Are You Actually in Danger by Being Crazy Busy?
We’re all busy. I get it.
Busyness is like fast food–we know it’s bad for us, but we just can’t help ourselves. Especially when we’re in a rush.
We’re addicted, even when we know better. I’m as much of a busy junkie as the next person, so I’m in no position to critique. But I’ve been reflecting lately on the kind of long-term damage busyness can do, in my own life. And I’ve been trying to ask myself hard questions.
If I’m in a week or a month where I answer “yes” to too many of these questions, I know I’m in trouble and I need to scale back. Here’s hoping they help you too.
1. HAVE YOU PROTECTED YOUR DAY OF REST?
I don’t know of a quicker way to defeat yourself than to not take a day off.
I like what Walter Brueggemann said, “Sabbath is an act of resistance”. I treat my day off as a form of rebellion. I remind myself that I am not called to be productive–I am called to be faithful. My life is not the sum total of my accomplishments, but my relationships. In fact, the fruit of my relationships–love and charity, peace and goodwill–are the only thing I imagine will survive in eternity. This is my real business. My work and efforts elsewhere, 1/7 days of the week, just simply have to wait.
Are you really resting in your off day?
Do you keep your phone on “Do Not Disturb”, or are you still reachable?
Do you take time for something you enjoy, simply because it pleases you?
Do you allow room for the joy of boredom to set in?
If you don’t protect this form of rebellion, you’ll reduce yourself down to just another piece of machinery. And your body, designed for rest as well as work, will begin to make withdrawals on your attention and focus in other moments anyway. Pretty soon you’re working long days and binging on Netflix before you wake up to the grind again, wondering why none of it is refreshing.
Maybe you should rethink your schedule.
2. HAVE YOU SAID NO LATELY?
I’m terrible at saying no. I genuinely want to help people anyway I can. While I don’t want to be bound by the expectations of others, I find it difficult to not contribute when I know I somehow can.
But without “no”, your “yes” is insignificant.
Do you only turn down plans with someone else because you have a schedule conflict, or do you sometimes say no just to pace yourself?
When was the last time you said no just because you didn’t want to do something, and not because you knew you couldn’t?
When was the last time you said no to yourself, and your own preferences, for the sake of preferring someone else?
I don’t know if the people in my life understand the great amount of intention I put into each and every “yes”. But I hope the sacrifice I make is worth something. I can’t afford to have my time and energy directed by demands and desires. Obviously this means I set boundaries with people, but it also means I set boundaries for myself too! And I try to be as gracious as I can with people who say no to me–especially when I see they’re doing it to figure out their own boundaries.
Most people who say yes all the time don’t end up in an adventurous romantic comedy like Jim Carrey circa 2011. Most of them end up crying themselves to sleep.
3. DO YOU LEAVE ROOM FOR ANTICIPATION IN YOUR LIFE?
This one’s on my mind because we just came out of Advent. I think there is wisdom in practicing anticipation. Most people don’t like being patient for what they want, so they busy themselves as a form of distraction.
If you are waiting for something to change, you can either choose hope or discontentment. And we’ll make ourselves rushed just to keep from feeling discontent.
Are you okay with the time your process takes? Or are you adding in extra days at the gym, and surprise confrontations, and extra hours at the office, just to try to push things ahead?
Have you made peace with your commute? Or do you try to leave at the last second and speed to make the trip go as short as it can?
Do you have to keep your phone on you when you’re waiting for your food to cook, or doing some other menial task? Do you allow distractions to keep you preoccupied so you don’t have to experience waiting?
Most people have lost their joy because they no longer feel the little aches of longing before their desires are fulfilled. Eventually, we just become numb as one day blurs into another.
It’s time to start waiting again.
4. DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS?
I’m learning to live a sacramental life. A big part of this is learning how to slow down. You can’t force someone to go slow on the outside–if that were the case, we’d all have only one speeding ticket and that’d be the end of it! Instead, we need practices to help us pace ourselves. We need habits and rituals which are totally unnecessary and could probably be edited from our lives for the sake of time.
It will drive the busy addict in you crazy.
For example, I make my coffee the slow way every day. I weigh the beans and water and I take my time when I pour. Only my wife and son can distract me from this totally useless luxury. But I get to look out the window, and hold the cup as it’s being warmed, and the whole moment calms me. Are you anchored to your own traditions?
Is there somewhere in your life where you take the slow way?
Do you find peace in a daily habit?
Do you have to pass the car in front of you on the highway, or can you just maintain appropriate distance?
What have you kept in your life that other people would call “frivolous”?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself in the middle of my detox.
In the middle of my busy life, with my growing boy and the surprising demands of on-call ministry, I need to protect myself from inflated self-importance. Without caution and intention, I can get caught up on the hamster wheel and forget I’m running in the same spot.
Being busy can be seen for what it is: a modern drug that gives us the reassurance of productivity, all while crushing our souls.
Instead of being proud of our busyness, we can moderate it and keep ourselves from destroying the beautiful reasons we have for existence.