Over the past year, my wife and I have been building a house. We haven’t cut every board and hammered every nail, but we don’t have a general contractor and we are doing quite a few things ourselves, so it's a daunting project. Building this house is a tremendous blessing and I don’t want to be found complaining. But it has been really hard. “The House” has wrapped its tentacles around every portion of our lives. Every task and every decision snaking in and out of each day, each conversation, each thought. Date nights, family night, and dinner all planned around trips to Home Depot. Morning fair-wells, lunchtime hellos, and evening goodnights punctuated by questions, concerns, and updates about contractors and progress and costs. It’s a beast. I’ve found it threatening my effectiveness at home, at work, and at church.
As the demands have increased in recent months, I’ve found myself in casual conversations often bemoaning how busy I am. When people ask how I’m doing, I say things like, “I’m keeping my head above water!” or “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” These statements are accurate. It’s been pretty insane lately. Problem is, I find myself talking about how busy I am with some degree of self satisfaction. “Look at me, I’m so busy. Feel bad for me because my life is so crazy.”
Ironically, while working on the house a few nights ago I heard something in a podcast interview that challenged the pride I feel in being busy. Entrepreneur Derek Sivers was talking about the implications of being "too busy." It's not a particularly handsome quote, but it forced a shift in my perspective:
At first, I fought his claim, thinking that sometimes we I just have a lot to do and there is no way around it but that doesn’t mean I’m out ofcontrol. But there was some stinging truth there. Everyone has full control of how they spend their time. Minutes, hours, and days are the same length for each of us. Whatever we do with our time is (generally speaking) our choice. If we choose to take on so much that we find ourselves “too busy,” it’s on us. To say otherwise implies that we are at the whim of circumstances, what Lehi (and Elder Bednar) call "objects" to be acted upon rather than agents meant to act.
Everyone makes time for the things that matter most to them. No one must do anything, whatever we claim we "have to do" is simply a priority we insist on keeping. We also might be tempted to say that it’s hard to fit everything in, but the reality is, it’s impossible. We have to decide how we will spend our time, and then use our time based on those priorities. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught this in his famous talk Good, Better, Best.
I’ve learned as a bishop that I cannot do every single task outlined in the handbook and still fulfill my responsibilities at home and work. It’s not physically (or mentally) possible. This is also true of work and parenthood. We can't do it all! I believe this is by design, forcing us to prioritize and make choices. This in turn leads to growth and learning. In all areas of my life, I hope to be guided by King Benjamin’s counsel:
Here's the take home for me:
- Don't blame failures on a lack of time. If I fail to do something, own up to the fact that I had other priorities, whatever they were.
- Don’t complain (or brag) about being too busy. However I spend my time is my choice.
- Learn to say no. I can’t do it all. Just because something is a priority to someone else doesn't mean it has to be a priority to me.
- Prioritize “down time.” Like Count Rugen so aptly said it, “if you haven’t got your health then you haven’t got anything.” Things like exercise, relaxation, reading, date nights, etc. are easily pushed aside. This is a mistake. Wholesome recreation lubricates our lives and helps us to be more effective when we’re working “by the sweat of our brows.”
Thoughts? Please share in the comments. Thanks as always for reading. If you like what you read, share it with someone else who might benefit!