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How to Busy and Sane at the Same Time

work Dec 19, 2017
by Justin Fike

I've been thinking a lot about all of the various "fronts" of activity and responsibility that my wife and I are managing and trying to push out these days. Spreading all the different pieces and initiatives out on the table is extremely helpful.

My wife and I have definitely developed some helpful patterns and muscles for managing busyness effectively, which I decided to share here. So, in no particular order, here's some thoughts about how I've come to think about "surfing the wave" instead of being buried by it.

A disclaimer: these thoughts are expressed in the voice I use when talking to myself, which tends to be fairly blunt and uncompromising because that's often what I need. I absolutely understand that everyone's life and circumstances are different, and I'm not trying to imply that this is the Super Secret System(tm) that would make everyone's life work if they just followed it. This is simply my attempt to share the thoughts and patterns that have proven necessary to allow myself to continue to flourish and be healthy while juggling many spinning plates at once:

  • The busier I am, the more what I will call here the Tyranny of the Overflowing Calendar comes into effect. Namely, that the more tasks and commitments I have on my plate, the more I start to feel as though all of my time throughout the day is already "spoken for". I begin to feel driven by my commitments and priorities, as if I have no control over the minutes and hours of my day. This feels oppressively true, but it's not, which leads to my first little paradigm:
    • The busier I am, the more often I must stop and remind myself that I have choice, and must routinely step back to consider the full picture so that I can continue to make effective decisions about what I say "yes" and "no" to, and how I approach my tasks throughout the day.
  • Whenever I get busy, the first thing to go out the window is always unstructured free time, but this too is an understandable but incorrect response to stress. In the short term it might seem like I get more done if I just tear through work morning till bed time, but that candle burns out super fast. Managing a busy season is a marathon, not a sprint.
    • The busier I am, the more ruthless I must be about taking down time to rest and recover. Attempting to simply "forge ahead" as if I have unlimited capacity is short-sighted, arrogant, and silly. I will accept my own limitations by scheduling regular space to rest, reconnect with family and friends, and recharge in the most effective ways possible so that I maintain stamina to return to my next task effectively.
  • In a similar vein, I've noticed that the busier I get, the more the lure of The Other Side begins to loom. I tend to think "If I can just get through task X, I can really rest on the other side". Again, this is understandable but incorrect. A high school mentor of mine often said "work expands to fill the time allotted to it," and I've increasingly realized how right he was. Accomplishing one task often leads to three more "next steps". Chasing the illusion of The Other Side will exhaust you long before you reach it.
    • The busier I am, the more intentional I will get about capturing small blocks of time to rest, recharge, and have fun. I will value the 20 minute nap, the hour long lunch with my wife, and the 30 minutes with a good book in between major tasks as much as a weekend of down time.
  • Finally, and most importantly I think, seasons of busyness have a strange tendency to develop in me a feeling of being "hunted", like I'm racing from one fire to another without rest and with little hope of ever "getting there". I've come to realize that whether or not I accept this posture is ENTIRELY MY CHOICE. It's my responsibility to step into the rest and peace that Jesus purchased for me.
    • The busier I am, the more intentional I must become about consciously seeking out and focusing on concrete things to be grateful for within the day. The downward spiral of agitation and "oh no!" reactions will suffocate me long before I accomplish anything. Take a step back, take a breath, reconnect with the big picture. Generally when I do I remember that it's actually not all that dire right now, and I can return to the specific task at hand with fresh perspective.

I think the theme running throughout all of this is that while busyness and a full schedule are real and concrete, the emotional and energy toll that they take are the result of our mindset about them and the actual patterns we develop to address them. Those mindsets and patterns are choices we make, so if I want to stay busy and sane at the same time, I need to get rather ruthless with myself about my inner life and posture throughout the day.

Much like an Olympic class marathon runner, being effective and busy at the same time requires more than wild, uncontrolled bursts of energy. It requires disciplined, measured, effective steps taken over and over and over and over without thought for the finish line until you realize you've already crossed it. The better I get at trying to develop that marathon posture, the easier I find the journey along the way.

What are your tips and patterns for handling busyness well? I'd love to hear from everyone about what you've found that works, or doesn't, along the way.

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