26 January 2014

The Business of Busyness

During college, I started to believe that each person had a universal to-do list, and once that to-do list was completed, it was that person's "time". You know, to kick the bucket.

The reason I believed that is because college was the first time in my life I truly knew what it meant to be "busy" (but, oh! how quickly my naiveté about busyness was disabused once I started teaching...). I rarely ever watched television during college. Not because I was doing homework, though; I rarely did homework, either. No, it was mostly because I was so busy and dedicated to so many obligations and responsibilities I didn't have time for trivialities.

How busy was I? Try this on for size: 12 credit hours qualifies one as a full time-student. The first semester of my sophomore year at Doane, I took 26 credit hours. Add to the hours I spent in the classroom eight weekly rehearsals for band and choir, a theatre production here and there, leadership roles in Campus Crusade for Christ, committee chair responsibilities with Doane's Relay For Life (we were kind of a big deal), weekly Doane Ambassador tours to potential students as well as meetings, and a year of working nights as an RA (among other organizations to which I belonged that I'm blanking on), it's not much of a stretch to say I was busy.

Photo Courtesy: Brecht Vandenbroucke
I am not ashamed to say I suffered more than one mental breakdown during college. Based on my universal to-do list philosophy, those breakdowns at age 20 counted as "midlife crisis" because I was crossing so much off that list so quickly I wasn't going to live much past 36.

I am, however, ashamed to say that I took pride in how incredibly busy my schedule was. My calendar was so overwhelmingly packed with stuff, it became my identity. I clothed myself in such thick layers of responsibility and obligation that it was nearly impossible to be honest with myself or authentically connect with others.

And even as I sighed a slightly exasperated sigh and humbly accepted my lot in life in front of peers, professors, and directors, I loved every ounce of attention I got for how involved and busy I was.

In short, I was a major tool.
Photo Courtesy: diylol.com

This busyness lasted through my first four years of teaching, too. I thought I could maintain the 80+ hour work week I imposed upon myself, defiantly ignoring the countless warning signs around me. Sure, it cut into time I had to spend with my wife, friends, family, and time just for myself, but I am a teacher, after all, and have an entire summer to spend with them.

Progress in action: a portion of last week's to-do list
Photo Courtesy: Blake Tobey

Luckily, I have a wonderful spouse and faithful friends who are infinitely wiser than I.

This school year, it's been my personal goal to find that mythical concept of balance between being busy and being able to live a healthy life. While I haven't struck a completely balanced personal and professional life, I discovered something magical happens when I purposefully cut unnecessary busyness:

I'm happier.
I get fewer things done, but the things I accomplish are done well.
I'm connected with fewer people, but I'm more deeply connected with those still around.
Life has become beautiful.

I still firmly believe in the universal checklist philosophy for the quality and longevity of life.

Doing fewer things better won't necessarily add a few years onto my life in the end.

However, I do believe it will add more life to the years I have left.
Artwork Courtesy: Bill Watterson


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I believe you will be a great teacher whether you spend 80 hours a week on school work or 40 because your give it 100% when you are here.

  2. Thanks, Kelly! I appreciate it. I also appreciate your kindness in commiserating during the bad times and laughs during the good.