From the January/February 2016 issue of Discern Magazine

The Busyness Trap

Are you frazzled by nonstop activities and never-ending pressures? Why is everyone so busy today? What can we do to reorient our lives to deal with busyness?

 “I’m sooo busy!”

“I have way too much on my plate right now!” “There aren’t enough hours in the day!” We’ve all heard these kinds of comments. We’ve all said them. Busyness, it seems, has become an endemic problem in our modern, fast-paced Western world.

We’ve got career ladders to climb, businesses to keep afloat, children to raise, classes to attend, appointments to keep, emails to answer, meetings to go to, errands to run, housework to do, and on and on. We’re swamped. We’re pressed for time. We frantically rush from one activity to another. There are so many things that need and take our attention, we don’t even stop to think about what our overloaded lifestyles are doing to us.

Being busy simply means having a great deal to do. Defined that way, busyness is not a totally new phenomenon. There have always been those who had a lot of work to do.

But today, as a society, we’ve taken busy to an entirely new level. We’re not just industrious; we’re insanely busy. It’s not only certain segments of society that are working more, but nearly everyone is. We’re not just putting in long work days; we constantly have multiple, even conflicting, demands on our time. Our schedules are chaotic. We feel pulled in too many directions and can’t help but feel frenzied, harried and stressed.

How we got to be so busy

Considering all of our modern conveniences, it’s ironic that we lead such hectic lives. But it’s because technology has allowed us to do our work faster and more efficiently that additional demands have been thrust upon us.

“Nowadays we’re expected to accomplish much more with our time,” says David Levy, Ph.D., professor at the School of Information at the University of Washington. In an attempt to get extra work done, we “multitask, always trying to do two or three things at the same time. So we may eat our fast-food lunch and conduct business calls while we’re driving or checking our email. Rarely do we focus our attention on just one task anymore.”

A big negative to all this multitasking, he adds, is that it is far more intellectually draining than single tasking.

There are other factors at play as well. Mobile devices allow employees to be reached anywhere, anytime. “We can’t get away from work anymore,” says Gabe Ignatow, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of North Texas who studies social change. “Even when we’re relaxing on the weekends, we’re often bombarded with emails, text messages and calls from the office.”

Other digital distractions—namely, social media—can make us feel even more inundated. “Many people feel like they have to keep up with the endless stream of Facebook, Twitter and other social media posts, so that consumes even more of our time,” Dr. Ignatow adds.

In terms of work, there’s the trend, particularly for managers and professionals, of staying late at the office and going in on weekends to get more done.

“Nowadays there’s this pressure that if we don’t work 50 to 60 hours a week, we’ll get laid off if our company is downsized,” observes Susan Mackey, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

In households with children, both parents are often employed outside the home. According to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics, more than 70 percent of mothers with kids under 18 are in the labor force, meaning they either have a job or are looking for one. By contrast, in 1960 only 20 percent of mothers worked outside the home.

With Mom employed, both parents have become busier. “Families are really overworked nowadays in the sense that they’ve turned the woman’s contribution from an at-home contribution to a money contribution, but the work at home still needs to be done,” states University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, Ph.D. Today’s mothers and fathers have to divvy up the work of stay-at-home mom between them and do that on top of their regular, paid jobs, she says.

When housework and child-care hours are added to time spent on jobs and commutes, Dr. Waite estimates many American fathers and mothers are each working 70-plus hours a week.

Further upping the ante, kids’ schedules have gotten busier. “Most middle-class parents have their children involved in all kinds of extracurricular activities,” Dr. Mackey says. “On weeknights and weekends, parents are often busy shuffling their kids’ games and practices. But that’s also when they need to be catching up on errands, housework and other chores.”

Not surprisingly, there’s very little time left for just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.

The casualties of busyness

Obviously, we need to work so we can pay our bills. Being reasonably busy can be healthy and satisfying. The problem is when we overdo it. If we spread ourselves too thin, we don’t get the rest we need, and our bodies aren’t able to refresh and recharge. We become stressed, uptight, irritable and worn-out. Being under constant stress puts us at increased risk for numerous health problems, including headaches, depression, sleep disorders, heart disease and digestive problems.

Our relationships also suffer. Having an overloaded schedule usually means there is little time and energy left for our families. Studies have shown that two-earner couples typically have less “focused time” together than households where only one spouse has a full-time job. When family members are together, it’s often when they’re racing out the door to go to soccer meets or appointments, or they’re at home watching TV together in silence—none of which serves to build family connections.

Friendships can be even harder to build and maintain. There might be time for quick catch-up chats with others after church or late-night Facebook messages, but not for uninterrupted, in-depth, sometimes heart-to-heart conversations. Yet these are the kinds of interactions that bond people (particularly women) together.

The most sobering possibility is that we neglect our relationship with God. To be close to Him requires the same things that are necessary in our relationships with other people: focused time and attention. This is accomplished through prayer, Bible study, fasting and reflection.

When we’re super busy, we may be tempted to let these things slide. But “when we’re not engaging in these essentials, we don’t grow spiritually,” says Andy Burnett, a minister with the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. “When we’re over-busy, we often cut back on sleep. So, even when we do make time for prayer, Bible study and reflection, we tend to fall asleep while attempting to do so.”

Finding a balance

Having a packed schedule in the 21st century may seem like a given. Still, we can and must slow down.

Start by taking an honest assessment of how you use your time. Mr. Burnett suggests couples sit down together and evaluate their schedules. Ask: Do we really need to work this much to survive? Can we cut down work hours so we’re not so busy? Are we prioritizing what is most important? Are there areas in our lives that are swallowing up large amounts of time that are really lower priorities?

Matthew 6:33 clearly states what our first priority should be: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” When we put God first, spending time with Him in daily prayer and Bible study, the other aspects of our lives fall into place. We’ll be more focused on what’s really important in life.

After our relationship with God, other top priorities are our marriages and families—including our church family.

“We make time for what we value most,” Mr. Burnett says. “If we truly value contact with God through prayer, study, reflection and occasional fasting, then we will make time for these things in our lives. If we truly value contact with family and fellow believers (fellowship), our spending time with them demonstrates such.”

While many in society value busyness, productivity and climbing the career ladder above all else, Christians cannot put these things above our relationships. Taking time out for a heartfelt conversation with a family member, having a leisurely visit with a lonely widow or going out for a long lunch with a friend who needs encouragement all have eternal value. God does not want us to be so busy that we do not have time to reach out to others.

God provides time for rest. Today, downtime is often seen as unproductive. But resting isn’t necessarily unproductive downtime. When we understand the implication of the Sabbath commandment, we see that God actually blesses us with a full day each week designed to keep our lives in balance by maintaining our focus on the most important priorities.

And even during the week it’s helpful to set aside time when nothing is planned, to relax, unwind or ponder. We function much better when we have elbow room built into our schedules.

Jesus Himself provides a model for rest. During His earthly ministry, He occasionally escaped the busyness of the crowds to renew His strength. He encouraged the disciples to do the same, inviting them to “rest a while” after returning from a long journey (Mark 6:31).

Also important is to cut back on activities that are unnecessary or time-wasters. We don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation, request or opportunity that comes our way—even if they’re constructive endeavors.

Television, video games and social media are obvious offenders. Mr. Burnett suggests families take a daily break from technology. “Our electronic devices serve as constant distractions, preventing us from engaging in conversations with those directly in front of us, conversations with God in prayer and study, and prolonged deep thought,” he says.

We must know where to draw the line and be willing to say “enough is enough.” That means going against the tide of this 21st-century, supersonic lifestyle. It’s the only way to beat the busyness trap, and it’s what we absolutely must do if we’re going to truly put God first in our lives.

About the Author

Becky Sweat

Becky Sweat is a freelance author and a member of the Church of God.

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