kind of long spaces are built into your week?
If you have few long spaces, take this as an invitation to try to build one or more into your week, and then notice its effect on you, on your work, on the tempo of the rest of your day.
Sustained activity is good for us, I think. We hit a groove, after a time, in whatever we are doing if we are allowed to cross through the threshold of the hour-long (or minutes-long) common duration for that task. I have a friend with whom I used to run in the mornings- he was always fond of telling me that the “first mile is always the worst,” and, he’s right. After a mile or so, your body gets into the rhythm of running and you can move, in your head, onto other things besides thinking about how cold it is, how much your knees hurt and how you’d rather be back in bed…
For an interesting read on the topic of creativity and productivity, read Finding Flow: the Psychology of engagement with everyday life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi .(1997)
In the meantime, if you are looking for a way to get started, try an analysis of your current schedule and notice the duration of time spent on various activities and the opportunities for building in some long spaces. Chart it out on a piece of paper. And then, try to build in at least one long space per week. See if it doesn’t make a difference. I’d recommend a drive to the Northern Tier. It’s beautiful up there, and the people are some of the best I know. They call it “God’s Country,” you know- Potter County- and I believe that to be true.
Share with us how it works out. We learn from each other.