I did too much in 2012.
Taking stock of my schedule and activities last year, I’ve come to the conclusion I overextended myself. It wasn’t one specific commitment that was out-of-bounds, but the combination of things I took on. I assumed these activities would demand less time and attention than they did.
From the launch of The Gospel Project, to my Ph.D work, writing two books, blogging daily, and juggling speaking engagements (not to mention the time I need with family), last year left me feeling overwhelmed and at the brink of exhaustion.
In 2013, I scaled back speaking engagements and “extracurricular” stuff. And I’m already feeling the difference.
Avoid the Drain
Busyness drains you of creative potential and saps the energy you need for ministry. We all need boundaries. And we tend to be more effective when we focus on doing fewer things well.
Here are a few practices I’m implementing in 2013 as I seek to be a better steward of my time and health. I’m not an expert on this by any stretch, but these practices have been helpful.
1. Consider Input, Not Just Output
With the arrival of smart phones, we are never really “off.” Our work continues long after we leave the office. The information deluge threatens to wipe out any time for reflection.
If you’re going to maximize your effectiveness as a writer or preacher, you ought to be purposeful about what info is coming at you. Don’t let the internet determine what you put in your mind. Read, study, and browse strategically.
2. Beware of the Ping
In The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry warns against the Ping:
The Ping is that little sensation that occasionally prompts me to check my e-mail or my social media accounts. It’s the impulse to mindlessly surf news sites instead of doing something productive. And as my number of options grew (turns out there is an app for that), the pull of the Ping became ever more powerful. The Ping wants to be my master. It wants to own me.
Here’s what happens when you let the Ping have control:
It’s more and more difficult for me to be fully in one place, to focus on what’s in front of me. I’m losing the capacity to think deeply about whatever I’m experiencing because I tend to gravitate to whatever feeds the Ping.
I’m not advising you to get rid of technology. But surely we can set parameters at home and at work as to how much we’ll allow ourselves to be driven by instant email, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages.
You don’t need your iPhone at the dinner table. You really don’t.
3. Recognize the exponential increase of energy needed for new tasks.
It’s the “little things” that add up. I learned this the hard way. Even the short amount of time needed for certain responsibilities can create a disproportionate drain on your energy.
When an opportunity or a request comes your way, never examine it by itself. Always look at it in light of all your other responsibilities. Every commitment you make affects the other commitments you make.
4. Consider the Trade Off
Every commitment costs something. Are you willing to make the trade?
One of the things I do not regret about 2012 was prioritizing my son’s soccer games. I’ve never heard a father later in life say, “I wish I hadn’t been so present for my kids.”
I was recently invited to do a series of lectures at a Bible college. I hated to turn down the opportunity because of my love for teaching and interacting with students. But looking at my calendar, I quickly realized that I would have to give up significant time to prepare. Not to mention the time away from family during the summer. It wasn’t worth the trade. Maybe next time.
5. Work way out in advance.
The best way to maintain the mental energy for your job or in your ministry is to take the long view. Work ahead of time.
Procrastination is a creativity-killer. While you may work well under pressure of time constraints, you won’t be able to consistently offer your best work if you proceed this way.
The benefit of working in advance is letting stuff simmer on the “back burner.” You become more alert to ideas and stories to incorporate into your sermon, potential blog posts, etc.
What about you?
What are some ways you maintain productivity in the midst of a busy schedule?
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