Defining Idleness & Laziness

lazyThe posts The Benefits of Time Travel and God’s Perspective on Time Travel talk about God’s view of time and how He wants us to view and value our time. Evaluating your stewardship of time is always valuable, and resources like Life of a Steward can help you do so consistently and effectively. Today’s post begins a series that addresses the value of time related to a struggle most people have occasionally and many have regularly.

Probably one of the most poignant and effective lenses for assessing time management involve idleness and laziness if for no other reason than because the Bible – especially Proverbs – addresses these topics frequently. (This repetition means they are important).  Idleness and laziness present serious mindsets that devalue time. Understanding the meanings behind laziness and idleness can help root out any areas in which we are poor stewards of our time through lazy and idle habits.

Laziness and idleness connect in many ways, and the Bible even uses idleness and laziness interchangeably at times. Take 1 Thessalonians 5:14, for example, where we are told to warn the lazy. The NLT uses lazy, the NIV idle, and the NASB unruly. Other words used include irresponsible (Holman), undisciplined (NET), wrongdoers (Aramaic), those not living right (God’s Word) and disorderly (ASV).

As our graphics for this series indicate, the dictionary provides similar definitions of both laziness and idleness.

idleThe Pulpit Commentary also explain laziness/idleness referring to them as “unruly” or “disorderly” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Pulpit explains that this scripture is a military reference expressing the character of soldiers refusing to keep rank. Instead, they neglected their common duties and basically abstained from working. These individuals broke ranks but still expected to be treated as if they were doing their duty.

Gill’s Exposition says these individuals busy themselves with other people’s matters and are contentious, quarrelsome, turbulent, headstrong and unruly. It goes on to say they also cause animosity and division. Think about the consequences that lazy and idleness have, especially in a military or war setting.

When considering the differences, idleness seems more deceptive because there can be the appearance of busyness with no real progress. Laziness, on the other hands, seems obvious and easier to identify because being slothful or a sluggard stands out.

Laziness also indicates a greater degree of idleness and is always held in contempt; no one ever thinks laziness is good. Even when I say “I’m just being lazy,” and it’s not a habit for me, I feel a sense of almost shame.

Laziness also seems worse because it happens by choice, while idleness can sometimes be due to circumstances. For example, a person can lose his job and be idle, and we can have an idle 5 minutes between one activity ending and another beginning with not enough time to start something new. Idle periods sometimes happen in our lives and not because of our own choices. Laziness always happens by choice.

The differences between idleness and laziness are subtle and perhaps unimportant. Once someone succumbs to either of them as a lifestyle, do the differences really matter? Yes, idle periods can happen apart from our efforts, but we ultimately choose an idle and lazy mindset.

Today’s post laid the groundwork by defining laziness and idleness, and the post, The Dangers of Idleness and Laziness, begins the journey of application by taking a deeper look at  the far-reaching impact of a lazy and idle lifestyle.

DISCUSSION: How does having a deeper meaning of laziness and idleness change how you think about them?

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Just Do What’s Next

3-19-13 Things to doWe all make our “to do” lists a bit differently, but the same basic premise exists behind them. Maybe you use a less structured process like the one I detailed in Living in the Details: My Daily Plan. Or, maybe you prefer a method like the The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! that Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work uses. Perhaps you prefer using a Master Task List approach like the one Michael Hyatt details in Before You Create a To Do List.

Regardless of the method you use, you’ve likely a lot to accomplish just like the rest of us. And maybe sometimes, maybe often, you simply don’t know where to begin. What tasks do you tackle first?

Setting priorities can be a struggle. So much, maybe everything, is equally important. So, where do you focus first?

When I taught at a community college, organization was crucial for juggling 4 classes and 80 students, and everything was very deadline oriented. As a result, I learned the importance of developing and then consistently applying the following 3 time management principles.

  1. 3-19-13 Long to do listRefuse to let being overwhelmed stop you. See my post Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed for more on how to develop a system even in the midst of being overwhelmed. We all have too much to do at some point, so learning to work through that is crucial to overall success and personal satisfaction.
  2. Do what’s next. Ask yourself, “When is the next due date?” For example, if I have to teach Sunday School on Sunday and have to write a post for the Thursday before, the post obviously comes first. You’ll still feel like you can’t get everything done at times, but eventually this “Do what’s next” state of mind creates an “I can only do what I can do” attitude that keeps you moving forward.
  3. Be ready with time fillers. Only have 5 minutes before the kids get home from school? That’s enough time to sweep the floor, switch laundry or empty the dishwasher. Have a list of items you can do during these in-between times. Instead of doing a mass house cleaning and getting all of these things done before moving on to other work, I integrate them into small times slots within my day. This transfers well into an office with things like making copies, editing a document, reading an article or answering an email as possible time fillers. I personally get more accomplished with this approach.

These principles probably seem painfully simple to some people, but they truly create a structure to help keep me focused and from being overwhelmed. Some people schedule and script their day more, but doing so never worked well for me. But, as I mentioned in The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method, the best system for managing time and reaching goals is whatever works for you.

So be encouraged! Keep trying different methods, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t. Steal ideas from others, knowing that your approach will be a combination of what others do and what you learn through trial and error.

And in those overwhelmed moments when you want to run and hide, say a little prayer, then “just do what’s next.” I literally say this phrase to myself, and this approach has kept me sane in the midst of chaos many times in the past 15 years.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for managing everything that needs done in a day?

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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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