Busyness is out of control. How often have you heard… “I’m so busy. I really need a break. I don’t have time. I’m not even getting enough sleep, much less down time.”
You may be dealing with this problem yourself or you may be seeing it in those you are leading. Or both. But it’s everywhere right now. The more you do, the less you live. The more you do, the emptier you may feel. And the usual response is trying to do more. It’s a hamster wheel you can never seem to get off of.
Although busyness is not a new problem—Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of the busy life”—we have more tools at our disposal today to feed and fuel that busyness than we ever have before.
Busyness isn’t a virtue
Before we can get into specific strategies, we need to combat the idealization of busyness as a virtue. No one is going to try to change anything if they believe they’re already on the path to success and/or doing the right thing. So as leaders we need to first address the specific value shifts we need to help ourselves and others make. A few of those are below:
Authenticity vs appearances
What is the biggest turnoff to Christianity in the US today? The #1 answer: judgementalism, closely followed by hypocrisy. This extends to so many areas: success, wealth, sin, family, social media, giving, prayer, fasting, and how we represent the church to those outside it. Let’s not pretend to be better than we are. Let’s be honest, transparent, and humble. That’s refreshing in this world. Share your struggles. Share your questions. Be open and listen.
Authenticity means letting others into our real lives and being honest about where we’re at even when that’s not flattering. And that is diametrically opposed to “keeping up appearances,” which means investing energy in trying to look like we have it all together even when we don’t. You can be the change needed in the church—a breath of fresh air to those around us. You can aim not to be the admired one, but rather the one who does good, quietly and consistently over a long time.
Outward focus vs inward focus
The key question here is one of selfishness vs. generosity. It’s easy get so wrapped up with our own lives, our own possessions, our own activities, that we forget to care about people around us. As a whole, Americans tend to spend their time on things that will make our own lives better, our own bank accounts healthier, our own children more successful. To really care about others costs us, both emotionally and with regard to our time.
An outward focus means allowing our own hearts to break for what breaks the heart of Jesus, opening our hearts to care even when it hurts, and then acting out of that feeling. It means putting aside our own wants for the benefit of others and breaking down that safe barrier between ourselves and others so we don’t have to feel their pain and their needs.
Simplicity vs busyness
Resist the temptation to fill up your life with that which does not matter. Get rid of distractions and give yourself the gift of space, time, and perspective. Doing this allows you the margin in your life to listen to God and to act on what you are hearing. Here are the two opposites: simplicity and busyness: Simplicity means intentionally building margin into our lives. It means keeping space open in our everyday lives for God and others… which then provides us with the time and freedom to act in obedience when we discern the leading of the Spirit. Busyness means getting wrapped up with all the to-dos that the world tells us are essential so that we overschedule our time and overcommit our money to keeping up with the expectations of others around our careers, homes, families, and perceptions of success.
Only once we can help people get a clear perspective of what God is calling them to do can they see beyond all the “good” things that are distracting them from the few truly important things. Like Martha, they get sidetracked into a life of bondage instead of the life of freedom Jesus has on offer.
Two key strategies to fight busyness
Only once you’ve helped people make the necessary value shifts will they be able to make use of practical strategies for becoming less busy. Wait until they’re ready—after they’ve shifted their values—then try some of the actions below:
Prioritize your focus
Get a list of common values—you can easily find one of these online—then pull out the ones you personally value (or want to value). Write them all down. Then force yourself to narrow down to your top three values. No one can value everything—that simply means they do not truly value anything—just as no one can be everything to all people. We all must choose. These top three values then become the lens through which you make decisions about how to spend your time.
Question your calendar
Check to see if the appointments on your calendar actually reflect your priorities. Use these questions to help:
- In the scheme of things, how critical is each appointment?
- What difference does it make?
- If you don’t do it will anyone notice?
- Which of these things can only you do?
- Who else could do this?
This process for how we spend our time is much the same as how we budget our money. We don’t have money for everything we want, so we need to make choices and be intentional about those choices. That’s true even if some of the things we want would have been very good.
Effective Delegation Skills Builder– This downloadable Skills Builder offers strategies on how to make delegation a normal part of your work schedule. It will help you identify when you need the assistance of others and how you can learn to trust them with delegated tasks.
Goals and Objectives Skills Builder– This downloadable Skills Builder will help you set realistic goals and taking active steps towards achieving them.