Productivity Versus Presence

A Dedicated Decision for December (and the New Year!)  

By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl  

“Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.”Alan Watts

We spent November showing gratitude. We allowed the season of Thanksgiving to fill our hearts and minds throughout November. We (hopefully) reflected on our lives, gave thanks for all we have, and spent time with those we cherish. As we stroll into December with all of its holiday festivities, this is the time of year when many people will create an “End-of-Year Reflection” or “End-of-Year Checklist.” If you have yet to accomplish one of these tasks, a simple online search will quickly find a format that meets your needs, should you desire to complete one. If you are creative, you could design your own format based on one of these reflective rituals. Depending on your individual learning style or organizational habits, you may want to complete a reflection or checklist that encompasses all aspects of your life simultaneously for such areas as home, work, and play. Or, you might prefer to separate the task into more specific categories that best represent your current self, family, and/or career situations. 

In my August 2021 article entitled, “It’s a Brand New Day! How Will You Show It?” I share these condensed ideas that could serve as potential prompts to ask yourself when reflecting on the year in review: 

  • Knowledge: What did I learn? 
  • Improvement: What do I want to improve? 
  • Inspiration: Who or what has inspired me? 
  • Gratitude: To whom or for what am I most thankful? 


attitude of gratitude

On a recent dinner date with my husband (minus children!), he challenged us to enjoy the entire evening without mentioning our work in conversation. He succeeded. I, on the other hand, did not. Would this be the case for you? I found this challenge to be quite difficult as I have always felt it complicated to separate work from friends and family. So many of my friendships have blossomed from incredible working relationships, and many members of my family are engaged in the same profession. Also, when I am spending time with loved ones in public, it is very common to run into a current or former student, a student’s family member, or a colleague. When my husband and I spoke that night about our dreams, goals, and aspirations, I found that my gut reaction was to include “work” in many of my answers. I often had to retract my words, slow my speech, or pause before speaking to gather my thoughts. At times, I was a bit antsy—as if what we were doing together did not feel productive to me! As time went on, I felt more relaxed, we laughed more than we had in a while, and we reminisced about our younger selves. I felt the most present I had in some time. Challenge accepted! Lesson learned. 

This calendar year will soon come to a close. As we rejoice in last month’s gratitude practices and this month’s reflection strategies, can we truthfully and individually answer one simple question: Am I happy? Oftentimes, people relate happiness to success and are unable to answer the first question without asking themselves a follow-up question: Am I successful? Does one ratify the other? Should it? Could a happy or successful life be one we are proud of, one we share with others, and one that might inspire others? The thought of not being productive can make someone uncomfortable. This uneasiness can hinder someone’s ability to be present—with students, colleagues, friends, and family. Yet, our version of “happy” and “successful” can differ from one individual to another, depending on many factors such as age, interests, career, family, health, stage of life, and more. After reviewing the definitions and synonyms for these two words, “happy” and “successful,” I found it telling that one word connected them both in the thesaurus: fortunate. I quickly returned to my November intention of showing gratitude and meaning it for the many fortunes in life. 

hands holding connected paper dolls illustrating presence

Photo by Andrew Moca on Unsplash

Questions for Reflection:   

As educators, leaders, and caregivers, do we feel fortunate for the work that we get to do each day? Do we feel fortunate for the opportunity to serve, lead, and love the people in our classrooms, companies, and communities? Do we also feel fortunate for what we have done individually or collectively, or are we immediately prompted to do more? Does a sense of urgency or motivation cause us to be less present in our classrooms, companies, and communities—and even in our homes? How do we feel after we teach a lesson, share a performance, complete a project, learn a new concept, or earn a certification? How does that feeling compare to how we feel after a meaningful conversation is exchanged or experiences are shared with others? Are they different feelings? Why?

One may measure productivity by: 

  • drafting an email 
  • meeting via phone, virtual, or in-person  
  • completing paperwork 
  • reading 
  • studying a concept  
  • practicing a passage 
  • designing a lesson or assessment 
  • presenting a session 
  • leading a practice, rehearsal, or performance 
  • managing a project 
  • supervising a team 

Could we mentally and physically remove ourselves from the “work,” put our phone/device away, and focus on the people in our direct care? What if we measured productivity by a feeling of genuine presence? A degree of presence may include:  

  • being together 
  • conversing 
  • listening
  • reminiscing 
  • laughing or crying
  • asking questions 
  • following up 
  • showing gratitude 
  • complimenting 
presence | millann

As the holiday season is upon us, how will we demonstrate our fortune? What will be our dedicated decision for December (and the new year)? Will we continue to choose productivity over presence? Or, will we learn to better measure our days by our degree of presence? Will YOU accept this challenge, too, and give the gift of your presence to your students, colleagues, friends, and family? Make your decision soon and expand your fortune into the new calendar year! 

About the author:  

Lori Schwartz Reichl Portrait

Photo: Richard Twigg Photography

NAfME member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation in education. Her mission is to encourage educators and leaders to reflect on our teaching and leading practices while making key changes to refresh strategies that represent a shared vision to enrich the classroom, company, and community. Dr. Reichl’s unique educational experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, writer, and speaker. She is the author of nearly 100 educational articles and has designed these mentoring pieces into a graduate course that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago). Dr. Reichl also creates inspirational content for a monthly newsletter consisting of thousands of subscribers. Musically, Dr. Reichl has served as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor for honor bands in a handful of states. Generally, for all areas and levels of education, Dr. Reichl has presented more than 100 professional development sessions and keynote speeches for educational systems, organizations, and conferences in almost half of the nation’s states including international events. In addition, she has been interviewed for 15 education and leadership podcasts. 

Learn more: Subscribe to the Making Key Changes monthly newsletter or peruse Dr. Reichl’s professional development offerings and articles. Check out Music Reading Class, too!  

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.  

April 2024 Teaching Music
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