January 4, 2011

Productively Prayerful

Editor's Note: This piece by Tara Rodden Robinson (@TaraRodden) arrived in my in-box just in time for the time when we all seem to make resolutions for the New Year. Known as the Productivity Maven, Tara is an author, educator and coach. She trained as a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition at the Shalom Prayer Center, Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon. Learn more about her by visiting her website.

When you visit an abbey or a monastery, the rhythms of the day are wonderfully predictable. Bells ring and you lay aside whatever you’re doing and go to prayer, observing the Hours, retreating again and again into sacred silence, alternating work with prayer and prayer with work.

In life outside the monastery, though, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that we can observe these same rhythms and respond to the call to prayer as monks do. And yet, emulating the Benedictine way of life can teach you about how to be more productive in your work, how to manage your time, and how to gain a greater sense of balance.

I often teach clients a technique I call “starting and stopping on demand.” In essence, this is the skill of beginning work swiftly and getting straight to the thing at hand without dithering about. Then, when it’s time to do something else, making an end of the time spent by marking where you left off and stopping the activity completely.

Stopping on demand is precisely what’s happening when the monks and oblates of an abbey honor Benedict’s Rule and observe the Daily Office. Activity is immediately put on hold without bargaining or delay. The bells ring and it’s time for prayer.

By observing the Hours, you’ll begin improving your ability to stop work on demand. Not only will the peace of the Holy Spirit begin occupying a greater and more important place in your heart, but you’ll also begin to reap other, unsought dividends like coping with interruptions and distractions. A greater sense of patience, a longer view of time, a new and profound stillness are created. This is something everyone can use.

So the next time you respond the call to prayer – whether it’s by Abbey bells or your Twitter feed – remember you are following the path of work and prayer that built massive cathedrals and penned illuminated manuscripts, structures and volumes that have stood the test of time and testify to power of making room for the sacred as part of the day.

Image: Queen of Angels Monastery taken by Tara Rodden Robinson

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