Taming the Busyness Beast
by Kevin DeYoung
It’s taken me a while to see this, but now I do, and I absolutely believe it: we can’t serve others effectively without setting priorities. If I respond to every e-mail, show up at every possible meeting, and have coffee with every person asking for “just a few minutes,” I won’t have time to adequately prepare for my sermon. I may help several people during the week, but I won’t faithfully serve the many more who come on Sunday. If I attend every possible church function, I won’t be there for my son’s basketball game. Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.
This means, in addition to setting priorities, I must establish posteriorities. This is Peter Drucker’s word for the things that should be at the end (posterior) of our to-do list. These are the things we decide not to do for the sake of doing the things we ought to do. Making goals is not enough. We must establish what tasks and troubles we will not tackle at all.1
Several years ago my elders made a rule that I couldn’t do any more premarital counseling. They didn’t fear for my own marriage. They weren’t trying to “protect” me from interacting with people. I still am very involved in day-to-day pastoral ministry. They had simply concluded, with my input, that this was not the best use of my time. In order to have time for my priorities, they made this activity a posteriority for me.
One reason we never tame the busyness beast is because we are unwilling to kill anything. We rearrange our schedule and tighten up our breaks, but nothing improves because we haven’t pruned anything. We haven’t established what we won’t do any longer. Setting priorities is an expression of love for others and for God. “Unseized” time tends to flow toward our weakness, get swallowed up by dominant people, and surrender to the demands of emergencies.2 So unless God intends for us to serve only the loudest, neediest, most intimidating people, we need to plan ahead, set priorities, and serve more wisely so that we might serve more effectively.
And notice, the word is effective, not efficient. Caring for people is often wildly inefficient. People are messy, and if we are going to help them we will wade into a lot of time-consuming messes. God doesn’t expect his servants to all be type A, detail-oriented, Excel spreadsheet gurus. Efficiency is not the goal. But if Jesus is any example, God does expect us to say no to a whole lot of good things so that we can be freed up to say yes to the most important things he has for us.
1Drucker, Effective Executive (Harperbusiness Essentials, 2008).
2These three items come from Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1985), 74–79. MacDonald also includes a fourth item: unseized time gets invested in things that gain public acclamation.
Content taken from Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
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