by Emily Conrad
When I look back on the day, I sometimes feel I didn’t accomplish enough. It seems there is never a shortage of opportunities to contribute more with extra work, extra ministry time, extra chores. It’s tempting to say yes to these to somehow justify myself and my schedule. Maybe if I take on enough, I’ll be able to look back at my day and say, “See, I did enough today.”
It helps none that as a people-pleaser, I’m extra-susceptible to suggestions by others. Even their examples of taking on what appears to be more than what I feel is right for me pressure me to compete. If they can be involved in a church event three or four nights a week, why do I resist my 2.5 average?
Maybe I should do more. The idea haunts me until the ‘maybe’ drops right off.
And yet the idea of taking on more leaves me certain my reserves of time and attention are already maxed out.
So which is it? Am I doing too much or too little? How can I tell? How can you tell?
Deciding how much to take on and for which causes is a personal matter, but I’ve come up with a list of questions to help guide the process of building a schedule that works.
How is your health? Headaches, migraines, a racing heart, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or concentrating are all signs that something is off, and that something just might be your schedule. Of course, I’m not a doctor and cannot replace one, so get help if you need it.
If schedule-induced stress is beginning to affect your body, it’s time for a change. Look for commitments you can trim out, delegate, or obtain help to cover. Say no, and recharge so you can contribute in healthy ways in the future.
What have you cut out to maintain your current workload? Breaks? Relaxation on weekends or in the evening? Quality time with family or friends or Jesus? For me, I once found I’d cut out a hobby that’s really more of a calling in order to keep up with a job. When I just couldn’t reconcile the job with the calling, I eventually had to choose between the two. You can read that story here.
Now that I’m writing full-time, my work is always at hand, so I still have to monitor how I spend evenings and weekends. It’s hard to write when I’m not also living life from which to draw experiences, just like it’s hard to bring your best to any job when you’re burned out.
Do your closest loved ones (or maybe even your co-workers) comment on how much you work? Your closest loved ones are your inner circle for a reason. If they spy a problem, it’s time to take note. Being the one who’s in the office the most may say something about dedication, but those who leave on time while still turning in quality work prove that they can manage their time wisely and possibly work smarter rather than longer. Time-management and smarts? Those sound like excellent selling points on a resume.
Are you only saying yes to a task because you don’t trust other people? I chair a committee at church, but I got sick and didn’t sleep well the night before a meeting. I asked someone else to lead the meeting for me, but at the last minute, I considered going to the meeting after all. But I had already also cancelled fun plans for the next day because of the cold (so I wasn’t just trying to get out of the meeting) and the whole committee certainly didn’t need to come down with a cold just in time for our event on Saturday. So, I stayed away…guiltily.
When my sub went over everything they worked out at the meeting, I learned they’d gotten way more done than I’d planned to do. With that, I learned that though it’s good to contribute when I can, I’m also free to sit out when the situation warrants it. We’re a team for a reason, and I can (and should!) trust them.
How much time do you spend on habits that are unproductive? This includes tasks that could be delegated or that are duplicating work unnecessarily, as well as finding more effective ways to complete tasks that need to be on your plate. Maybe instead of throwing all that paperwork in a drawer, filing it could save you time when your boss comes around looking for that receipt you know is in there somewhere.
Also, look at downtime, because, it’s possible to “rest” in unproductive ways, too. If I’m working and am having trouble coming up with an idea, it’s easy to click over to social media and spend time scrolling. That doesn’t help me work—it’s not supposed to because it’s supposed to be a break, but the truth is, social media also doesn’t refresh me. It’s just a tool that helps me procrastinate away time that would be better spent elsewhere.
Are you using your special gifts? God’s given you talents for such a time as this. There may be seasons where you use one gift more than others, but take time to consider where your time will be best invested. Me? I’m much more useful volunteering in my church’s library once in a while than I’d ever be in the nursery.
Are you saying no to something you’re uniquely qualified for without praying about it? We’re instructed to pray without ceasing, and if we’re praying that much, should any schedule issue ever go without being brought to God? Um, no. Yet I’ve fallen into believing sometimes that God will give me a desire to do what He wants me to do without my even asking Him where I should spend my time.
For example, I’m a high school youth leader, and I enjoy it. However, when I chaperoned the lock in last year, I was tired for days afterward and wasn’t really sure my presence at the lock in had been important. This year, I really wanted to limit my commitment to the event by saying I could only do half the night, but my husband insisted we pray about it.
In the end, he and I both decided we’re able to be there, and I now see the night as an opportunity to build relationships with some of the girls—and youth ministry revolves around relationships.
Including this question, however, isn’t meant to turn all your ‘no’s’ into ‘yeses.’ Incidentally, I felt similarly about the summer mission trip and even after praying decided to say no to the trip. It seems this is a chance to trust that God will ensure they have all the leaders they need… or maybe He’ll ask me to revisit the decision again, but for now, the answer seems to be no.
Are you discrediting small steps toward big goals? Feeling as though you haven’t accomplished much in a day can lead to wanting to take on more. However, it takes a long time to write a book, grow a platform, train a puppy, raise a child, or make your first million. Most of that time passes without fanfare, and it’s easy to discount the day’s work because it didn’t involve a milestone. But that work does add up.
A few months ago, I decided I would save $75 out of each paycheck. I set it on auto and left it alone. When I visited the account recently, I was surprised to find that the small transfers had accumulated over $1000. Just like those deposits added up, so will the small-but-regular investments we contribute toward our biggest aspirations.
Our culture preaches more must be better, but failing to consider if this is really the case can leave us unhealthy, burned out, and ineffective. When we take on too much, we risk being unavailable when God does call us to action. Then again, we must show up and put in the time when He asks us to if we’re to fulfill the purpose for which He created us. I hope this list will help as you wrestle with your commitments.
What other questions might help with making healthy choices about how much to take on?