In the past week, I’ve had no fewer than 7 different people begin a conversation with me in this way:
“Jason, I know you’re really busy, but…”
Seriously. Seven different people.
This is cause for some serious reflection.
Apparently I’m putting off a vibe that says “This had better be important, because I’m awfully busy here.” That’s discouraging to me, because I find self-importance to be a particularly harmful — not to mention nauseating — personality trait.
It’s true, I stay pretty busy, but I don’t think I’m any more busy than anyone else. But if I’m putting off an inaccessible vibe, then clearly something needs to change. To that end, here are 10 practical suggestions to keep the idolatry of busyness from creeping further into my life. I submit these mostly as exhortations to myself:
- Commit to being fully present to the people in your life. We live distracted lives. How much “family time” is consumed with other competing interactions? Sometimes I need to turn off the cell phone and truly enjoy the company of the people around me. I sometimes wonder what our virtual world is costing us in terms of “flesh and blood” interaction. When you’re present with them, be present with them.
- Maintain eye contact. Not in the creepy “I’m-an-axe-murderer” kind of way, but in the “I-respect-you-as-a-person” way. There’s nothing that makes someone feel smaller than when you are looking past them. Consistent eye contact lets people know they have your undivided attention.
- Ask sincere questions. If you’re listening, you’ll always have questions. It shows that you’re not busy thinking of something else while I’m talking. Attentive, intentional listening is becoming a lost art for us.
- Seek solitude. Nothing keeps the idolatrous practice of busyness at bay like intentional quiet time. Carve out time for reflection; guard it religiously. In essence, practice the discipline of being less busy and see what happens.
- Read regularly. This one helps me tremendously, probably because reading is the most reflective practice I participate in regularly. But a devoted time for reading allows my mind to be caught up in something other than the hustle and bustle of my “to do” list.
- Discipline yourself regarding “time wasters”. We all have our favorite ways to kill a half hour: Facebook, Twitter, iPad apps, video games, etc. There’s nothing wrong with a little social media time — in fact, I do as much ministry via Facebook as I do any other media tool. But challenge yourself to put some parameters in place to restrict your activity in these time drains. Give yourself 10 minutes on FB and then get back to work. Instead of a “to do” list, come up with a “to don’t” list. You’ll come across as less busy when you’re more efficient with your time.
- Practice rest and recreation. Exercise. Go fishing. Get enough sleep. (In a recent leadership magazine, I read a line that said, in effect, “Tomorrow’s spiritual journey begins with tonight’s bedtime.”) These practices boldly close off the advances of work from your schedule.
- Call your friends. Just to say hello. I’m terrible at this, but it’s so important. This practice reminds us that our value is found in the depth of our relationships, not in the wide swath of our productivity. This is the seduction of the empire. But interactions with friends — sharing a laugh, sharing a meal — keep us from identifying our worth with our work.
- Stop saying “Yes”. I’ve written about this before, but I’m starting to think that it’s sinful to perpetually bite off more than I can handle. Now, in some ways, these are opportunities for God to step in and intervene, to help me do what I cannot do without Him. And while I acknowledge this, agreeing to do too much can often restrict us from fulfilling the Greatest Command, which is to love God with whole heart, whole soul, whole mind, and whole strength.
- Aim to be a “non-anxious presence” at work and at home. Even when you are busy, take time to breathe, to reflect calmness and understanding. Don’t feed people’s anxiety further by bringing yours to the table.