I look at the clock and realize the time: 3:00.

The hour of packing up my work and picking up my daughter, dropping off library books, picking up groceries, and starting dinner. Usually at this point I have a list of things accomplished for the day.

But unlike other days, I had nothing to show for this one. The checklist I created in the morning still sat looking at me blankly, without a single checkmark on it.

Nothing to show for all these hours of work.  Pathetic, I think.

Sometimes I judge my life by how much I accomplish in a day.  I know better than to do this, but I can’t help myself.  It feels good to hold up something concrete to to the world and say, I did this.

But today my hands are empty.

What do we do with those days when we seem to have nothing meaningful to show the world? 

Why do I keep measuring my life by my productivity?




I recount what went wrong:

The day begins with a missing file on my computer.  I search through dozens of files.  Nothing.   I write to my husband to see if he has a copy on his computer, where I originally worked on it.

“Sorry,” he writes back.  “I deleted it.”

Start all over again.  Hours lost.

Shift gears, shift gears, I say to myself, thinking that if I could just change gears like a car, today would go a different speed. I would accomplish something. The day could still be redeemed.

My speed so far today: zero. I hadn’t even gotten the car out of the garage.

I begin writing, my fingers tapping away on keys.  The words come out clumsily.  I keep at it, knowing that once I get through the warm-up, I will find my pace.  But the words don’t get better.  They are awkward and lifeless, like a middle school book report.

Surely there is one good sentence here.  I read through the paragraph.  Inwardly I cringe.

Shift gears, shift gears, I say and switch to editing something already written, hoping there is something on the page to make me feel better.

I read through one.  It is not good. Then another.  Still bad.  Then a third.  Even worse.

Haven’t I written anything that speaks truth–even one good thing? I go from page to page, flipping through the entries, deflated at my clumsy words.

I look for one small thing that would validate this journey, this day, this lack of accomplishing anything of purpose.

Then I realize.  There isn’t one.

I have nothing to show for the day except the fact that I tried.  I tried to do something worth doing.  I tried to make a difference with my work.

I tried and failed and that is the beauty of life: that our failures make us human, show our vulnerability and reveal that we are alive in this mess, trying to redeem it.

Some days are like this.  We will spend time spinning our wheels and when we look back, there isn’t any to show for the journey.

Did we choose the wrong path for that day? No one can tell us. We press on and pick up the mess of our hours and make something we call beautiful.

Our unproductive hours teach us that creating is not always the goal of the journey, but perseverance is, especially when we doubt. 

The clock is not a measure of our work or our worth.


So I let go of my plans, the lists undone, the hopes I had for the day.  I drop them like a rock, except they don’t fall at my feet like a dead weight.  Instead they float like a feather, waiting for me to grasp at them like falling snow flakes, hoping to lure me back into the mindset of the hurried and frantic.

Haven’t I learned this day is still good whether I accomplish anything or not?

Then I make a decision: Shift gears.

Except this time I will not be trying to force this journey into high speed.  This time I am downshifting.  Reducing my speed.

It means letting go of my expectations for the day.

Letting go of the work I planned.

Letting go of creating something beautiful or meaningful.

It means accepting this unproductive day and every day like it, realizing this is the day God had planned all along.

This is the day the Lord has made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

Not only is this the day He made, he expects us to have joy in it, whether the day goes well or not.

If I choose frustration over joy, my attitude is contagious to the people around me.

If I choose joy over everything else, then that, too, is contagious.

I look back at the clock.  It is time to go.

Forget what is lost.

Shift gears. 

Make something beautiful of the day’s waning hours.


2 Comments on Why we shouldn’t judge our lives by our productivity

  1. Sara, I so needed this today! (And many days.) Love, love, love the truth here. Especially since yesterday was *one of those days.* It was the first day of summer (no kids in preschool), and I wanted to make it fun by going to our big library and picking out books and DVDs. After I brought everything to check out, I realized I didn’t have my library card. And after they were finally able to pull up my library card, they said my fine was too large for me to check out anything. AND I couldn’t pay it off because my wallet was in the car …. And so we came home empty-handed. And I felt incredibly UNproductive. Your words meet me right now – reminding me of the true value of our days and of who I am. Thank you.

    • Thanks Heather for your comment! I’m sorry I didn’t see this comment sooner–usually I get a notification, but didn’t see one come through for this comment. Weird.) Your library situation sounds like life all too often for me. I think people needs to extend extra grace to parents at the library…and everywhere for that matter. Because life happens, you know? Hoping your day is better.

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