Escape from a Hurried Life

 

How to Escape from a Hurried Life

A friend and I talked one day about the perils of a hurried life and how hazardous it is to our souls. The more we considered how much a hurried life turns our souls into raisins and preps us to give beef jerky instead of steak to the people we love, the more we agreed, a hurried life is actually a toxic life.

Hurried is different than busy or demanding. You can carry lots of responsibility without being hurried. Hurried is: rushed, distracted, frantic, uncreative, non-present. In fact, hurried strikes me as the enemy of being fully present. It is a seductress that lures us into working alone and frantically faster. It is that state of anxiety where the next 4-5 things on your to-do list preoccupy your thoughts and make it hard to stay focused on the people or tasks of the moment.

The key to living in a different way is not primarily dictated by the quantity of things on your plate, but by how you live with that plate. Of course, it just might be that you have too much on your plate. If so, you’ll have to do some surgical downsizing.

If you are driven and compulsive and have your identity all wrapped up in your work, you probably have tougher issues that I can help with in this post. There are no ego strokes to be gained by living as a harried lunatic. However, I can tell you that, the leader who lives an unhurried and unharried life offers a beacon of hope to everyone who is buried by the endless demands of a 24/7 world.

If you are open to new ideas that might inject breathing space — the influx of fresh air — into your daily workload, I have four keys to help you get started.

#1 KEY = Linger in the Seams

The seams are those moments between appointments, that short breather right after putting one task to bed, the gap created by someone who is late, or the cup of coffee before opening your computer at the beginning of the day.

If you pay attention to them, you will find you have lots of little seams in the ebb and flow of your day. You have lots of little cracks in your day, just stop and linger in them. Embrace the shift without rushing forward. Take a walk. Don’t rush into the next thing. Take a moment to mentally and emotionally put to bed whatever you just finished doing. Before plowing forward, stop and reflect, “what matters most in the appointment or project that comes next?” And, while you are at it, pray for the person or project you are stepping away from as well as the one you are about to move into. The world will wait.

#2 KEY = Practice Being Fully Present with People

This is not hard. Every time you are with someone, adopt the posture of extreme curiosity. Ask them questions. See if you can discover something new to learn. Hold your tongue from delivering that witty repartee and instead seek to ferret out the complexities of emotions they face.

Being fully present with people will demolish the feeling of “another appointment” and take you into a life filled with meaningful relationships.

#3 KEY = Set Aside Time for Follow Up

It seems that every appointment or meeting I have requires some level of follow-up work afterward. It might just be entering a few notes into my computer for future reference. Or, it might be specific assignments that came during the course of the meeting. When I forget about this reality and don’t plan time to address the follow-up work that happens, I find that it jambs up my schedule and contributes to a feeling of hurriedness–too much work, too little time.

The solution is rather simple. When entering an appointment into my calendar, I simultaneously enter another block of time (usually 50% as long as the initial appointment) during which I can get the follow-up work completed. Once in a while I need longer than anticipated, but I am still way ahead of the game with much less schedule stress.

#4 KEY = Say NO to Something Everyday

I actually think that learning to say no is a leadership muscle that needs regular exercise in order to stay in shape. Try it. Say no to one request every day. Say no to an urgent “need” of someone who has a wonderful plan for your life. Say no to that temptation to squeeze in one more thing before wrapping things up for the day. Say no to a request to do something out of obligation that you honestly wouldn’t find much fun.

This tip may sound crazy or even selfish, but there is something powerful about exercising this muscle everyday. Try it. You have plenty of opportunities to say no to things you should never have said yes to. As you do, you will tangibly remind yourself that you are not a victim. Your life and your schedule is populated by your choices.

 

These are only four practices, I’d bet you have others.
What have you tried that actually works?
Make a comment, extend the conversation.

Besides, today is Memorial Day. Do something besides work.

Elasticity and Time for Reflection

Let me start with a confession. I love shooting rubber bands at people. I’m sure it started in elementary school when real weapons were off limits, but the truth is I still love that mischievous sensation of pulling a strand of rubber across my pistol-shaped hand and firing away.



And no, this post isn’t really about shooting rubber bands. It is about the connection between elasticity and what is required for leaders to have time and space for reflection.

Leaders get things done. They don’t merely mobilize others to accomplish great things, they know how to work hard and are willing to keep their head down to do whatever it takes. The only problem is, keep your nose to the grindstone too long, you get blood in your eyes.

The ability to lead with sustained creativity and clarity requires time and space for reflection. Get embroiled in micro-management, problem-solving, or personnel issues for too long and you’ll lose the perspective that is only possible with regular reflection.

That’s where elasticity comes in. Meaningful reflection requires two things: elastic time and elastic space.

ELASTIC TIME

Unconstrained, open-ended, or at least long enough to exhaust it’s potential. Elastic time gives you the freedom to read, write, create, or ponder without the pressure that you have to pack up and move on to other urgent stuff in a few minutes. It means you have the chance to explore rabbit trails, whether they numberswiki.com

yield anything productive or not. It can stretch and expand or contract as needed.

ELASTIC SPACE

Reflection by it’s nature is creative explorative stuff. It happens best in space that invites expansive thought and behavior. It happens better in overstuffed chairs and fireplaces living rooms than in cubicles. Reflection is nurtured when you have the ability to spread out, to have two different books open at the same time, or to draw and sketch out your ideas. In essence it is space that allows you to multi-task without constraints.

Here’s no surprise. Making time for reflection will never seem urgent. There will always be tasks and people demanding urgent attention, while reflection feels like a luxury. She waits patiently at the side of your day offering to infuse you with fresh ideas that will take you beyond the mundane demands of your normal rhythms. She breathes life and innovation and perspective into your day to day demands. Until you say yes, you will never know what could have been.

And, try to lead for long without the life-giving infusion of reflective thought and your rubber band will dry out — only to snap on you next time you aim at someone or something else.

So, let’s ask the obvious.

1. When is the last time you had elastic time and space for reflection?
2. Where and when could you rectify that situation?
3. How much longer can you survive with your nose at the grindstone?

Your Thoughts?  Experience?

CHANGE :: End of the 40/40 World

Not so long ago, I listened to a talk given by Alan Roxburgh where he described the end of what he called, the “40/40 world.”  I am not sure I agree with the exact timing of his observations, but I think his point is right on the mark. In my own words, the point is as follows…

For a generation or two we lived in a world where the average family had one parent who worked a forty-hour week for a company where they were employed forty years. In addition, most families were able to make it on the one income so that the other spouse could devote full-time attention to the job of household management and child-rearing. Among other things, this meant that when the working spouse returned home at the end of the day, the house was clean, kids were finished with homework, and dinner was on the way.

In this environment the American church refined its programs and rhythms. Because there was a reserve of energy available for evening activities, it was very common for active church families to spend four or five days a week in church based activities—Bible studies, committee meetings, choir practice, prayer meetings, mid-week suppers, children’s programs, vacation bible schools, etc.

That 40/40 world ended sometime near the end of the last millennium. It was replaced by a world where everyone essentially works as a consultant, a world where job security is only as good as the current project you are working on. It’s a world that requires people to put in however many hours it takes to get the job done. And, now both spouses work in this same environment replete with the anxiety, fatigue, and long hours that come with it. Families no longer have a reserve of time and energy available for multiple church or community activities. Volunteerism cannot be taken for granted.

Thus the leadership challenge. We can bemoan the loss of the older ways all we want to, but the reality is we live in a new world and must adapt to it. We must begin to own the fact that time and energy of our people are the most important resources of any organization. Understanding how the realities of this new day severely limit people’s time and energy is a starting point from which a leader can begin to effectively adjust plans and expectations.

The end of the 40/40 world calls for creative alternatives. Programs designed to serve people must be built on the principle of multi-usage, delivering value on multiple levels. The quantity of commitments expected of people needs to be downsized without value judgments. Every program, every commitment, every invitation must have a crystal articulated purpose and/or vision.  It will not work any longer to attempt enlisting people  out of  a sense of duty.

Leading in a world when people had active reserves of time and energy out of which they can serve was much easier than having to compete for diminishing availability. However, the reality is, that older world doesn’t exist anymore. And, when the world you live in changes, the way you lead must change as well.

Making Space for God?

It was a fairly simple comment embedded in the middle of my Pastor’s sermon last weekend, but it keeps nagging at me.

Speaking of lessons learned from a week of prayer and fasting at church, Todd said, “we are learning that if we create space for God, he will fill it. Our task is making space for him.” Most of us live crowded lives that travel at breakneck speed. Into those lives, we need to create space for our souls, space for God.

I have long taught that God is more eager to speak to us than we are to listen. But something about Todd’s comment takes me to a new level. Meeting with God is more about showing up and less about all the things I do when I get there. It is not about what I do to manage my “quiet time” rituals, but what I do to quiet the noise inside of me in order to listen.

Intellectually, this is an easy discussion. However, integrity means admitting that this is not an intellectual challenge. I recognize that this is a call to trust God’s pursuit of me more deeply than ever. It means releasing any internal pressure to “fill the space” and pay more attention to simply making the space.

You see, for most of my Christian training I have been taught methods for having a “Quiet Time,” for meeting with God, for studying Scripture, for prayer, etc. I have found a number of those methods to be radically significant. In fact, I have endeavored to teach others many of the tools and approaches that have been meaningful to me. However, I am not the manager of an appointment with the King of the Universe. By definition, he is the initiator and I am the responder. It is his agenda that matters. It is his voice that I need to hear.

OK, so are all the things I have done over the years wrong? No. Should they be scrapped? No. But just maybe, the greatest work I need to do is to make space. Maybe my energy needs to be focused less on the things I am going to do in my “quiet time” and more on the radical task of being quiet in his presence.

If I make space for him, HE will know how to fill it.