As we travel across the country with FamilyLife Canada, one of the most common issues we hear about is busyness. If we had a dollar for every time someone says, “We are just too busy!” We would be able to pay off our house…and we live in Vancouver!
If you are my vintage, you might remember a book called Future Shock. Published in 1970, Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted that as technology advanced, we would get more productive and therefore need to work fewer and fewer hours. They got the productivity part of that right. Dead on, actually. A modern worker only needs 23 hours to create the productivity and wealth that required 40 working hours in 1976. Another study concludes that accomplishing household tasks (meals, laundry, cleaning, yardwork) requires half the time we needed in 1965. But, instead of using the extra hours technology has saved us to create a more relaxed schedule, we are busier than ever! We are filling those extra hours with more work and more activities for both us and our children.
We have taken the gains provided by increased productivity to increase consumption and raise our lifestyle. The net result is that we have more stuff and less time.
We certainly can’t say we have it all figured out, but after 38 years of managing two careers, raising two hyper-involved children (school, sports, church, friends), and the past 11 years working full time in marriage education, we can share with confidence a few things to encourage and help all of us busy people.
First, we need to be honest that sometimes we do take on too much. Sometimes, our schedule is out of control. Here’s how we got overextended…over and over again. We were like a loaded canoe, riding pretty low in the water but, hey, we were still afloat! So, when an attractive opportunity came along or a desired item was on sale, we just said, “Yes”. We sunk a little lower but we were still making it so we congratulated ourselves on all we were accomplishing and sailed on…taking on more and more – most of it good stuff. Which was all well and good, until even a small ripple came up on our lake and then we were pretty quickly taking on water. We had to learn to bail water, for sure, but we also had to actually take some stuff out of our boat. Our schedules were overloaded.
The second thing we’ve learned is to say, “No,” even to good things! This allows us to have some margin for the unforeseen challenges. Remember, it is a matter of when, not if, those times come. We’ve also learned to ask ourselves different questions. When we were younger, the only question we seemed to ask was, “Can we do this?” This turned everything into a challenge to our competence or our capacity (or both) and, because we are both competitive, we could not resist trying to do everything. Over time we learned to ask different questions, more helpful questions, better questions:
- Is this liable to make us healthier?
- Is this likely to strengthen our family relationally and spiritually?
- What do we think the longer term impact of this choice will be?
- Is this wise?
The third thing we try to practice now is energy management. We have been through multiple time management workshops. In fact, we are pretty sure that if we took all the time spent in time management workshops and invested it in our tasks, we would be much further ahead! Having the single focus on time management actually created more stress for us though, as we worked to get more done in less time.
What we missed when we focused solely on time management is that there are things that take time but actually flood us with the energy and optimism we need to truly be productive, healthy and growing.
Here’s a partial list of things that take clock time but give energy to us:
- Time with God – praying, meditating, worshiping
- Time alone, especially if you are a contemplative
- Time outside – hiking, gardening, etc.
- Being artistic, creating something
- Working out
- Looking after grandkids
These activities may not make it through a time management filter but they breathe energy into our souls, fueling both health and accomplishments.
One more huge energy giver, often overlooked by busy people, is serving others. When we feel the pressure of time, one of the first things to get cut is time not directly devoted to our schedules and priorities. But when we give our time, talent and treasure to others, especially when we do it as a gift to God who has given everything to us, a miracle happens. Instead of accomplishing less, we have energy to do more. Instead of feeling pressured by time, we feel freed up. This is at least part of what Jesus meant when he said, “If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” Matthew 10:39
The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We wonder about that now. When we give away our time, money and energy in Jesus’ name for the sake of others, it sure seems to create energy for us!