I remember the day well. I wrote out my New Year’s resolution on an index card and hung it on my bathroom mirror: Be Less Busy! It was my one and only resolution that year. I knew I had to find a way to get off the crazy-busy hamster wheel.
My husband, Mark, and I had just come through the busiest season in our lives. We barely survived with our sanity, much less any feeling of peace. Mark and I have five sons, so you can imagine what our home is like! Just about every flat surface in our house is covered with books, Lego blocks, sports equipment, and, if I’m being honest, a little dog hair. Mark and I were both working full time, hosting a small group, and teaching on Sunday mornings. Mark even coached Pee Wee Football.
Everything we were doing was good, but all of it together was sucking all the life out of us. We were burned-out and unhappy, even though we were doing all the things we thought “good Christians” were supposed to do.
I didn’t know what to do, but I did know this: If I didn’t start breaking busy, busy would break me.
Warning Signs of Burnout
You may be shaking your head and chuckling to yourself, Yeah right, be less busy. How in the world can I be less busy? That’s exactly how I felt when I wrote my New Year’s resolution.
The next thing I did was identify the warning signs of burnout in my life so I could develop a plan. Read the following signs and see if any resonate with you.
1. You secretly feel resentful because of all your responsibilities.
We all want to be great wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. When you have a big heart and never risk disappointing others by saying no, you end up completely overwhelmed. If we hold ourselves up to a standard that isn’t humanly possible to attain, we set ourselves up for feelings of failure.
2. You don’t take care of your own needs and feel tired all the time.
Have you ever found yourself taking care of everyone else’s needs and putting yours last? I have! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made sure everyone around me was eating healthy while making coffee and a Snickers bar my go-to lunch—even though it made me a caffeine-crazed maniac by the end of the day.
3. You are too busy to spend time with God.
A huge sign that I am at risk of burning out is neglecting prayer because I need to dive straight into work. Busyness soon leads me to neglect my relationship with God altogether. God is our ultimate power source. We must stay connected to him, but our busy lives often cause us to be disconnected and disempowered.
I exhibited all three of these signs of burnout when I pronounced that I was going to break busy. I was too busy to think straight, and I knew I would need a solid plan if I was going to find that confident calm that I knew could exist.
Did any of these signs resonate with you? If so, here are three tips for getting your schedule under control.
1. Ask yourself when you have said yes but really wanted to say no.
There were so many things I was saying yes to because I thought that to be nice, to love others, and to make people like me I had to be constantly available. So I started my year by identifying all the things I had said yes to but knew I would resent having to do when the time came. Editing out the activities that were not essential to my family or my work came first.
Now I ask myself these questions when considering an invitation or opportunity:
● Do I have to do this?
● Is it crucial to my key responsibilities?
● Do I really want to do this?
If the answer to all three questions is no, I simply don’t do it. Guarding your calendar is a great place to begin breaking busy.
2. Make a stop-doing list.
I love lists. I have lists and more lists, and even lists of lists. I love the feeling that comes from crossing out items and checking off tasks. One of the lists I realized I needed to make was a stop-doing list. I’ve learned that busyness will creep back into my life if I’m not on the lookout for it, and my stop-doing list reminds me what I want to let go of permanently.
One of the things I put on my stop list was staying up late. I tend to be a night owl, and I told myself I needed my “me time,” but it was making me feel like I’d been hit by a truck the next morning. Morning Alli was getting the short end of Night Owl Alli’s bad choices. When I quit staying up for “me time,” I actually gained more time and energy.
3. Add activities that make you happy and reduce stress.
Breaking busy begins with reducing the number of things we do, but sometimes we need to add things that help us be who we were created to be. I learned that making time to take care of myself is a good investment for everyone who depends on me. My husband, my kids, and my coworkers all need me to be as healthy (and happy) as possible. Some of the key activities that refuel me are spending time in the Word, getting enough sleep, and taking a walk every day. When I feel my best, I’m better able to care for others.
Breaking busy is more than just time management. It involves managing priorities and energy as well. It’s crucial to live your life based on what is important rather than simply adding activities that sound good or fulfilling everyone’s needs but your own.
You don’t have to stay stuck on the hamster wheel, always running but getting nowhere. Break busy, and live the life God created you for.
Alli Worthington is the author of Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy (Zondervan, January 2016). A speaker, blogger, and the executive director of Propel Women, her goal is to help women live the life they were created to live. You can connect with Alli at AlliWorthington.com.