I’m busy. I wake up with a to-do list in my head. I rarely ease into the day. I jump out of bed with things to do, and at the end of the day I’m usually disappointed with how much I accomplished. I can’t remember the last time my inbox and task list were empty.
I’m driven. I find myself checking my phone throughout the day, and I’m tempted to measure my worth by how much I do. When I go on vacation, it takes some time for me to slow down.
I’m probably a bit like you. We wear busy as a badge of honor. It’s become the new normal.
The New Default
Things weren’t always so busy. Not long ago, the separation between work and life was more defined. We didn’t carry computers in our pockets. We weren’t connected to workers in different time zones. Even the stores closed for a day each week.
According to Make Time, a new book by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, we’re busy by default. “Default means the way something works when you first start using it. It’s a preselected option, and if you don’t do something to change it, that default is what you get.” The new default is busy. Unless we take deliberate action, we’ll join what the authors call the Busy Bandwagon. Our cell phones will always be on. Work will encroach on our rest. “React to what’s in front of you. Be responsive. Fill your time, be efficient, and get more done. These are the default rules of the Busy Bandwagon.”
Unless you take action, we’ll default to busy every single time.
The Cost of Busy
It’s not like we’re not aware of the costs of being so busy. We sense that we’re racing through life. We feel like we’re on edge. Our relationships don’t get the attention that they need. We lack time for what matters most.
In the 1960s, well before smartphones and the Internet, Thomas Merton wrote:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence. The rush and pressures of modern life are a form of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, to succumb to violence … The frenzy of the activist … destroys our own inner capacity for peace.
It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
The cost of our busyness is high. Busyness robs us of the peace we were meant to enjoy.
Resetting the Default
I wish I could give a list of simple tips to eliminate busyness from your life. The truth is that I’d be lying. I still fight busyness every single day of my life.
We can take one intentional step, though, to reset our default. It’s an ancient practice that couldn’t be more timely. Given the pace of our lives, this suggestion will sound crazy. When I talk about it people look at me like I’ve lost my mind.
Take a day off from work each week.
No work. No laundry. No email. No obligations. Nothing but activities that renew and restore your soul, and that bring you closer to God and to others.
The ancient Biblical word for this practice is Sabbath. The Bible teaches that God made us for a rhythm of work and rest. One day in seven we’re supposed to cease work, engage in activities that refresh us, and find our identity not in what we do but who God is and how he sees us.
Taking this day each week is an act of rebellion against a culture that expects you to keep going. It’s one of the hardest and most rewarding things that I do. I can’t imagine life without it.
When I talk to people about Sabbath, they can’t imagine how it could be possible. They think that it could never work for them. This is an indication that busyness has become their default. The only solution is to take the radical step of breaking that default, and creating a new one. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it.
Take a Sabbath. Start this week. Fight to make it possible. The work will wait. You probably won’t enjoy this practice at first. But stay at it. Experiment with the practices that bring you the most joy. I don’t know of a better way to reset the default of busyness in our lives than to recover this ancient practice that’s essential for our souls.