If you ask twenty people how many hours per week is reasonable for a leader to work, you’d probably get twenty different answers. Researchers from the business world have proven time and again that once you hit forty-five hours in a week, productivity (for most normal human beings) falls off a cliff. Problem is, forty-five hours per week has said “bye-bye” to many of us a long time ago.
Sure, there are individuals whose capacity to work is amazingly high, seemingly without negative consequences to their health—but they are the exception. I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met in 50+ years who fit that ultra-high-capacity mold. Most of us normal mortals will turn into a pile of ashes if we try to keep up with them. Or at a minimum, get frustrated with ourselves when we regard them as the gold standard of work ethic.
I understand a leader’s week occasionally blows up unexpectedly, and 60-70 hours will be required to get through it. But if every week is blowing up on us and we’re working 60-70 hours every week, something is broken and needs to be fixed quickly.
This post is not advocating laziness. Laziness is unacceptable. It’s misguided to expect the world to hand you success without working diligently. But most of the leaders I cross paths with struggle with laziness’ evil twin: workaholism. These are the people I’m writing for today.
Here are four signs you may be too busy:
You don’t look forward to things you once found enjoyable
I love to write, teach, train, mentor, and consult. Most of the time, these activities don’t even seem like work. When I find myself not looking forward to them, it’s likely I’ve packed my schedule too tightly. When passion for your calling degrades, something’s up. So pay attention. A lack of juice is probably a signal you’ve been pushing too hard for too long. Slow down before you’re forced to.
You can’t remember the last time you had a legitimate day off
When I ask leaders what day they take off during the week, I’m often greeted by blank stares or uncomfortable mumbling. One leader told me over coffee he hadn’t taken a day off in four years. Thoughts like “Are you crazy?” “Do you think you’re the Messiah?” raced through my head. I ended up responding: “You might want to rethink that strategy.” Had we been closer personally, I would have used stronger words.
I get it—leadership tends to set itself up for busy. Even though I know better, there have been stretches where I’ve missed days off for several weeks in a row, only to have the Lord (and my wife) remind me what looms ahead of me if I don’t stop the irresponsible scheduling. Having experienced major depression a long time ago should be sufficient motivation to be careful calendar-wise, but occasionally I fall back into bad habits.
You’re constantly sick
A few years ago, I ran into a good friend at church, and casually asked him how he was doing. He replied, “I’ve been sick a lot.” When I asked him what “a lot” meant, he said, “76 days in the last year!” My friend is a thirty-something. He shouldn’t be sick 76 days in a calendar year. So, we scheduled breakfast to talk about what might be at the root of his physical issues.
If you’re constantly fighting the flu, sinus infections, headaches, etc., is it possible a contributor is an overstuffed calendar? Leaders tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in any given day or week. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up scheduling one draining event on top of another without enough recovery time in-between. And your body will begin to rebel. Pay attention to your body—it often tells you when you’re pushing too hard.
Your family feels neglected
If your spouse and children are consistently getting lost in the shuffle of your work calendar, you’re too busy. If your schedule is packed to the point where it’s hurting life at home, trouble is just around the corner. If you’re missing the majority of your kids’ sporting events, or dinners at home, or date nights with your beloved, you’re losing moments that can’t be recovered. Stop the madness before it’s too late. You can lose your ministry and still have a great life. If you lose your family, it will be much harder to have a great life, and you’ll likely lose your ministry anyway, at least for a season.
If after considering these four signs we determine we’re too busy, then what? What can we do about it? Here’s three ideas:
Be smarter about our schedule
Avoid piling one high-energy event on top of the other. Give yourself time to recover. Establish sensible annual, monthly, weekly, and even daily rhythms. It’s foolish to think we can knock off five major items from our to-do list every day of every week of every month. It won’t be long until what we love becomes what we dread.
Share our calendar with someone who loves us
Some Mondays I look at the week ahead, and ask myself: “What have I done?” Somehow, I’ve overestimated what I can do in a week. I need a third party to look at my calendar and hold me accountable to wiser scheduling. Preferably someone who loves me but isn’t afraid to tell me the truth.
Get to the root of our busy-ness
What’s broken on the inside that drives us to consistently bite off more than we can chew? Could it possibly be fear—the fear of not having enough? The fear of what other people think of our work ethic? Could it be an identity problem? Are we working for our identity instead of from our identity? Could our schedule craziness be rooted in a lack of trust? Is it possible deep down we don’t believe God will provide for us?
Here’s the bottom line: If we don’t manage our calendar, other people will manage it for us. I encourage you to get control over your schedule, or it will control you.
Would you like help figuring out how to produce a more livable schedule? If so, reach out to us here and let’s start a conversation.
I’m rooting and praying for you!