2 Breakthroughs To Help You Get A Bit Un-Busy

Relaxed Calm Girl Smelling A Big FlowerIt’s 11 pm and you haven’t had 10 minutes to just… breathe.

You were supposed to work 45 hours a week but they expect 65. And you give it. Freely. But is it really free? Who pays?

And then there’s hockey practice. And dance. A mid term exam. Or a get together with friends that you really want to enjoy, but just can’t. The to-do list feels as heavy as a cement block around your neck.

Hallmark actually has a new card: “I wish I was there to tuck you in.” I realize that happens. But does it happen so much that millions of these cards get printed to address a new habit of behaviour?

We’re of 2 minds when it comes to being busy. On one hand we despise it.

But on the other hand, we secretly love it. We want to be busy—there’s a “good stress” threshold that propels us to be at our creative best. Plus, surely being busy means we’re needed. Right?

I also wonder whether we make ourselves busy because we’re uncertain about being alone with ourselves. Have we forgotten how to dream? To imagine? To play? To rest?

The dean of the undergraduate school at Harvard sent a letter to all the students titled “Slow Down.” He wrote, “Empty time is not a vacuum to be filled. It is the thing that enables the other things on your mind to be creatively rearranged, like the empty square in the 4 x 4 puzzle that makes it possible to move the other fifteen pieces around.”

I’ve been on a personal journey to get “un-busy.” It’s not easy in a world that says busyness equals value.  This week someone asked me if my week was super-busy. I said, ‘No, it’s pretty balanced.’ They looked at me transfixed with an awe-like disbelief as if to say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’

Here are 2 breakthroughs to help you get un-busy. They’re not new. But sometimes rust-free wisdom is staring us in the face, but we pass over it because it doesn’t glitter and glow.

1. Prioritize the important before the immediate

We’re often busy because we let the immediates of our day define our schedules. For example, you’re trying to get a report done, or plan a family outing… and you get an email or a Facebook notice. ‘Hmm, I’d better answer that.’ Or, the phone rings, or someone calls with a… (fill in the blank).

In a world where we’re incredibly available, especially with texting, smart phones and social media, the tyranny of the immediate can make us busy without us even knowing it. Next thing you know you’ve wasted 3 hours and you haven’t done anything significant with your morning.

2. Set clear life goals and work backwards

Setting life goals might sound like something for the hyper-organized. But it can help for anyone who finds themselves too busy.

What are your goals in life?

One of my overarching goals concerns my family. So one of the things I do is to work backwards through my month to ensure that what I’m doing contributes to that goal. Yes, that may sound a bit nerdy. But I’m willing to wear that. Why?

People would say that I’m a very “busy” person with a young family, an active congregation, and activities outside that congregation. But I have a very strong marriage and great relationship with my kids—we spend lots of time together and play and pray and learn and dream.

So, prioritize the important before the immediate. (That can take while to learn.) And set clear life goals, and work backwards into your schedule.

And yes, sometimes life brings unexpected requirements that fall outside these categories. Sure. But make those thoughtful detours not your modus operandi.

It’s hard to say no to things. But when you do, the quality of your Yes becomes wonderfully intensified.

In Robert Alter’s translation of Exodus 31: 17, God recalls creation to Moses and says that after making the world “He ceased and caught His breath.” Imagine that for a second. He—God—“ceased and caught his breath”… God! Picture that.

Seems like a good example to me.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel puts it like this: “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”

Let’s get a bit un-busy. For life. For living. For what we were made for.


  1. Great Post, Matthew. I’m in a time right now where the urgent and important seem to be colliding. I think there are just some seasons where you do get busy. The key for me, is making sure it remains as short a season as possible. I do get a bit of a break next week (and some warm weather!)


    1. Hi Matt, thanks for your thoughts. I hear you about the different seasons. One of my concerns is that we sometimes get used to the busyness and it becomes the new normal. Next thing you know we’re sprawled on the floor gasping for air. That said, have fun and relaxation on your break next week!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s