We are all busy. Some more than others, but for most people life seems like a blur. James, the half-brother of Jesus, addressed this issue nearly 2000 years ago when he asked the probing question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Even before cell phones, the Internet, and modern transportation people struggled with margin and schedules. Life is brief. Life is busy. Life is a blur. God wants us to make the most of our fleeting time.
When you consider this reality you can either cram as much as possible into your life and create stress, chaos, fatigue, and frustration, or you can do what James suggested and live on purpose. As a young man I bought into the belief that managing my time meant that I had to sleep less, get better organized, and work harder to please my taskmaster, the calendar. I thought that was the only way to squeeze every drop out of life. But the calendar lied. He deceived me while he slowly choked out my joy. He kept telling me that more is more. It is only when I discovered that less is more that I began to recover the joy and actually get more out of life and accomplish things that matter most.
Here are a few things that I learned about managing my life in a way that creates margin and allows me to enjoy life and accomplish the most important things:
You are too busy not to spend time with God every day. I think this has to be the first and most important commitment. Reading the Bible and praying each day is the one thing that will keep you centered and keep you from running off the rails. It helps you remember God’s grace in your life as he writes your story. It seems counterintuitive to the person with a crammed schedule, but it is necessary for the busy employee, the busy parent, and the busy entrepreneur. Spending time with God, whether in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening, is critical to your joy and success. It helps you live by grace rather than guilt.
One of the great challenges for busy people is how to find time to fit it all in. Being organized helps, but the key to finding margin is not finding a way to fit in more stuff but learning how to eliminate stuff. This is where learning to say no is critical. You must determine what is most important in your life and schedule that first. Many busy people want to spend time with God, go to church, serve, participate in a small group, and spend quality time with their family. They just haven’t learned to say no to things that keep them from doing it. Your peace and joy comes from what you say no to as much as what you say yes to. Committing to simplify your schedule creates the opportunity to live by a purpose. It is OK to say no. In fact it is necessary to live the kind of life that matters.
You must determine what is essential and pursue that wholeheartedly. The commitments you make must be meaningful, simple, and doable. I have often made the mistake of setting a goal or planning a schedule that was completely unreasonable. You must bring an intense focus to your planning. Decide what is most important and do that first. Everything else can wait.
Most people begin with the schedule first. They do not take time to ask hard questions or decide what is indispensible. Until you put God at the center of your day, commit to the essential, and learn the art of saying no you will fall victim to your schedule. Once you have made those critical decisions then you can approach the calendar with confidence and make it serve you rather than you serve it.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Living by God’s grace empowers even the busiest person to create margin and live joyfully.