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The 8 Traps of Busy

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

by Dave Miller

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship shared 8 traps that rob us of a spacious life in God. We here at recognized the value and pass along our adapted version for all aspiring to not only a Godly life but servant Godly leadership. We want a strategic emphasis and habit that move all of us forward. We want to live lives of purpose and focus, rather than living busy to act like we have purpose.

There is no greater hindrance to our influence and effectiveness than our use of yes and no. The relationship of Commitment, Focus, and Consistency (CFC) + appropriate High Value Actions (HVAs) and movement towards desired outcomes requires an effective “No List.” Once my “Yes List” has been established, the discipline of my “No List” takes on an entirely new significance.

The 8 traps of busy below allow mission creep and drain our focus of clarity and intensity, precisely because we become undisciplined in our use of no.

1. We underestimate how long things take.

Our yes is our ownership of responsibility. Leaders of character know that commitment means just that, commitment. Therefore, we need to be realistic about the time required for any purpose or action to which we say yes. When an opportunity aligns with our “yes” it should match our CFC. The responsibility we volunteer will require the time of HVAs. As a general rule, add 50% to the amount of time you expect an action or project to require. Should you plan an hour to get it done? Plan 1.5 hours and you have room to focus, reduce rush, adapt to unexpected extensions, get it right the first time, AND if you finish early, gain margin.

2. We over-function.

Over-functioning is when we do too many things that aren't essential (even when we see them as necessary). I sometimes refer to this as the Messiah complex. When we are passionate about the change or project, we want others around us to be as passionate as we are, especially those of us who hold multiplication as a primary value. However, we cannot do everything, even when what we are working on is of great value and must be accomplished. Owning the problems, taking on the emotions, and hyper attention to the growth of others, with or without their invitation, can rob you of the capacity to engage the necessary act of good decision making. Draining your thinking, emptying your emotions, and tying your identity to the perceived gap in another’s performance neither facilitates your growth or theirs. Instead, we should consider our potency of contribution. In other words, become an excelling generous model-mentor who brings others along.

3. We get tempted by a wrong definition of success.

How you define success, will determine what rules your attention. Our true CFC drives our yes list. When you begin to see separation between your activities and your CFC, you are noticing the gap between your stated CFC and your true desires. What do you really want? That is what you will consistently say no for.

Most people are passive and don’t like to say no, but every time you let someone else determine your yes, you are sacrificing what you really want. In other words, you say no.

JR Woodward in The Scandal of Leadership asserts that a leaders identity and telos, or what they are becoming (the true end goal of their leadership) significantly informs a leaders practice. But there is encouragement to knowing that discipline and habits guided by a right definition of success can also significantly inform our identity and end goals. Wrong definitions of success can derail the all important habits, BUT right habits can clarify and solidify our identity and right definitions of success.

4. We say “yes” too quickly to requests and opportunities.

Ask yourself why you say yes too quickly. Need to please others? Over-functioning from impatience? Pride? Insecurity in your own identity? Whatever the reason, our greatest tool to becoming a potent contributor is saying yes in the most effective ways and at the most effective times, based upon our limited time and abilities. Just remember, every time you say “yes” you are by very definition saying “no” because of those limitations. Too many “yes” and you lose your ability to choose. All margin will be lost. The space you need will be filled with busy. The loser will be you and your CFC.

5. We are unclear about our main assignment from God.

When, as a follower of Jesus, you look at the opportunities and needs this broken world presents from the view of our Father, there is no end to the work. Let it be said clearly, when everything becomes your mission, nothing is. You are a contributor. The potency of your contribution is the real model of faithfulness that draws others into practice. Another way of saying this idea: When others see you committed to your yes, they will see the impact their yes could have. Herein lies the power of multiplication.

We want to develop leaders, who follow Jesus. We do not want to simply develop our own followers. This simple paradigm shift allows us to impact other CFCs, not by taking charge, but by mentoring, coaching, and co-laboring. Followers require programs, events, and shows fitting their desires to stay interested. All take your time. All rob you of margin. All rob you of effective focus, habits, and right decision making. Who are you? Your identity significantly informs your practice.

6. We treat the temptation of greed lightly.

#6 is a gut check. The truth for most aspiring and successful leaders is to be seen and understood as such. The want for more admiration, influence, and resources drives our busyness way more than our stated business. In our culture, busyness can be used to communicate importance. Busy people are needed people. We then use this to our advantage as our greed for notoriety grows and grows. It should be said, that greed, like most poisonous sins, does not satisfy with more. Greed creates dissatisfaction with every grasp of jealousy. So, ironically, satisfaction comes from gratitude. Gratitude feeds contentment. Contentment is a pre-requisite to focus. When focus wains, and the ADHD of margin grows heavy in your heart, look closely for greed, you will find it lurks often in our ambition. Then unnecessary and unfocused activities called busyness ensue.

7. We stack appointments on top of each other.

There isn’t anything magical about #7. Just like #1 we underestimate how long things take, then fill our calendars with activity. When those activities are scheduled, they often are strategic and fool us into thinking that more is better. Then, like the old racing games of my childhood, we spend the day chasing the ghost car in front of us just never really able to catch up. Then, those strategic relationships, important connections, cross-pollinating ideas, and valuable questions aren’t allowed to take root and grow. They go as quick as they came. Our busy has sabotaged our intent.

Margin between people allows us to take inventory, filter for the golden nuggets, note connections, and find pathways for new ideas we know will make a difference. You need time to think. You need time to process for the important appointments to make a difference. And on a practical note: The person in front of you… They know if they matter to you. It is hard to give proper attention when your mind is on the shadow car you know is rounding the calendar corner without you.

8. We forget that busyness and hurry are among the greatest enemies of spirituality.

We desire catalytic leaders of conviction, character, and action that last. There will be no objective conviction and there will be no proven character without time in the Word and with our Lord. We by nature are fickle creatures prone to fear and contradiction. We need the steady teaching, correcting, reproof, and rebuke of Jesus to become leaders who last while staying true to conviction and living out right character. Those take time, patience, intentionality, and habitual focus. The #1 on our yes list. Busyness will take your time, and when it does, you are saying no to the one relationship that forges your identity, practice, and end goal with the right precision.

Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) What will you say yes to, so you will know what to say no to? Here is my encouragement:

  • Write down no more than 5 priorities and make a “Yes List”

  • Then, take inventory of where you spend your time for a week.

  • After list anything that doesn’t fit the “Yes List” and make it a “No List”

  • Stop the trap of busyness one no at a time.

Until there’s #NoPlaceLeft


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