Reimagining productivity: How my to do list is changing in 2023 (& beyond)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

— Isaiah 55: 8-9

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope 2023 is off to a good start for you. (And if not, there’s plenty of time left for things to turn around!) Something I noticed as I scrolled through my social media feeds in the days leading up to the new year was a trend of gratitude and positivity. For the past few years, it seems that many recap posts have had the tone of “Bye 20XX, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” And understandably so — the pandemic and all of its myriad implications left most, if not all, of us crawling to the finish line in 2020 and 2021. But this year was noticeably different, and for that I am grateful. It’s encouraging to see so many people feeling happier, healthier, and more hopeful than before. I share that sentiment as well, and although I’m constantly trying to reign in unrealistic expectations, I can’t help but look forward to so much in 2023.

Our first holiday season as a married couple was beautiful in so many ways. My ministry team ran a successful Advent retreat for over 45 young adults, and Mr. Pink Tie played bass guitar in a beautiful Christmas concert at the church where he works. We participated in some of his family’s favorite Colombian traditions, including celebrating Día de las Velitas (Day of Little Candles) and praying the Novena de Aguinaldos (Novena to the Baby Jesus). We attended a candlelit string quartet performance of The Nutcracker, watched (and roasted) a painfully predictable Hallmark movie trilogy, put up our new tree and decorated our house together for the first time, and enjoyed a NYE brunch with friends — a genius idea now that most of the couples have children under age 2. (Everyone, including us newlyweds, made it home in time for an afternoon nap.)

And at the same time, our first holidays as a married couple were difficult, and I had more than one Very Merry Meltdown over the course of the season. I hurt my back in early December and was out of commission for a full week, Mr. Pink Tie was sick from Christmas Eve through the new year, and a few days of freezing temps had us all on edge as we recalled the disastrous impacts of Winter Storm Uri the year before. (Fortunately, our pipes survived unscathed, and we didn’t lose any power or water this time.) Despite declining numerous invitations, we frequently felt overwhelmed and overcommitted, and there are Christmas gifts we still have yet to order. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t see anyone on my side of the family, and in my efforts to keep up with everything else, I hardly incorporated any of our beloved traditions into the season. (The one pastime I did attempt — making a batch of my mom’s famous fudge — failed miserably and ended up in the trash along with all of my chocolatey hopes and dreams.) None of these events was catastrophic, of course, but at times it just felt like a lot, especially on top of adjusting to married life. So as with pretty much everything in life, beauty and hardship co-existed.

Speaking of adjusting to married life, a month or two ago, I saw something on Instagram that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

It was a post from multimedia artist Morgan Harper Nichols, whom I’ve admired for years for her unique brand of beauty, encouragement, and vulnerability. It’s not unusual for me to stop and reflect when her work comes across my feed, but this time, I was truly moved. The post featured the text, “It’s okay if productivity looks different in this season.” The words “in this season” were crossed out, and the words “from now on” were handwritten just below. (MHN provides further details about her personal journey with autism, ADHD, and productivity in the post’s caption, which I highly encourage everyone to read as well.)

It’s okay if productivity looks different from now on.

Such a simple sentiment, yet one that I need to hear on repeat. A major shift in my pace and productivity is something I’ve been struggling with in these early months of marriage. Before tying the knot, when my schedule was largely my own, I spent the vast majority of my time doing: cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, emails, exercise, planning, preparing, keeping up with friends and family, and staying involved in church and ministry activities. There was very little down time and very few moments that were unplanned. And honestly, that’s just kind of how I’m wired — I’m sharing neither to brag nor to complain.

But when Mr. Pink Tie moved in, I quickly realized that this is not how everyone is wired. He is incredibly responsible, hardworking, and organized, but he’s also a huge proponent (and practitioner) of rest, both physical and mental/emotional. Witnessing him lie in bed after his alarm goes off, spend a few minutes practicing piano “just for fun,” or wait to do the dishes in favor of “relaxing” was initially pretty flabbergasting. And for the first few weeks of living together, we experienced the tension of mismatched expectations when, after dinner, he’d assume it was time to hang out — and I’d assume it was time to get a few more things done. (To my credit, I assumed we’d do the things together, or at the very least, alongside each other — tandem productivity is an underrated love language, y’all!)

When I thought about it a bit more, it began to make sense why Mr. Pink Tie and I hadn’t realized this key difference sooner. When we were dating and engaged, we lived 40+ minutes apart and only saw each other once or twice per week; thus, we could plan accordingly and give each other our undivided attention on every date. Now that we’re living together, we’re going to have to find a balance between quality time (necessary for the health of our relationship) and getting things done (necessary to keep our work and household running smoothly).

And as a result, my productivity has started to look different. And I suspect that it’s more than a temporary adjustment period — this is a “from now on” kind of shift.

I can’t jam-pack every minute and “maximize” every second like I once did. I need to create more space for communication and connection with my husband and allow greater margin for the mistakes that both of us will make. I need to recognize that my pace can sometimes overwhelm or exhaust him and isn’t the best or only way to get things done. I need to get more rest so that I can show up better in every area of life — I wasn’t getting enough sleep before, but this reality was easier to ignore when I was single or living alone. And I need to admit that in many ways, productivity has become an idol, a created thing that is distracting me from — or even taking the place of — my Creator.

And as uncomfortable as it has been (and will continue to be), and as much as I try to fight it, I know that this transformation is not only good for my relationship with Mr. Pink Tie, it’s also good for me. God is working through my marriage to heal me and free me in new ways — ways I wasn’t ready for before entering into the sacrament.

Which brings me to my word of the year. (Drumroll, please.)

Mr. Pink Tie and I used Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year Generator, and I got “HIGHER.” (Last year I selected my own word, but this year, I wanted it to be completely out of my control.) After we got a few cannabis-related jokes out of our systems, I was intrigued to see what this word might come to mean over the course of 2023. And already, I am beginning to sense a theme taking shape…

The Lord taking me to the next level in places where I’ve been stuck or have plateaued.

The Lord seeking to elevate my approach in areas where I thought good was good enough.

The Lord showing me that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and His ways are higher than my ways in places where I didn’t think improvement or healing were possible, or where I wasn’t dreaming big enough.

I can already see it in my productivity, in my prayer life, in my relationships, and in my work — but I’ll save the rest of that for another post. After all, the year has only just begun.