I love books. I’m constantly reading multiple books at a time and on the lookout for more. I’m not only interested in books, but the kinds of books publishers are being willing to publish. I’m looking for themes: What’s resonating with people and why? As a result, I follow publishing companies relatively closely.
One notable development in the publishing world over the past several years is the influx of books on busyness, often portrayed as a problem. Authors are trying to remedy overwhelmed readers. But busyness is not the root issue.
You might be truly overwhelmed and need more margin. You simply cannot take anything off your plate and must continue forward in working and raising kids despite personal fatigue. I recognize there are some people in these kinds of seasons. But this simply is not the case for every person who claims to be overwhelmed. Although busyness might be a fruit issue, it is not the root issue. And in order to truly help the overwhelmed, we must address the root causes of this fatigue epidemic. We need to address issues of distraction, fear of man, and a quest for significance.
You get paid for 40 hours of work a week. But do you work the entire time? The answer might be “no,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Few knowledge workers can work a literal eight-hour day without taking some kind of break. We need not be too dogmatic about this. In healthy vocational cultures, there will be opportunities to goof around, to take a longer team lunch break than usual, to come in late here and there. But our work should not be characterized by negligence. Often, we get paid for working eight hours in a day, but only actually work five hours because the other three were spent on distractions.
We work a little, then check Instagram. Work a little more, then browse Amazon. Back to Instagram to check our “likes” and “comments.” Work two more hours, back on social media. Work some, then take an inordinate amount of time getting coffee and using the restroom. Because of these distractions, when you get home, you fire up the laptop again to do some more work, disregarding your kids, then lament, “I’m so busy at work!”
Reasons abound for distractions, and many good time-management books have been written on the subject. 1 But we must confess that the reason why we are so easily distracted is because of the personal emptiness we feel inside, so we think that void can be filled with the dopamine hits we get from checking Twitter notifications. This is a satisfaction issue, a full-blown existential crisis.
If you constantly bemoan you are “so busy at work” but also check social media every hour, you are neglecting to see how your inability to focus is making you feel that you are busier than you actually are.
Fear of Man
We are told that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). To define the fear of man, we might say it’s both an inward disposition and external actions that are governed by an unhealthy concern about what humans might think or do to you. Or something like that. Descriptively, fear of man looks like people-pleasing. It’s being a yes man. It’s being controlled by how others perceive you. It’s needing the approval and affirmation of others. Fear of man happens when your view of man is bigger than God.
Have you ever considered that much of your busyness in life is the direct result of your inability to say “no”? And why can’t you say “no” besides the fear of man, because you are overly concerned about the opinion of others? So you say “yes” to every request that comes your way, end up doing way more than you should, and then feel completely overwhelmed.
As Christians, we should feel such security in light of our union with Christ that we say “no” when needed and believe the best in one another. Sure, there are times to load your schedule and serve even when you don’t feel like it. But we shouldn’t say “yes” to a request reflexively.
The Quest for Significance
You might be a high-achiever, the kind of person that gets a lot done and gets it done at a premium level. This is good. Every Christian should be a faithful steward who strives for excellence and competence in all areas of life. I grow weary of Christians who use the “grace” card to excuse their laziness. And yet, for some of us, the driving force behind our overwhelming schedules is guilt, shame, OCD, perfectionism, and seeking to justify our existence through personal accomplishments. Success and significance are not the same thing.
Addressing the Root Issues
So is busyness a problem? For some, yeah. But if we are really going to get the help we need, we need to address the deeper issues behind our busyness like a distraction, the fear of man, and the quest for significance. We need better character. We need self-control, self-discipline, and deeper understanding of who we are in Christ.
When we live out the implications of the gospel, wasting time on social media will not characterize our working hours. Knowing one day we’ll be judged by God for our actions (2 Corinthians 5:10), we’ll work hard to complete the good works God has planned for us to do. Knowing who we are in Christ, we won’t be so crippled by what others think, and we’ll find our ultimate joy and satisfaction as being children of God, not our personal achievements. Then and only then will we be productive without being on the brink of burnout.
- Cal Newport's Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is a good place to start. ↩