If a video camera had followed you over the last seven days, what would it reveal about your life? Would it show you were fruitful and joyful? Overloaded and stressed out? It might disclose that you are too busy for your own good — and it's time to do something about it.
You're too busy if . . .
- You feel as though you are constantly trying to catch up at work or home.
- There's rarely a break in your schedule.
- You are regularly late.
- You don't have time to eat three healthy meals a day, much less one with your family.
- You don't exercise.
- Your mail is piled up because you haven't had time to open it.
- Your to-do list is rarely checked off.
What free time?
Perhaps some of these situations describe you. If so, you are not alone. I surveyed more than 300 people about their busy schedules. Seventy percent of the parents said they don't spend enough time with their children; 80 percent of those who are married said they don't spend enough time with their spouse.
Busyness affects your friendships, too — 55 percent haven't had a friend over to their home in more than two months. And forget about vacation; nearly 60 percent haven't had a seven-day vacation in more than a year.
You can blame busyness on our fast-paced culture, demanding jobs and technology that consumes time, but the truth is that busyness won't stop until you decide to slow down and reconnect with the people and things that matter most.
Some choices are simple ones: making dinnertime a non-negotiable ritual in your home or taming your to-do list. Other choices are tougher: moving to a less expensive area so you can afford a less demanding job, for example. What could you do differently to slow down?
Taming my schedule
One morning several years ago, I recall thinking about how to get unstuck from my rut. My life was overloaded, yet there was always something more to do. I wanted a bit of divine inspiration to help me.
I prayed, then listened for God to say something like, "Valorie, don't worry. You're doing all the right things. Just be patient. Less stressful days are ahead." Confident that I was indeed doing "all the right things," what other message could there possibly be for me? I listened for an answer, and the one I got was not what I wanted to hear. One simple word kept coming to me: discipline.
Admittedly, my schedule was unruly. I managed to get a lot done, but with very little structure in my life, I was feeling scattered and ineffective. While I was not excited about embracing more discipline, I knew I needed a change. The key to discipline was aligning my daily actions with my priorities.
Five simple rules
Here are five simple ways I learned to be disciplined and intentional about reclaiming my schedule. Incorporate them into your life to put an end to unnecessary busyness.
- Learn to say no. No will empower you to bring your schedule under control. You have the right and the responsibility to decline activities that do not fit into your schedule or reflect your personal goals. What activities do you need to let go?
- Promise little, if anything at all! You may be tempted to tell people you'll do little things, but when life become hectic, it's far too easy to forget what you've promised. You'll have more integrity and less stress if you underpromise and overdeliver. Rather than saying you'll get something done tomorrow, say "by the end of the week." Then when you finish tomorrow, the other person is delighted and you've eliminated the stress of trying to meet an ambitious, self-imposed deadline.
- Set boundaries on your time. To keep your priorities, you must guard the time you set aside for them. Have "no technology" periods in which you turn off cell phones, TV and computers. Protect time with your family and friends. And if you're falling behind, block out a day or a few hours to stop and catch up.
- Don't feel pressured to respond immediately. When someone makes a request, don't feel compelled to give him or her an answer on the spot. "Let me think about that and get back to you" or "I'll let you know tomorrow [or next week, etc.]" will suffice. Especially if you're a people-pleaser, it is critical that you don't answer yes on the spot. You will often end up later regretting your commitment.
- Give yourself permission to complete tasks imperfectly. One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate then spend more time than necessary on some activities is their obsession with perfection. Live your God-given purpose with excellence, but resist the temptation to chase the elusive goal of perfection.
Too often, people live by accident, following whatever opportunities or requests cross their path. Without clearly defined priorities, it's hard to discern which choices are best and which are best left alone. Spend your time in a way that is meaningful for you and your family.