“People are often so busy living they never stop to wonder why.” — Terri Pratchett
Do you feel like you never have enough time for everything you need to do? If you’re like most people, you struggle with busyness. You rush through your days and weeks, trying to pack just a few more things in. Your days fill up with work, meetings, social events, and friendships, before you jam grocery shopping and errands into the few remaining openings. Your life often feels like a hamster wheel; you’re doing more and more, but other than the occasional vacation, there never seems to be an end in sight.
So what can you do about busyness? Most people don’t want to be busy, it just happens slowly over time. They say yes to more work, another friendship, or a new opportunity, and after a few years they’re lives become hectic and stressful. No matter how much you get done, though, you still feel behind. But yet to not be busy feels irresponsible, like you’re wasting your life and your potential. So what should you do? How do you solve the problem of busyness in your life?
why you live in a busyness culture
Before you can solve your busyness problem, you have to understand why it happens. Lots of people try to attack their busyness, never understanding that busyness is only a symptom of their lifestyle, not the cause. If you ever want to change, you need to understand the two underlying cultural beliefs that create busyness in your life. They are:
1. The desire for unlimited progress: our culture fixates on the idea of progress, and the desire to always be moving forward. Think about when you are happiest; it’s almost always when you are getting things done, whether it’s at work, school, or just around the house. Progress, and its culmination, achievement, drive our society, from the high school student wanting to get better grades to the Fortune 500 CEO wanting to increase earnings.
Progress isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. God, after all, wants you to cultivate the gifts and resources He’s given you. But progress becomes a problem when you begin to believe in unlimited progress. When you think you’re entitled to unlimited progress, you’re never satisfied with what you’ve done, and feel like you should be getting more and more done.
When you expect unlimited progress, you’ll find it hard to ever stop, driving harder and harder to get more done. Our culture’s beliefs that there is no limit to the amount of progress you can make creates a never-satiated thirst for more, whether it’s to do more work, see more friends, or have more experiences.
2. An unlimited amount of opportunities: While ours is not the first culture to pursue unlimited progress, it’s added a new feature: unlimited opportunities. Due to the internet and globalization, the world appears like a never-ending place of opportunity. Get on instagram and you’ll be met with an unlimited number of people to meet, restaurants to try, jobs to do, and places to travel. Every you are presented with enough options, information, and opportunities to fill up ten lifetimes.
The perceived existence of an “infinite world” creates a pressure to experience it all. You feel the need to do more and more, all in an attempt to experience a greater percentage of the world. But the problem with this, is that the more you do, the more you realize how much you haven’t done. And so you get stuck in a never-ending cycle, the more you pursue opportunities, the more you realize you need to do more in order to experience all of them.
when these two combine
When you combine a desire for unlimited progress with an unlimited amount of opportunities, you create the unstemmed busyness that so many people struggle with. This is the root cause of the busyness problem. These two things, while independently and in moderation are good, feed off each other to create a high-strung drive to experience and do more and more. When you try to integrate a desire for unlimited progress and the availability of unlimited opportunities with your limited time and energy, you get the current busyness problem.
Given this tension, most people try to solve their busyness by increasing their efficiency. “If I could just get more done,” they think, then they wouldn’t feel so busy. So they ratchet up their effort, at work, at home, and in all of life. But in a world that desires unlimited progress and opportunities, the time saved by greater efficiency always gets used to pursue more things, rather than to ever stop being busy.
Think how many time-saving things have been introduced over the last 100 years: electricity, indoor plumbing, washing machines, dishwashers, computers, smartphones, and the million time saving things these advances bring. Our culture has adopted so much time-saving technology, but we’ve only gotten busier because we’ve never addressed our underlying appetites for unlimited progress and opportunity. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are, if you won’t stop trying to jam more things into your limited time and energy.
the right solution
Because of this, the answer to your busyness problem is not time-management, multi-tasking, or increased efficiency, but rather focus. Repeat after me: busyness is not a lack of time, but a lack of focus. Since every human has a limited amount of time and energy, you need to focus, limiting the amount of progress you attempt to make and the number of opportunities you pursue.
Limits! This sounds terrible to the modern mind. Limits sound like you’re giving up, like your accepting mediocrity and inferiority. But unless you focus on the few things that are most important, you’ll chase so many things you’ll never do any of them well.
Busyness is not a prerequisite to modern life, but rather a decision you choose to make when you refuse to focus. An unfocused life tries to pursue everything, which is an attempt at an unlimited life. You may get by for a while, but eventually, if you live above your limits, you’ll crash. Healthy people ignore our culture’s cries for unlimited progress and its fascination with unlimited opportunity, and instead focus on making steady progress on the opportunities you’ve been called to.
why busyness is actually laziness
See, at its heart, busyness is caused by laziness. No, not physical laziness, but mental laziness. Busy people are too mentally lazy to do the hard work of both figuring out what their priorities are, and then saying no when unimportant opportunities present themselves.
In order to live a meaningful and impactful life, you’ll have to cut out lots of good things, so that you can focus on the main thing. If you don’t, you’ll live a frantic and scattered life. People with no focus might appear at first like they are getting a lot done, but their inability to respect their limits and maintain one direction, prevent them from investing in one thing long enough to ever make a meaningful impact. If you try to do everything you’ll never have enough time, but if you pursue what God has created you for, you’ll realize life is just the right length.
The reason unfocused people never reach their long-term potential, is because of how much time and energy it takes to build deep friendships, valuable skills, and meaningful wisdom. If you ever want to solve your busyness problem, you have to admit you can make as much progress or experience as many opportunities as you’d like. Everyone overestimates how much they can do and experience in one lifetime, and busyness is the result. You need to admit you have limits, define your priorities, and focus your time and energy on these few things.
why you fight your limits
Admittedly, to do this is hard. Your heart hates limits and the focus it requires. Because of this, the only way to truly solve your busyness is to let the Gospel shape how your heart views our culture’s two unlimited desires:
1. Your desire for unlimited progress points to Christ’s work: when you pursue unlimited progress, it’s because you’re looking to create your identity from your own achievements. You have to work longer, harder, and make more progress than everyone else in order to be worthy of love. The Gospel says God loves you because Christ’s achievements have been given to you. When you rest in that, you can take a break from having to do more and more, because your identity in Christ is not based on how much you achieve in one lifetime.
2. Your desire for unlimited opportunities point to heaven: your pursuit of unlimited opportunities shows that your heart yearns for a world where time will never limit you, where you’ll be able to see and experience all of the things in the world. The Gospel says this is your heart desiring to be in heaven with God, where you’ll spend eternity with people from every tribe, nation, and language, experiencing the richness of every part of the whole world. This allows you to say no to things in this life, because you know you’ll be able to experience them for all eternity in the new heavens and earth.
so what now?
If you’re struggling with busyness, look at your life and find where you’re trying to do too much. When you find these areas, figure out if it’s because you are trying to use them to build an identity outside of Christ, or if you are forgetting that this life is short compared to the eternity with God that awaits.
If you let these two Gospel truths seep into your heart, it will allow you to embrace your God-given limits and learn to focus on the specific career, community, and opportunities He has called you to. While this won’t be easy, you can become content in your focus, knowing that God loves you regardless of how much you get done, and wants you to spend eternity with Him, experiencing every good thing that He’s created.
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