C.S. Lewis, in his address “Learning in War-Time” outlines several rivals to our work–things that make it hard to be productive, especially when there is significant societal disruption taking place (like a war). The first he calls “excitement,” by which he’s referring to the endless distractions that we encounter on a daily basis. You can read more here.
The second enemy is frustration. Here, he notes that we can be tempted not to work because we can be overwhelmed by the fact that there isn’t enough time–life’s too short to do all the things we’d like to do. This can be a paralyzing and counterproductive thought. Better to do your daily work and not worry too much about the enormity of the task. Here’s Lewis:
The second enemy is frustration–the feeling that we shall not have time to finish….You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of [one’s life], of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say, “No time for that,” “Too late now” and “Not for me.” But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only for our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.C.S. Lewis, “Learning in war-time” in The Weight of Glory, 60-61.
He’s right, of course. And this is a good word if you’re like me and have always struggled with syllabus shock. Why does the enormity of the task demotivate me from taking a bite out of it today?
If the architects and first builders of Notre Dame Cathedral were paralyzed by the thought that they wouldn’t complete the work in their lifetimes–we may not have one of the world’s treasures.