How to Deal with Being "Crazy Busy"

Image of Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem
by Kevin DeYoung
Crossway 2013
Paperback 128

I’m sure that every single reader of Sharper Iron has time management issues of some kind. We are all busy—and many are busy beyond juggling family, work, and ministry while trying to nurture one’s own physical and spiritual health and well-being. We are stressed, overwhelmed, and downright cranky. 

My story probably doesn’t sound much different from anyone else’s. I’ve been a stay-at-home homeschooling mom for over 20 years, caring for an elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, organizing activities at church, leading a homeschool support group, writing for my blog, and hey—let’s not forget handling registrations for Sharper Iron. I sometimes don’t know how I got it all done, and then sometimes I didn’t. The laundry piled up, we ordered pizza for dinner, and I figured floors were just supposed to look like that, ‘cause they are, you know, floors.

I thought it would get better when my mom moved out into a nursing facility, and two more kids graduated from our homeschool. But as any workaholic will tell you, we just find ways to fill those gaps. I took a part-time job as an administrative assistant at our local Chamber of Commerce, and started writing a book. 

Like all my friends, I’m trying to figure out what and how much I’m supposed to be doing. I know I need some perspective. So when I saw the book Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung in the clearance section at Half Price Books for $3 ($2.40 after my 20% off coupon), I grabbed it up. Another of DeYoung’s books, Just Do Somethinghad come along when my kids were trying to make some decisions about their futures, and it was incredibly helpful. So I was more than willing to give DeYoung’s perspective on busyness some of my reading time.

The book starts out with a sort of disclaimer; the author isn’t writing this as someone who has figured it out and is sharing the answer. Rather, the book is his exercise at working through his own issues of being Crazy Busy

We wake up most days not trying to serve, just trying to survive. (p.21)

I think it’s OK for this to happen occasionally, because there are times in our lives when emergencies of various kinds will overwhelm us. However, I’ve had too many mornings when I woke up thinking about how to get through the day so I could go back to bed because I spent half the night mentally going through my To Do List. That’s a life out of balance.

The outline of this 128-page book is simple: three dangers to avoid, seven diagnoses to consider, and one thing you must do.

This book is not about time management strategies; DeYoung is going for the heart issues out of which flow any and all of our sin problems, including busyness.

Busyness, of the kind that robs us of joy or feeds our ego, is not because our calendar is full and there’s no white space on our task lists. I think the author nails it when he describes some of the reasons most of us are overscheduled and overworked:

  • We are doing things God has not called us to do.
  • We are trying to please the people around us.
  • We are trying to control everything.
  • We are seeking attention.

I quickly recognized myself in some of these descriptions. I can admit I’ve fallen prey to the idea that I need to be doing a little bit of everything. My gifts are in the areas of teaching, administration, and helps, so anything that requires those characteristics (which describe just about every ministry in the church) I have volunteered for. It literally became a joke that when someone says the word “volunteer,” my hand will shoot up of its own accord.

I’m actually not a people-pleaser. I couldn’t care less what people think of me, but I know I’m supposed to (at least a little bit), so I tend to overcompensate in this area, trying to make sure I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings, because—

I am a control freak and a perfectionist. I just wish everyone would get out of my way because I can get it done better and faster by myself.

I can see how these elements of my character knock me out of balance. DeYoung points out that the person who gets left out of all this busyness is God. I acknowledge that I don’t often ask myself if what I am doing is not just a good thing, but the best thing I can do to honor God and be a blessing to those around me. 

I also see how my view of work (as in, I’m not happy if I’m not working) makes it difficult for me to relax and meditate. That whole “be still” thing just gets on my nerves. Can’t I listen to God while running the vacuum cleaner?

In case you are wondering, this book covers the effects of technology, and how it hasn’t made our lives more leisurely, as people 50-60 years ago imagined. Because of mobile technology and social media, it’s like we are constantly surrounded by billions of people who can tap on our shoulder at any time. Access to a 24-hour news cycle has made us, as the book describes, “compulsive nibblers of info snacks.”

And—our kids feel the effects of our frenzied lives. They experience ‘secondhand stress’ when we’ve allowed ourselves to be stretched too thin mentally and physically. Our lives are often not the example of a fulfilling, God-honoring life our children, or anyone under our leadership, should follow.

Crazy Busy concludes with probably the best Biblical example of the problem with busyness, and that’s the story in Luke 10 of Mary and Martha. I’ve always sympathized with Martha, probably because I’ve spent years in church kitchens making sure preachers could fill up on biscuits and gravy in between revival services. But no matter how you slice it, that’s choosing busyness over godliness. 

If you are struggling with a crazy busy life, I recommend this book. Not because it has a 5-Step Plan or sample schedules for you to follow, but because the author asks the kind of questions that help you get to the crux of the matter—your heart.

Format: Paperback
Page Count: 128
ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-3338-9
Size: 5.25 in x 8.0 in
Published: September 23, 2013
by Crossway
2583 reads

There are 4 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

Thanks for the review. Sounds like some good stuff I could benefit from reflecting further on.

For the most part, though, I'm not in a crazy busy phase of life. I tend to not start projects I don't feel I have enough time for.... which can result in getting less accomplished than maybe I could.

Coming out of the Christmas season, I'm reminded again that avoiding the crazy busy lifestyle is sometimes painful. People don't understand why I say "no" to so many things--and sometimes there is truly a high cost at a personal level if you draw a line somewhere and say "No I'm not getting more involved than this." But I continue to believe it's worth it.

That said, gettng priorities right is an ongoing struggle, to be sure. (One thing that helps me avoid crazy busy living is just remembering what that was like. I have no desire to go back to the days of being a full time student, a full time volunteer at church and working almost full time as well. It had its purpose at the time but as a way of life extending beyond a few intense years... that has no appeal whatsoever to me!)

Susan R's picture

I say "No" much more than I used to, but I feel like I have to be constantly vigilant when it comes to how I spend my time. There is seldom a truly idle moment, and 'down time' for me is spent reading--with a notebook, Post-Its, and pen in hand. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the shower, driving, and doing chores around the house. I have to force myself to just sit and think quietly, and even then I have to close my eyes or I will be looking around at something I need to clean, or put away, or repair. 

I appreciated that DeYoung sounded just like me, and reading about how he was working through the same problems and workaholic mindset was helpful. Our backgrounds and motivations are different, but the end result still looks the same.

I'm not as crazy busy as I used to be, but I'm still too busy to feel good about what I am doing. Although, I remember listening to Jon Acuff's Do Over, and he said something like 'the perfectionist's drug of choice is failure'. Nothing is ever good enough, so I have to adjust my expectations and be more realistic about what I can and can't do efficiently and effectively. The person I need to say "No" to the most is myself.

Aaron Blumer's picture

"The person I need to say "No" to the most is myself."

Excellent point. Same in my case.

Another painful aspect of it all is "opportunity cost anxiety." That is, I often have to decide to do A or B with a sense of dread that the opportunity for A might never return if I choose B and vise versa.

Then I have to take a calming breath, step back and lecture myself "You can only be one person. It's OK. Just choose and don't look back."

Susan R's picture

When my kids are trying to make a decision and they feel confused or ambivalent, I tell them they already have an answer in the form of "Wait" or "No". Most decisions aren't that time sensitive, and if the thing/opportunity goes away, I guarantee ten things will take its place.

Now if I could just stop being such a hypocrite and take my own advice!

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