Productivity: Where Is My To-Do List?

This week, I admitted to being a list writer whenever I have a task ahead of me. I even admitted to adding items to the list! Usually, they are things I have gotten distracted by. If I add these extras to the list and mark them off, I can trick my brain into believing I have been incredibly productive that day. I really wish I could tell you I am joking.

For example, the other day my goal was to get the house cleaned up on my one day off from work. But then, God brought a few friends to mind that would benefit from a heartfelt note. So, I added “write out a few cards to friends that are struggling” to my list.  When I picked up the laundry basket that day, I broke a nail. So, getting a manicure got added to the list. Then, another thought popped into my mind, the laundry room needs a new coat of paint. So, I added it to the list. Back at my desk, an email popped up on my computer asking for my opinion of something and then, the phone rang. A friend from church had a project she wanted me to help with—so the pop-up email and my friend’s request went on the list. My day went from productive to completely busy.

Now that I have entertained you with one of my quirky coping strategies, I want to tackle the idea of being productive and fruitful versus just being busy.

According to Laura Vanderkam, we all have more time than we think. The truth is every one of us has the same amount of time allotted to us each day. That’s 168 hours a week. The key is to use those 168 hours wisely so that we are both productive and fruitful.

Why is it then that some among us seem to really accomplish much during those 168 hours while others of us struggle, getting absolutely nowhere and barely able to keep our heads above water? What makes the difference? I propose that the former group has used discernment to determine what is truly important to get done. They are laser focused on what their priorities are and therefore, they do not commit to more than can be accomplished in a day. They heed the words of Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

In addition, the former group has most likely mastered the use of the word “no” and uses it without guilt. This can be a huge area of struggle for women. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, so instead of saying “no” without apology, we say “yes”! As natural nurturers and helpers, it is hard to not pitch in on any and every project that comes along. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily lead to fruitfulness. Instead, it will most likely lead us down the path of busyness and eventually to feelings of burnout, frustration, and failure.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend you check out Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes. In this book, she states:

“A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul.”

This is such a powerful statement. One that we would all do well to remember when we are contemplating adding another item to our to-do lists.

Let’s be honest here. God is not impressed by us running around doing everything that the world is asking of us instead of focusing our time, energy, and effort on what He has ask us to accomplish. It has taken me decades to understand that God does not expect or even want me to be the answer to everyone’s struggles. In all honesty, when I get caught up in the cycle of busyness, it’s not God I’m trying to impress with my ability to multitask, it’s you!

While researching the subject of productivity, I found this cute chart on the internet which defines eleven differences between busy people and productive people. I laughed at the symbolism of productive people being depicted as an elusive, imaginary unicorn while those of us struggling with busyness are symbolized as a donkey or well, you know!


So according to these traits, are you a unicorn? Do you want to be? I do!

In all seriousness though, isn’t there a lot of truth in the differences between the productive person and the busy person? As you look over the qualities of each of these person types, how many “busyness” traits are you willing to admit to? More importantly, how do we edit our behavior, so we stop being busy and start being productive?

Let’s go back to Lysa Terkeurst’s book for a moment. In The Best Yes, she states: “A Best Yes is you playing your part.” So, how in the world do we decide what our part is when we are so used to trying to check off every item on an ever-growing list?

Ladies, we must evaluate and edit! We simply must stop mindlessly adding things to our to-do list without first seeing how the items line up with our life mission.

In my need for approval, I can sometimes feign productiveness. In reality, I get overwhelmed from being involved in everything and must recognize I have made myself busy. If not, I go home exhausted, shut the bedroom door, and fall apart. In those times, my family suffers because I have nothing left for them. My health suffers since it is the first thing I ignore as I attempt to conquer my huge list. And sadly, God is left waiting for me to realize that I have yet again put people and their opinions of me before Him.

Now, let’s step back into my laundry room a minute. If you recall, my original goal that day was to clean the house and write a few “thinking of you” cards. Had I prioritized cleaning the house and the one thing God asked me to do that day—write a few notes to people, I could have easily accomplished those two tasks. I would have been productive and fruitful with the hours allotted to me that day. I would not have added anything else to my list without running new tasks through the filter of “where are my priorities today?”.

Really, the most productive and fruitful thing I should have accomplished is sitting down and writing those notes to the folks God had put on my heart that day. Everything else, including picking a paint color for the laundry room, was just busyness. Perhaps, it was even a well-played distraction by the enemy to keep me from doing something good for the Kingdom.

So, I will be taking my own advice and start looking more closely at my to-do list, using the measurement of quality over quantity when measuring my productiveness and fruitfulness. I pray that you will also look over the chart and begin working with God to add more of the productive personality traits to your life.

Until next month, when we meet again, I will leave you with one last quote from The Best Yes:

”Never is a woman so fulfilled as when she chooses to underwhelm her schedule so she can let God overwhelm her soul.”

We’ll chat again soon. Right now, I have some things to take off my to-do list. Happy editing!

Written by Rhonda Carlsen

All scriptures were taken from the ESV.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Additional resources:

TerKeurst, Lysa (2014). The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.

Vanderkam, Laura (2011). 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.



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