I’m a college professor, so my life is marked by the rhythms of the academic calendar. We gear up in August and January for 14 intense weeks, then we enjoy the slower pace of the winters and summers.
This past fall was especially busy. I had new classes to teach, a department to chair, plus other obligations too boring to recount. In addition, I taught a new class at my church for ten weeks in a row.
I’ve had busy seasons before, but this fall wrung me almost dry.
The Effects of Busyness
Looking back at the semester, I noticed one unpleasant effect of this busyness. At least in me, busyness aggravates self-centeredness.
As my to-do list filled beyond to-doing and my calendar crowded to standing room only, I focused more attention on myself than usual. I was concerned about my tasks, my meetings, and my responsibilities.
My time and attention were squeezed, like a half lemon giving up its juice. I felt mentally out of breath—my commitments seemed to rush at me, each one faster than the last. Though my days were full, the mental consequences of this busyness were more damaging than the shortage of time.
With my vision narrowed, I ignored critical areas of my life. I didn’t go beyond the bare minimum in my most important relationships.
- My prayer life was almost nonexistent.
- I scheduled no date nights with my wife.
- I didn’t spend much time in meaningful conversations with my daughters.
- I didn’t anticipate how I could bless others in my church, my neighborhood, or my wider circle of friends. I neglected all acts of proactive love.
Have you experienced anything like this? I doubt I’m alone when it comes to the detrimental effects of busyness on my heart.
Toward a Solution
This isn’t a healthy or sustainable state of affairs, so is there a solution to be found?
Answers are probably as different as the people asking the question. I’m still sorting through my thoughts on busyness, but here’s where I am now.
The main thing I’ve learned is this: the areas of our lives are all connected. The decisions I make regarding work affect my personal/home life. Family choices influence pressures on the job. The threads are all linked behind the screen.
Digesting this lesson of connectivity—perhaps obvious to many—is an important first step. But there must be practical changes if I want to avoid another semester like this past one. Here are some steps I’m trying to take moving forward.
First, I need to repent where appropriate. Though my situation may introduce temptations and pressures, it’s never an excuse for sin. If I’ve neglected my family and friends, I need to take this matter to God and to the people I’ve sinned against.1
Second, I need to remember my particular weaknesses, tendencies, and temptations. If extreme busyness tempts me toward selfishness, I must avoid that type of schedule whenever possible.
It’s helpful for me to review my weekly calendar ahead of time. If I know what’s coming up, I can adjust my expectations accordingly.
Finally, both at work and at home, I want to be present and take advantage of the time God has given me. At home, this consists mostly of building relationships and serving my family in practical ways. At work, there are three ways I’m trying to clear out some space on my calendar and in my brain.
- Say no. Especially at the beginning of my career, I felt pressure to agree to every request. I’ve gotten better at declining invitations, but I haven’t yet mastered the art of delicately ending the small conversations that eat up my day. I need to say “no” or at least “not now” more frequently.
- Build margin into the calendar. I’m feeling the effects of stress as much as busyness, so I need to make sure I have time to breathe during the day. Even a small step like scheduling at least 10–15 minutes between meetings can pay large dividends.
- Be less available (at times). I need to be accessible to my students. But this doesn’t mean I need to be available at all times. I’ve found that I’ll never get any long blocks of work time (necessary for grading, research, and class preparation) if I spend all day in my office with the door open. So, I’ve taken to stealing away to the school library or a local coffee shop for a few hours each week in an attempt to engage in deeper work. As a middle ground, I’ll also close my office door at times to work inside. The key is to communicate my availability as transparently as possible.
The times between academic semesters are valuable for me to take stock of what has happened and what’s to come. If your yearly rhythms don’t have this natural reflection time, I suggest adding it. Take a personal day, take advantage of a federal holiday, or just block off one day on a weekend.
As you think through your closest relationships and the opportunities you have (or the ones you want) to serve and love your neighbors, make sure your calendar and commitments aren’t working against you.