The Structure of the Day

The way one organizes one’s day has a great impact on what gets accomplished that day.  That’s why I like structure.



I have the privilege of being on Sabbatical right now.  Without a “work week” to guide me, the structure of my days has naturally changed, they’ve taken on a new, somewhat unpredictable pattern. Some days I’m busy with family obligations; selling our family home and sorting, storing and moving thirteen years’ worth of household flotsam and jetsam (see previous blog, Moving Day). One or two days a week are necessarily spent on work-related matters and meetings.  And then there are the days I should be reading, reflecting and writing this blog. I’m getting things done, but this change in structure has been disconcerting.

Structure gives shape and form to my imaginative impulses. Without it, all the thinking, planning and wondering that me and my monkey-brain do, would be lost to the world. Structure is the container in which creativity and innovation come into being. Too much structure, of course, kills creativity. Too many to-dos and deadlines leave no room for the imagination or thoughtfulness.  So, autonomy is an important aspect of my day-to-day structure as it provides me the means to find balance. But that’s no small feat.

I am accustomed to a workday/weekend approach to life and work. I have a habit of jamming as much work as I can into M-F, so I can keep my evenings and weekends free.  I’m on or I’m off.  I’ve always liked it this way, but I’ve known for a while that there is something unbalanced about it.

I’ve been learning to spread my efforts out differently over these past weeks. As it turns out not everything has to get done right now. I still attend to the must-dos in a timely manner – because other people’s schedules depend on my availability or they need me to do something for their work to progress – but I’m prioritizing the other stuff differently.

direction more than speedI’ve always used self-imposed deadlines as a time-management technique, but since it’s me who imposed them, I can un-impose them, right?  I can change the pace of my day, embody what writer Christina Baldwin calls the pace of guidance.  “In a world of speed and distraction, pace of guidance invites us to combine the practices of measured movement and listening”.

My fear, of course, is that I’ll fall behind. Me and my ego worry about my reputation.  Will I be less valuable if I’m not getting as much done? And what if the work gets done without me, does that make me redundant?  What if I’m not really needed? These are scary thoughts. The work world thrives on speed and quality outputs. Getting a lot done and doing it well leads to “success”.

Fortunately, for me, the church world is very process-oriented, and tends to place a higher value on exploring ideas than on implementing them. This Sabbatical is evidence of that. It invites this kind of pause, provides space for listening and learning.

Terry on Gambier Island, 2010

Personally, I think both these “worlds” need to rethink the link between process and productivity. The United Church needs to make major operational changes – and it needs to happen right now. Institutionally speaking, there is an urgent need for strategic planning and implementation.  The corporate world, on the other hand, is notorious for greed and speed – a “time is money” mindset.  I believe Capitalism could be a tool for good if it took a step back, slowed down and reassessed its values.

The thing is, these worlds are not discrete and separate from one another. Nor are we, the people who inhabit them. And I think we would benefit – in all aspects of our life and work – from finding the intersections where structure and creativity, tradition and innovation, productivity and process meet.

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