John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement that became the Methodist church and its many denominational branches, was a tremendously productive man in his writing, preacher, traveling, teaching, and organizing. Two of his vows for ordained pastors (ordained elders, in the United Methodist tradition) is particularly pertinent to productivity, and shows his own ethos towards work.
"Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.
"Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time."
Today, many would disagree with the harshness of "never be unemployed." As a culture, we value rest, recreation, hobbies, and activities of leisure. To practice time away from ministry in leisure, Sabbath pursuits is a mark of a healthy ordinand, especially for many Boards of Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church.
But what is useful and interesting in Wesley's vows is not trifling away time, and especially his injunction to use exactly the amount of time and energy required for a duty or meeting. Use no more time than is "strictly necessary." This is using just the right force for the job, not too much nor too little (which is something that Merlin Mann talks about). We're not out there with hammers looking for nails, nor messing around and overdoing what should be simple, but doing just the right thing for the need, no more and no less. Not spending more time on a duty or meeting or visit than is strictly necessary. If we tarry where we go, allowing our time in places to sprawl and spawn, then we are left wondering where the day went.
It is especially difficult today, as we have so many tools at our disposal that Wesley never had. Emails, phone calls, cars – all these things invite massive interruptions. Wesley didn't face these temptations. People couldn't just phone in or show up to interrupt him; they had to go get on a horse and find him. Wesley's 18th century England had its advantages!
We should be asking ourselves, is this what we want to be doing right now?