Sometimes “margin” and “balance” can seem like elusive and infuriatingly abstract ideals, but disciplines like striding, diligence, and essentialism help establish a healthy way forward.
How many times have you thought or heard, “I just need more hours in the day!” Surely if the day was designed with a few more, or even an eighth day in the week, we could actually accomplish all the things that we need and want to do. We would get that full eight hours of sleep each night. We would spend our first hour of the day with the Lord in Scripture and prayer. We would drive the speed limit to work. We would pause in the hallway to ask that employee how they’re really doing. We would refresh the company’s strategic plan. We would leave the office by 5 pm for our daughter’s volleyball game. We would put away our phones at the dinner table. And we would connect with our spouse one-on-one. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.
Yet the more likely outcome for many business leaders would be: We would still only get 5–6 hours of sleep. We would try to beat the traffic to work. We would squeeze in an extra meeting with that critical customer. We would take on that project that only we can do best. And we would expect our employees to do the same.
More hours in the day may seem like the solution to our time problem or our work-life balance. But even if our mythical easy button allowed us to delay the sunset, our human propensity for control, productivity, and advancement would still interfere. American culture has conditioned us to believe that high-performing and successful leaders—even the most responsible stewards—are the ones that put work first and everything else second, that work at least 50 hours a week, and that serve on some board or in another extracurricular capacity.
We can easily skip ahead to purpose and calling in Ephesians and gloss over order and creation in Genesis. But all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching (2 Tim.). To not conform to the world’s ways, we must renew our minds with God’s perfect and powerful design: the boundaries of day and night with a seventh day for rest, all of which He deemed very good. Each time we grumble about the time we’ve been given is an act of pride against the One who knows all our needs and provides us with exceedingly more.
How do you view time?
Consider the words of Christian professor Donald Whitney: “Time appears to be so plentiful that losing much of it seems inconsequential.… If people threw away their money as thoughtlessly as they throw away their time, we would think them insane. Yet time is infinitely more precious than money because money can’t buy time. Time would not be so precious if we never died. But since we are never more than a breath away from eternity, the way we use our time has eternal significance.”
Whitney’s wisdom reminds us that time is one of our most valuable assets. Daily requests, old habits, and busyness create a whirlwind of priorities competing for our time and attention. Peter Drucker observed, “Effective executives… do not start with their tasks, they start with their time.” Leaders must make some of the most difficult decisions, and time management is one of them.
Interestingly, the Latin root of the word decision means “to cut.” So, as we consider various options and make selections, we cut or reject the alternatives. Every commitment we make is a “yes” to one thing, while a “no” to another. The danger for leaders pulled in many worthwhile directions is spending our time on things we can do while severely neglecting what we must do.
Some of the foundational and essential activities for Christians and leaders include:
–relational joy with the Lord and others
–investment in the health of our mind, body, and soul
–intentional leadership of our organizations and teams
–solitude and rest for deep reflection, creative thought, and hearing God
Each of these in and of themselves is no small thing. And allocating our time appropriately so that each is accomplished can seem implausible.
Is work-life balance possible?
If we were to evaluate our lives against the list above, many of us might realize we make well-intended decisions with our time but we haven’t felt “balanced,” “intentional,” “reflective,” “joyful,” or “healthy” for some time. The idea of a balance between work and personal life is a growing conundrum for American workers. The lines of separation only became more blurred by the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on homes and workplaces across the globe.
We are facing a mental health crisis, and one of the keys to recovery will be ordering our lives according to God’s intent. He never meant for us to feel overwhelmed, depleted, or imbalanced, and Jesus never modeled that for us, either. No other leader has had greater responsibility than the man who came to fulfill the law, save sinners, and set captives free. Yet amid legitimate demands, the Gospels don’t describe Jesus as running around out of breath or out of time.
According to Michael Todd, lead pastor of Transformation Church, Jesus never reached His full potential, because He was focused on fulfilling His purpose. Todd calls Christians to imitate Jesus with a “pace of grace.” Rather than striving (using all of our energy to get to whatever we think is success in business, ministry, and life), he suggests striding, walking with long, decisive steps in a specific direction. What motivates you to rise in the morning? What burdens your heart? We should focus our efforts on our answers to questions like these but pursue them with a pace we can sustain—a pace set by God.
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Refer to the next part of this series to read more about keys to work-life balance.