How to Know You’re Too Busy

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My book Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More comes out next month, and I’ve been asked by some people how to know if they should read the book. How do you know if you are too busy or getting tired in life? My response often is, “Well, if you are asking if you are too busy, you are probably too busy.”

But just in case, here are a few ways to know you’re too busy and need some Breathing Room:

1. What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row), and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.

2. Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, we spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30. I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.

This is counterintuitive to us because we think if we’re tired we should be able to fall asleep quickly, but that is often not the case. We have pushed ourselves so hard, our brains are not used to shutting off. We have pushed ourselves past 10pm on a regular basis, getting our “second wind,” that our body is accustomed to it. Getting back to a normal sleep pattern will take some time.

3. It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going; others are not. I’m not a morning person. But when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning: how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.

4. You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, and coworkers. Your reaction to situations does not match the situation. You get angry at small things or cry without knowing why.

5. You struggle to make simple decisions and find yourself paralyzed at making a choice. It is amazing how when we are tired and too busy, normal everyday decisions can become agonizing mountains that appear like we can’t get over them. Decisions become tiring and life altering. The mood swings we have when we make a decision we regret become huge mood swings. An example for me is I’ll struggle to know what to watch on TV, what I want to eat. As silly as that may sound, it is a sign I have not taken care of myself.

6. Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative, and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.

7. You have impulses to eat and drink, and you struggle to control them. You may also use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down, and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off,” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better,” you have a problem.

8. You think short-term instead of long-term. You can’t get past today or what is right in front of you, and you feel completely overwhelmed by it. All of the decisions you make are simply focused on right now, and you talk about “getting through the day” or “if we can just make it to bedtime” or “if only we can make it til the weekend.” What happens is this becomes our new normal, and everyday is about making it to the weekend or the next break where we simply collapse from exhaustion.

9. You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community. You are more irritable and have less courage. People are draining, and the only thing you want to do is be a bump on the log and watch TV. If you are an introvert, having fun with people, especially when you are tired, feels so taxing.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More. Click on the link to purchase it.