3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed

So often, people fail to work on developing a time management and goal-setting system simply because they feel overwhelmed. They feel like they are so far off track and have too many changes needing made that they just don’t know where to start. As a result, they don’t start anywhere and simply maintain the same dysfunctional system that got them to their current state of frustration.

Where to Start3-14-13 Where to start

Often, the answer is to simply just start. Just take a step forward. Yet, too often, the weight of perfectionism, too many choices or both prevents even that first step. Sometimes, setting big goals and getting your life organized simply seems insurmountable. When you feel this way, start the process of change by focusing on small changes that added together will make a huge difference over time.

The following tips can help you to start this small change process.

  1. Consider the extremes. Ask yourself what’s working well and what’s not working at all. Then look for ways to tweak what’s already working and to change with what is absolutely not working. Don’t worry about what falls in between.
  2. Get and stay teachable. This point has far reaching implications. Being teachable, or having the willingness to always learn and grow, is essential to a productive life. Within the context of goal setting and time management, being teachable involves a willingness to try different things. It means knowing that you can tweak what works and toss what doesn’t.
  3. Stick with what works. Or, at least with what kind of works. Really, something has to be working at least partly, or you’d be dead. You’ve got to be doing at least one thing right. When you’re already overwhelmed, trying to change everything at once just makes matters worse. Some changes can wait.
  4. Take the plunge. This means diving in with a new approach or method and being willing to experience failures. It means taking chances and continuing to do so until you find what works. Failure can be the greatest teacher, but we never know what will or won’t work until we give it a shot.
  5. Struggle through. Life will never be free from struggle. Not giving in, not being apathetic or complacent, not settling… that’s where the value in continuing to struggle exists.

If you make no other commitment today, commit to making your life a process of small change. Some days may involve huge leaps, while others will simply be successful when you don’t go backwards. Simply committing to lifting up your foot and taking a step starts the process of change.

When to Start

3-14-13 Start

Some people struggle with starting something new until every condition is perfect. Experience tells me this results in never starting. So, the perfect time to start is right now. Just one small step forward. Something. Anything. In order for small things to add up over time to make a huge difference, you have to be doing some small things. Choose one and start right now!

A Final Note

Know that person who seems to have it all together? She’s organized, in shape, and eats healthy. Her kids and husband seem content. You want to be just like her, right? Well, first realize that rarely are things as they appear. Secondly, know that being like her is impossible simply because you’re not her.

In other words, be you. Figure out the systems and approaches that work for you. Yes, they’ll be a combination of the approaches of others, but no two people have the exact same system for managing time and reaching goals.

For more on this, check out my guest post entitled The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method and its sequel Living in the Details: My Daily Plan at Christian Faith at Work. Then, check out Chris Patton’s articles entitled 3 Keys to Creating New Habits and The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! Not only will these give you some very different perspectives on goal setting and time management, they’ll help you more fully understand how we truly are all unique in our approaches to life.

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Trapped by Complexity

Simplicity is constantly under attack. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that we are trapped by complexity, which seems to be our default setting, and simplicity becomes the casualty as a barrage of complexity invades our lives.

Our hurried lifestyles and constant scurrying after progress certainly add complexity to life by giving too many choices too often.

How can we discover who we truly are and what makes us happy if we are constantly distracted by choices thrown at us by progress?

Yet progress is impossible to completely ward off, and we soon discover that we must simply and deliberately choose to not take it all in. Even the Amish, who represent a long-forgotten simplicity in life, live lives more complicated than they once were. Even though they don’t personally maintain them, the fact that the Amish are the focus of many web sites and are themselves a tourist attraction shows the impossibility of keeping progress at bay even when simplicity is a religious doctrine.

Interestingly, the Amish are such a draw because of their simplicity. Life used to only become complicated mostly by choice. Now, complexity happens to us at the speed of progress.

Where the Journey Began

simple-and-healthy-lunch-1317488-1278x912Teaching my boys that value of simplicity is a focus of mine. These lessons include a deliberate limiting of extra-curricular activities, a focusing of time and efforts on fewer and better quality activities, and a prioritizing of events and opportunities that constantly present themselves.

We’ve also incorporated simplicity into our eating. With about 20 meals that we cycle through, my guys love that they get their favorites often. Because they feel the quality of their meals are better since they regularly have their favorites, they more look forward to meals. We also find simple joy sharing these favorites regularly.

When I first began to deliberately simplify my life, I thought I was pursuing simplicity in order to be healthy and strong. My initial push for simplicity came after undiagnosed food allergies created an environment where depression, anxiety and illness thrived. This experience not only forced me to simplify my eating habits, but it also directed me toward a less-stressful and more fulfilling career.

At first, I was very unhappy at what I saw as a severely limiting diet. But the illnesses caused by my food allergies provided the necessarily motivation to pursue lifestyle change.

For the first year, I convinced myself that having multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, eggs, crabs and cashews) would cause misery for the rest of my life. I hated reading all the food labels, I quit going to my favorite restaurants, and I had to cook separate meals for myself. Oh, and allergen-friendly food is more expensive too.

Now, years later, adapting my diet feels quite natural, and I find that less food choices makes grocery shopping much easier. Plus, my husband and I no longer go through our usual back and forth “Where do you want to eat?” conversation when dining out. We basically have 3-4 choices most of the time, and choosing among those few is definitely much simpler than choosing among the myriad of options found in most cities.

So many people feel trapped by complexity. They feel hopeless because a way out keeps alluding them. At least, that’s how I felt when I just couldn’t climb out of the pit (turns out there is a labyrinth in the pit too). Yet, taking the first few deliberate steps toward simplification often starts the momentum needed to affect major change.

While I didn’t know what change needed to take place for me to be healthy, I kept looking and trying and adjusting. Eventually, I discovered many small changes that added up to make a huge difference for healing in my life.

Complexity pursues. Simplicity must be pursued. And while complexity will never cease to pursue, simplicity will begin to pursue as we allow room for it to do so by slowly pushing out the complex.

DISCUSSION: What is one area in your life you would like to simplify? What small steps could you take to begin that process?

Deciding to Pursue Simplicity

Simplicity for any individual is defined to a great extent by personality and temperament. Introverts, for example, in general tend to need slower-paced lives than do extroverts.

A person’s interests also direct what simplicity looks like to them. Just because someone else finds an activity relaxing, others may not find it to be so and may even discover that it adds a level of complexity that works to undermine their ability to discover a simple life.

For example, I tried scrapbooking but found the process too complicated with too many decisions to make and supplies to buy. My mind feels much more content with a simple photo album with dates of events written in the margin. For me, scrapbooking made life more complicated. For others, it’s a relaxing pastime.

Clothing is another example. I found myself constantly frustrated with trying to decide what to wear each day, and then I noticed I only wore about 20% of the clothing that I owned anyway. So, I systematically whittled my wardrobe down by over 40%. Yet, I have friends who love to try new trends and constantly mix up their wardrobes. They like to express themselves through their clothing.

Simplicity also pursues each individual in unique ways. For instance, significant foot (nerve entrapment) and back (slipped discs and spinal stenosis) problems along with Piriformis Syndrome limited my shoe options to only a few pair for a long time.

The limit came not from simple obedience to the doctor, either. The severe foot and ankle pain gave me the option of either wearing only those few pairs of shoes or not being able to walk. This is not a simplicity I had planned on or in any way pursued, but it definitely found me.

Small things quoteA principle of simplicity that seems inherently true regardless of the person is that small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. In other words, simplicity does not come through any one major event or leap. Rather, there exist a multitude of small changes and adjustments that together add up for big change and create a simpler life.

The combination of elements that create my simple life will look like no one else’s. But, the principles for achieving a simple life are essentially the same and involve one major decision… the decision to pursue simplicity.

DISCUSSION: What does a simple life look like to you? Have you made the decision to pursue simplicity?

Stain Free

While doing laundry one day, I pulled some clothes out of the washer and along with them, an ink pen. For some stupid reason, I pulled the cap off the pen, and some ink dripped on to my jeans… my favorite pair of jeans.

I would love to say one of my kids or my husband was the culprit, but I can’t. It was a Sharpie pen, and I’m the only one who uses them. In fact, no one else is allowed to use them because they are my writing pens.

With 10 minutes before needing to leave, I take off my jeans and work to get the ink stain out. I put a towel inside the jeans behind the stain, take a wet cloth with some dish soap and start scrubbing. I prayed too. Seriously… my favorite pair.

Thankfully, the stain came out. The ink actually soaked into the towel. If I hadn’t put the towel inside, the back of the jeans would have absorbed the stain.

This potentially devastating incident reminded me of salvation for several reasons.

First, my mistakes caused the stain.

I couldn’t blame anyone else. So often, we want to look for somewhere else to place blame. We try to avoid admitting we did anything wrong. This is pride. The stain on my jeans was my fault, just like I cannot blame anyone else for the sin in my life.

Second, without Jesus absorbing my stains, I would just experience them in another part of my life.

Had I not put the towel in the pant leg, I would either have had to scrub the other side of my jeans or given them up as lost. But the towel took on the stain and removed it from my jeans. Jesus does the same for us. He did it on the cross at Calvary. When we admit our sins and ask for forgiveness, he absorbs those sins, and we no longer have to bear their stain on our lives. Sure, there are consequences, but we certainly do not become useless. He washes us clean and makes us presentable again.

Third, acting quickly made all the difference.

If I hadn’t taken the time to get the stain out right away, the ink would have dried, and my favorite jeans would have become my work-around-the-house jeans. This equates to keeping short accounts in my spiritual life.

When we allow sin to remain in our lives, it becomes a permanent stain. Sure, Jesus removes it whenever we ask him to, but a stain’s imprint (the consequences) becomes more prominent the longer we allow it to remain in our lives.

The sooner we ask for forgiveness, the longer we get to live without that stain. That’s also less time for consequences to wreak havoc. Doesn’t mean we won’t have to live with any consequences, but certainly the impact lessens the sooner we repent.

Looking Back Lessons

Looking back on the inky jeans incident, I realize the stain resulted from my failure to think first. I just pulled off the cap. So often, sin happens because we don’t stop and think before acting. The incident also happened because I failed to take care of the pen in the first place. When we intentionally avoid situations that can lead to sin, more of our lives will remain stain-free.

Also, I am thankful that the pen fell out of the washer onto the floor and didn’t make its way into the dryer. Otherwise, a whole load of clothing may have gotten permanently stained. With temptation, God either gives us a way to bear it or a “way out.” (I Corinthians 10:13) It’s a matter of whether or not we take that way out and if we rely on Him when it’s presented to us. If we don’t, sin often results.

Everyday situations present us with opportunities to hear from God. Even an ink stain teaches us His truths. When we are open to hearing from Him at any time, we find that He works in the smallest details in some very powerful ways. And the small changes that He makes in our lives always add up to make a huge difference. In this case, victory over sin!