Why I’m Not Busy & You Shouldn’t be Either

funny businessman with wall clock on gray background

I’m not busy.

Mainly because I all but refuse to use that word in description of my status. I may say, “It’s peak loading time right now,” or “It’s a little stressful, but I am managing through it.” That may seem like just semantics, but in my mind, it’s more than that.

Living in a continuous state of busyness reflects poor stewardship of time. It reflects an inability to prioritize. I get that sometimes no matter how well you steward and prioritize your time, you’re still busy. I’m in the same boat. But I’m talking about excessive busyness. I’m talking about feeling busy most days of the week. About the mentality that people like to wear on their sleeve as a status symbol. I don’t think that type of busyness is healthy, and therefore I try to avoid it (and I have so much free time, I’m writing to tell you I think you should avoid it too).

Here are some reasons I’m not busy:

  1. I limit what I put on my calendar. This is a priority exercise. What’s the best use of my time? Some efforts of time are best, whereas others are just good. Determine value and calendar accordingly,
  2. I block time on my calendar to work on specific projects (and I don’t spend it catching up on emails).  Whenever I’m least pressed for time during the week (for me, Sunday afternoon), I view my week’s calendar and either do work or schedule time to do that work in the week. I head into Monday knowing I’m prepared for the week or have blocked time to prepare.
  3. I leave margin in my calendar for the unexpected. Scheduling to 80% is a good rule of thumb. This allows for me to respond to the urgent and unexpected. (I’ve blogged before on “Surviving the Unexpected Time Consumers”.) It allows me time to help those I serve alongside. This 20% margin time allows me to “grab five minutes,” or to adequately respond to my boss, or even quickly read those emails with the little annoying red exclamation point ‘!’ on them.
  4. I say “No.” I may not actually speak the word, but I’ve discovered ways to pass on opportunities and tasks that aren’t job critical.
  5. I continuously look for better ways to be efficient. For things I can’t say “no” to, I examine whether I can lessen my time commitment. Sometimes that means changing my philosophical approach to workflow, as explained in the book Essentialism, and sometimes I just adopt a work-hack I’ve seen. (I’ve listed a few of them, in a later paragraph.) If I see someone who stewards their time well, I ask them how they do it. Here’s some resources I’ve read recently, and in part, put into practice:
  1. I don’t compromise my time with God. I could spend a lot of words on this point, but suffice it to say, the time I spend with God in the mornings has a direct correlation to my effectiveness. I could use that time to complete more of my tasks, but I choose to wait to do them knowing I’ve brought them before God.

Best hacks I’m currently using, keeping me from being busy:

  • I add buffer to most meetings. If I think a meeting will take 45 minutes, I book an hour. The buffer isn’t in case the meeting runs late, it’s actually for me to deal with output from the meeting. If I can do any follow-up in that fifteen minutes, ( send an email based on meeting conversation, I do it then. If nothing else, I can file my notes from the meeting.

So that a new day’s emails and unplanned tasks don’t overwhelm my most productive time (for me, early mornings), I strive to end each day by leaving a project on my desk for the next morning – ideally,  an hour’s worth of work that doesn’t require a computer, or at least not email. This allows me to focus quality attention to an important task, when busyness rarely interferes.

It goes without saying, I sometimes violate everything I’ve written (including the last bullet). But typically I follow these, and despite a lot of people and things vying for my time, I’m able to say and believe, “I’m not too busy.”

But what does all this mean for you?

If you’re not doing one of the things numbered above, should you be? Would doing one of these not only relieve you of the semantics of being busy, but actually slow your life to a pace in which you can accomplish the most important work you have?

If you’re a person that likes to say, “I’m busy,” I encourage you to rethink this and evaluate why you’re attributing your value to living a frenetic life.

If you’re one who thrives on living in the “tyranny of the urgent,” I propose to you that it’s not sustainable, and warn that something is going to get missed. That’s the nature of urgency… urgent is rarely done beautifully… it’s messy.

And if you’re like a lot of people (including me) who can sometimes feel overwhelmed by their tasks, I suggest trying one or more from the list above. I hope they can make a difference.

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Who Should Own Your Self-Development?

beauty child at the blackboard

“No one cares more about your personal development than you do.” —Jenni Catron

It is your responsibility to develop yourself. God created you a pretty spectacular person, but in all areas of life, we need to grow. Some of this growth will occur organically. But it’s the other part that I’m talking about—the part that requires a purposeful effort.

Some of you (though not this writer) were born with helpful leadership genetics (tall, attractive, intelligent). However, no matter what was passed along to you genetically, or what your nurturing environment was like growing up, all high functioning leaders must focus on developing throughout their time of leadership.

Ah…self-development. Some loathe the phrase and its requirements, while others thrive on the concept.

Self-development is a significant part of the staff culture where I serve. There’s a high expectation to do it, and in order to help people grow, we provide resources of time and money to help them get it done.

I’ve written previously on our goal templates, our required leadership course, and the cost of “arriving in ministry” (thus, not pursuing improvement). But a recent chapter in Jenni Catron’s latest book, The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership, spurred me to think more about who needs to own the responsibility of self-development (or self-leadership).

In my role as executive pastor, many of the things related to self-development are things I pass along to staff. Some are suggested, while others are required. I can offer lunch and learns, seminary courses, trainings, books, and more, but ultimately, it’s the person’s decision to take advantage of them or not. If they don’t purposefully take advantage of them, then there will be nominal self-development.

There’s a responsibility on leaders to offer compelling self-development opportunities and at some level, the supportive margin and resources. But there’s also a responsibility on the learner.

Do you desire to develop who you are?

Catron’s words reminded me, “Your [our] leadership development is your [our] responsibility. Seize it.” She goes on to say, “Leadership development is not a right. It’s an opportunity and a privilege.”

A privilege? What?

Do you see self-development as a privilege? Do you talk about it that way? Or do you see it as another task someone is giving to you? How do those you lead interpret your view of self-development? Do they think you’re checking boxes and completing an obligation, or do they see you wholeheartedly behind it?

Let’s say you’re pro-development. Does your calendar show that you value self-development?

Many of us assume our development will happen organically—that through pure experience, we’ll develop. And that’s a fair assumption, but it’s not complete. A lack of purposeful self-development will equate to a lackluster leader.

We put a lid on our leadership capacity when we choose not to pursue development opportunities. Further, those we lead who are intentionally developing will close the leadership gap. And it won’t be long until we no longer have the leadership IQ to lead them to next level.

How will you get 3% better in leadership this year?

Do you have at least one predetermined goal? Or better yet, a fully fleshed out self-development plan? (If so, I’d love to see it. Email me.)

Take small, but purposeful steps to self-development.



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The Losses of Choosing Efficiency over Excellence

Excellence concept in a filament lightbulb.

There are people who can both be efficient and excellent in all things. I’m not one of those people.

For the rest of us, either efficiency or excellence becomes the leading edge by which you accomplish work, and the other, well, it lags behind.

My wiring has me leaning toward efficiency. I can’t help but think about how to make things efficient. Although I’ve never worked in the food industry, I’m always designing ways in my head for food industry workers to improve their efficiency (I rarely actually tell them my ideas, but when I do, my wife, with both efficiency and excellence, gives me the evil eye).

As leaders in the church, we want excellence in our pursuit of glorifying God. But we want to do that being efficient with the resources of people, time, and money God has given us to do the work. The resources we have are limited, and we want them to go as far as possible.

We want both excellence and efficiency, but usually one or the other is the clear winner. One tends to take precedent over the other (intentionally or unintentionally).

Which way do you lean?

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