A Book and Two Bits About Busyness
My next writing project is a book on busyness. I meant to work on it this summer but ran out of time. Seriously.
I’m the best and worst person to write about busyness. It’s a problem in my life–one that I don’t throw out as some sort of humblebrag. I am genuinely trying to make sense of the busyness in my life. And judging by hundreds of personal conversations and observations, so are many other people.
Over the weekend at the Desiring God National Conference I had two thoughts about busyness, both prompted by something one of the other speakers said.
One came while listening to Ed Welch tell the story about a certain “Jane.” This Jane arrived to her first counseling appointment 45 minutes late and in a fluster. After promising to do better, she arrived just as late the second time. And the third time. And on and on. Jane didn’t mean to be late, just like she didn’t mean for her whole life to feel like an undisciplined failure. She had every intention to be on time and even planned carefully. But something would always come up. She’d stop to pray for someone or pull over to run an errand or say yes to a new request. Jane lived a priority-less life. Whatever was right in front of her became her number one priority. Welch called her a wonderful woman you’d never want to hire.
Jane seems like a mess, but her weakness is not all that strange. The degree of the problem may be unique, but the kind is certainly not. We all have trouble maintaining priorities. We tell ourselves that daily devotions, family time, and regular exercise are priorities, but they quickly get crowded out by other things we never meant to make so important. When my life feels out of control it’s usually because I’ve lived just like Jane. I plan well and have good intentions, but somewhere along the way I say yes to too many things and made the one thing I really needed to do impossible to be done (or at least done well). The inability to establish priorities is madness, which is why busyness feels so crazy.
The second thought came during a conversation with Fernando Ortega. As a big Fernando fan for many years, I was excited to be sitting next to him at our speaker’s dinner. In the course of conversation I learned that Fernando has a family connection in East Lansing. I quickly motioned to him that we should get together sometime when he’s in town. He liked that idea. Then I pressed a little further and suggested he lead worship for us some Sunday when he’s in Michigan. Fernando quickly and graciously demurred, explaining that he needed to be at his church on weekends and couldn’t lead worship in other churches.
I was not at all offended by his response. In fact, I respected him for letting me know it probably wouldn’t work. My tendency is to be overly accommodating when put on the spot like that. I was thankful that Fernando would know his priorities and not change them on a whim. I assured him that his response made perfect sense.
To conquer busyness we need not only to set priorities, but to respect that others must set them too. This means understanding when people say no. It sometimes means not asking in the first place. Obviously, we shouldn’t say no to everything. We should be inconvenienced at times. It’s not always wrong to press someone for a favorable response. But simply remembering that most everyone else feels as busy as you do could do a lot to help everyone’s feeling of busyness. Don’t always expect the lunch request to work or that you’ll get a reply to the “what-do-you-think?” email. Don’t be offended if your inquiry doesn’t go to the top of the pile. We all have priorities, and unless you’re God, none of us deserve to be the priority for everyone else all the time.
I still have a lot to learn about busyness, even more to put into place. But these two reminders are crucial: set priorities and let other people do the same.