Everybody’s Busy

timewheel

I often vent here, but I try NOT to make it overt and directed, more veiled in my own challenges and weaknesses. Today, however, I’ve reached a bit of a frustration point with people who are “too busy” to slow down, or have fun, or be thoughtful about a project, or enjoy their life – even the work part of their life.

Everybody’s busy. I get it. What I don’t get is why that has to get in the way of enjoying life. There are VERY FEW jobs that are truly life and death. ER doctor, surgeon, airline pilot, maybe a firefighter or police officer on occasion. The rest of us are working at jobs that generate value for society or our company or ourselves, but we don’t have actual life and death hanging in the balance of our day to day. I’m not trying to minimize the importance of ANY job. I want my kids’ teachers to take their jobs seriously, and I appreciate the Duke Energy employees that keep the juice flowing to my house. My colleagues and I provide an important service to our clients by helping them advertise their businesses so they can be successful and support themselves and their employees. We’re all a part of a big economic machine and have to do our jobs to keep the machine running.

Yesterday, however, I was on the brink of confronting two different people about chilling out, so I thought it would be a lot more productive to share some thoughts on the topic here that might actually be a reminder to people who care instead of arguing with people who clearly don’t care. The first guy was sitting next to me on the plane on the way home. I saw him first in the terminal in Madison, WI, talking loudly on the phone about work while he also pecked away on his laptop. I have no idea what sort of business he was in – some sort of insurance. Of course, he ended up next to me in first class (I got upgraded, he’s very important so I’m sure he paid). He was on a call as he boarded the plane, leading him to act like a jerk to the gate agents, flight attendants, and all of his fellow passengers as we all boarded. As he talked, he looked at email and texted so I’m fairly certain he wasn’t exactly engaged with the client on the phone. This continued the ENTIRE FLIGHT. He never took his headphones off. When he couldn’t talk on the phone anymore, he switched over to music loud enough that I could hear it and continued to peck away. Even as we landed, having a beautiful view of Uptown Charlotte, he never rested his mind – played Candy Crush on his phone instead and didn’t even look up. I pitied this guy really. I pitied his clients and colleagues. Most importantly for me, it was a reminder to JUST SIT AND BE QUIET a few minutes every hour.

The second near confrontation came on the bus ride to our cars. As we were driving to the parking lot, one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in awhile was washing over Charlotte. It was every shade of red you can imagine. I just sat there and enjoyed it, then looked around the bus to see if anyone was sharing this with me. None of my 6 fellow passengers had a clue – every one of them had their eyes glued on their phones. I looked over to the woman next to me and she was very engaged with her Facebook feed. I leaned over and said quietly, “quite a sunset” and pointed out the window…she looked up for a second, said “uh huh,” and went right back to her phone. All I could do was smile; and I decided just to enjoy the sunset.

Life’s fast, I get it. But we don’t all have to be running at that same speed. We all have things that seem urgent and important in our lives and work. Nearly all of us are “busy.” Let’s just all remember to stop and enjoy the world going on around us and enjoy one another. Be engaged with whatever you are working on, whether personal or professional. We’ll all be happier and more productive in the process.

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Your Plate

Some mornings, I sit down at my desk to this:

empty-plate

An empty plate is not a bad thing. I can attest to the fact that starting a day or a week with an empty plate can be both invigorating and challenging (particularly for goal oriented people like me). It can be fun to have to really WORK to make things happen in your business and get things moving. On a personal level, having an empty plate for me usually means things are clicking along with my family, our finances, and friendships without much conflict or stress.

Empty plates can also cause me anxiety if they stay empty too long. Here’s where the danger comes for me – when I sit in front of an empty plate too long, I start to put things on it; often without considering if they go together or not. Pretty soon, I end up with this:

fullplate

As I start my week today, my plate looks a lot more like this mis-matched pile of goodness. Lots of great stuff on there to work through. For me today, I’ve got both personal and professional opportunity on my plate. I’ve got big potential changes for our family. I’ve got two huge projects wrapping up at work in the next month and two great opportunities to pitch this week. On top of that, I’ve piled on some extra work by teaching a college class this semester and we’re in the final planning stages of this year’s Jay Bilas Skills Camp. My gravy is dripping off the side!

A full plate can often be overwhelming. I’ve had nights where I wake up at 3am just thinking about everything that needs to be done. I’ve looked at “to do” lists on Monday that seem never-ending and just wanted to procrastinate it away. I have felt the stress of family and financial pressure pushing in all at the same time as the “gravy” of life spills over.

And this is what I’ve learned: The only way to clear the plate is one bite at a time. Furthermore, it is important to enjoy and savor every delicious bite. This week, as I sit here today staring at my plate, I’m going to slowly work through this full plate of responsibility, opportunity, fear, and possibility until it is cleared and I am satisfied that I’ve tasted each task or challenge to the fullest. And I’ll take my roll and wipe up every last drip of gravy that life has poured on top.

An Example of Busyness

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It is generally accepted that kids pretty much do what their parents model. This is the reason so many alcoholics had an addict for a parent, why people from broken homes are more likely to divorce, and why very generous, giving people often had parents who modeled philanthropy. That is why it scares me when I see parents modeling an example of busyness for their children.

I have so many friends who answer the question “what’s going on” with “BUSY!” What they usually mean is that their weekdays are filled with the demands of work, coming home to run kids to practices, slamming down some food real quick, running to a church committee meeting, sitting back down at their computer for another 4 hour shift of work, and falling asleep in their chair. Then, of course, they have to follow up that relaxing week by filling their weekend with travel sports, neighborhood events, more church meetings and socials, working on plans for their side business, and more work. I know this to be true because I’ve done it myself.

It is scientific fact that multi-tasking is not physically possible (http://www.livescience.com/37420-multitasking-brain-psychology.html). If you don’t have time to read the whole article, I’ll just pull out the quote that is most relevant here:

“Once you start to make things more complicated, things get messier, and as a result, there’s going to be interference with one or more of the tasks,” Meyer said. “Either you’re going to have to slow down on one of the tasks, or you’re going to start making mistakes.”

This is not only true for driving and talking on the phone. It is also true in our lives. Every time we add another responsibility, club, committee, work assignment, or kid’s activity to our lives it carves out a little bit from our personal and spiritual health, our marriage, our family, and our job. These things are already difficult, but when we take these little bits of time away from them, ‘either you’re going to have to slow down on one of the tasks, or you’re going to start making mistakes.’

What can we do about this? There is a lot of cultural pressure in this area, I know. We can SAY NO and be an example of balance and healthy state of mind for our kids. Yesterday, I was asked to become the Chair of my local chapter of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. This would have been a huge honor, and I was flattered. I have served on the board of the local chapter for 2 years and love the work we do. But I had to SAY NO. I had to say NO because it would have meant at least a couple of more meetings a month into my work week, juggling my already hectic work and travel schedule to make meetings a top priority, and responsibilities to lead a team that would have required additional attention in the evenings and on weekends.

I had to say NO because I’ve been down this road before and I’ve seen the consequences. I’ve seen what happens when I try to start a small business, teach a college class, serve on multiple committees at church, and volunteer for everything my local service organization throws at me. I did that for awhile and I started making mistakes. I started ignoring my marriage, over-extending the financial capabilities of my small business, not focusing on important things at work, and being absent from my kids’ lives. It didn’t take long for those mistakes to catch up to me.

So, I’ve protected my Saturday (see above). I’ve protected it so that I can model quietness, stillness, and aloneness to my kids. We’ll sit around and read, or play outside. Maybe we’ll go to the farmer’s market or on a bike ride. I’ll go for a run completely alone with no phone, no kids, no distractions and reflect on the week and give thanks for the peace. I’m certain my kids won’t miss any opportunities to earn a Division 1 scholarship because we say NO to busyness this weekend, and I hope they’ll grow up to be mindful and focused adults because they have seen me become a better model for them in those important disciplines.