At Work

Don’t Be Productive, Be Fruitful

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In an interview promoting her latest book, In Good Time: 8 Habits for Reimagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry, and Practicing Peace, Jen Pollock Michel posited that “efficiency is a word for physics and machines”—it shouldn’t be a human aim. Rather, she wants her readers to aim toward fruitfulness. 

A Matter of Time

Fruitfulness, to Michel, evokes the seasonality of an apple tree. The tree is in process all twelve months toward the next harvest, but watch it over a single day and you’d witness no visible production. Aiming toward “fruitfulness” in the workplace takes into consideration seasons of life. For instance, we slow down, and even stop altogether, in a time of grief. And getting older slows us down in a different way, as do lifelong and temporary disabilities

Since our culture fixates on faster, Michel’s consideration is how we view productivity when life forces us to decelerate. We ought to know that not everyone will not perform at 110% day in and day out, because neither do we. We are not machines; life will slow us down. 

Sometimes, when assessing an individual’s abilities, “crip time” is factored in. This is the acknowledgment that certain bodies are slower to perform a task than others. For example, if someone has an auditory processing disorder, it may take two or more times as long to have the same conversation. They’re capable of the conversation, but the delay in back-and-forth should be considered when setting expected timeframes, for a meeting perhaps.

Consider further, then, everything someone with any seeming obstacle must account for to do the same job: being a caregiver or parent, requesting accommodations, or observing less mainstream religious holidays. Thankfully, it’s illegal to ask such personal information during interviews, as this might lead the hiring manager to favor candidates without such variables. Yet, those variables are not unique to mothers or Muslims. Nor are they insurmountable—each one of us has a life outside of work affecting our productivity at work. 

Focusing on fruitfulness means being patient as we experience the limitations of being human.

It’s Greek to Me

Another aspect to fruitfulness is adhering to the kairos timeline. Kairos is a bit obscure, so Michel pits chronos time as its opposite. Chronos is more familiar; it’s the human conception of time measured by watches and calendars. Kairos sees events from God’s perspective, outside of chronology. There, events occur in an eternal framework at the opportune moment. 

For example, in chronos, Christ died around 33 AD. But in kairos he died (as the word is translated in Romans 5:6) “at just the right time.”

Of course, adopting an eternal perspective doesn’t permit believers to shirk our to-do list because it’ll get done eventually. Rather, it gives proper significance to the items on the to-do list. With renewed priorities, we’re practically guaranteed fruitfulness, since everything will get done in kairos

  • Those living in chronos set their minds on productivity. Those in kairos set their minds on fruitfulness.
  • Optimizing efficiency saves chronos time. Kairos-minded people place quality over quantity.
  • Chronos consumers anticipate the holiday rush. Kairos observers rest in the peace of Advent and Lent
  • In chronos, time waiting is time wasted. In kairos, waiting is trusting God’s unpredictable timing.

Kairos People in a Chronos World

Michel called out a contemporary appropriation of the phrase “redeem the time” from Ephesians 5. We hear it, even from the pulpit, as a spiritualized carpe diem. With only twenty-four hours in the day and one life to live, we are encouraged to get everything done. Michel finds that unrealistic. 

Rather, “redeem the time” is an admonition specifically against dwelling in sin or foolish living. Michel confers the misused phrase with the Psalm 90 model of “numbering our days,” concluding that, yes, time is scarce, but God is everlasting. That is the difference between emphasizing the here and now above the hereafter. It is operating in chronos when we believers should set our watches to kairos time

With this perspective, Michel said, “I can believe that God’s going to get his work done. Whatever he wills, he has the power and time to do.” And she pacified those still hanging onto the familiarity of chronos—and the benchmark of productivity—with this paraphrase from author Pete Peterson: Sometimes we think we can’t finish projects before we die. But in the new heaven and new earth, we may have time after all. 

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