Last week, I hit a wall. Because of months of overlapping deadlines at work (web builds happening on top of magazine deadlines happening on top of the staff being short-handed), it had been about six weeks since I had a full day off. Sixteen- to 18-hour work days were becoming the norm, and I was fried.
Midday Thursday, without notice, I left the office and completely unplugged until Sunday night. No email, no internet, no responsibilities. I read in a quiet room, drove in a quiet car, prayed, thought, played some poker on my phone, wrote and more than anything, slept. I was intentional about unplugging—not checking Twitter, not checking Facebook and not watching much TV. It was like jumping into an icy lake after being in the sauna. The shock was good for my system.
I realized that not only was my workload suffocating me, but my life was filled with other distractions as well, and it was harming my relationships, my time with God and slowly sucking the life out of me without me realizing it. There has been noise everywhere I go. My office has a TV in it. My home office has two TVs in it. I carry two phones. My life is full of technology and distractions. When I hit the wall last week, I knew things had to change. I knew I had to change. And I had to be deliberate about it, because not only was it affecting me, but also those closest to me. So, I spent time with my wife talking about the problem, and how I could tangibly recalibrate to permanently break the cycle of busyness and noise in my life. So, here’s what I’m doing, starting immediately:
1. Making my work week an actual work week.
I run a company, doing work that I’m called to do and enjoy very much, so it’s easy, and many times necessary, for me to put in long hours. After all, the buck stops with me and whether we succeed or fail is ultimately on my shoulders. Plus, most of what I do I really enjoy. That duality has led me to filling my 8-hour day in the office with meetings (running the company), and then taking an 8-hour day of work home with me (projects I’m personally invested in). A version of that schedule has been my reality for as long as I can remember, but I’m changing things to try to stop that pattern. I met with our company’s leaders and told them what I’m thinking—and what it would tangibly look like, i.e., how it would affect them—and they support my decision to actually work a 40-hour work week from now on. Things will come up, of course, but the goal is to break the pattern of being "always on."
This means not working from home, if at all possible. And that might be a struggle because, again, I genuinely enjoy what I do. It will also require me to work differently during the day, being incredibly proactive and efficient while I’m at the office (we do have a lot going on, after all) so I really can close up shop at 6 with everyone else. I will be taking deliberate steps to create margins in my schedule and protect my time with my family; apparently, I need it just like everyone else. And you know what, I’m looking forward to it.
2. Unplugging the noise.
It’s so easy to get unintentionally distracted with the noise in our lives and lose the necessary recharging that happens in stillness. Sure, I’ll stay connected with friends via Twitter and Facebook still, but not as much. I’ll still watch the shows I like on TV, but the TV won’t be on 24 hours a day. I will be intentional to create more moments (and longer ones) of quiet, because in those I can hear God best.
3. Saying no to some ideas and goals (even good ones).
I’m never at a loss of things I want to do. I rarely fully enjoy where I am in life because I’m thinking about where I want to be next. The next building project, the next launch, the next, the next, the next. It’s something that motivates me, and the healthy version of that is something God instilled in me. But I need to realize the things He’s truly calling me to do will not fade away. It’s not up to me to work harder or longer to pull them off; it’s up to me to follow God and His timing. So, there are several things on the to-do list for this year that I’m simply removing. Good stuff, fun stuff, but not stuff that’s worth risking my health or the health of my relationships for.
I’m well aware these commitments, at times, are going to be a struggle for me. I realize now my addiction to distraction and busyness has been as strong as any alcoholic’s longing for liquor. I know my tendencies, and I’ve humbly and vulnerably asked those closest to me to help keep me accountable as I try to turn this corner. I’ve realized that if I want life to be different than it is, I have to take proactive steps to change it. I’m at the beginning of my journey.
I’d love to hear if any of you have had a similar struggle with busyness, or made the intentional choice to turn off the noise. How has it turned out for you?
Cameron Strang is the founder of RELEVANT Media Group.