“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Time is our most precious asset. It’s priceless. The wealthy can’t buy more. The poor can’t sell theirs. Everybody has the same amount of time in a day, and it magically starts over the next day. 24 hours. 1,440 minutes. Now if you minus 480 minutes of sleep that we all should get each night, this leaves each of us with about 960. Nine-hundred-and-sixty minutes! Do you realize what you could get done in 960 minutes? But not all of us use our time the way we should. And not all of us realize what steals our precious time away each day. It's time to wake up!
As believers, we must first acknowledge what the Bible says about being productive, and what it says about being lazy. We must be good stewards of our time as we seek to honor God in all things. God is the giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17), so this would include our time, and we need to be grateful and honor Him by using it wisely.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men... Colossians 3:23
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4
The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. Proverbs 21:25
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Proverbs 6:6
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. Proverbs 12:11
Many verses in Scripture call our attention to the importance of working hard, and its subsequent connection to wisdom. I could have listed many, many more, as I'm sure, you could, too. But what is God saying throughout His Word about this? The wise one pursues a good work ethic, knowing that He requires us to work hard, and the foolish one is lazy, lacks sense, and ultimately reaps the consequences. We must choose to be good workers, to be good stewards. That's our starting point. But even good stewards have things that are vying for their precious time every single day...
Everyone has a set of these that kick into high gear the minute feet hit the floor in the morning. They work extra hard all throughout the day to reduce our productivity, and for the most part, go undetected until bedtime.
But then there are those of us who face them head on, proactively addressing the necessity to shut them down even before they engage in any destructive behavior. This is a skill that needs to be learned. It's a skill we need to teach our children. And it's a skill that must be adopted and formed into a habit if we want to be as productive as we can possibly be.
You must remember the beautiful thing about habits that I mentioned in the intro to this series. Once habits are formed, they require less brain energy because they're automatic. So our goal, then, is to form habits of proactively beating the time grabbers before they beat us. But how can you defeat something if you don't know what it is? Well, then, our first job is to identify them.
Identifying the sneaky time grabbers in our lives is somewhat of a personal adventure, since we are all unique, with different schedules and demands on our time. But most of us share common time grabbers, so I will list the most obvious ones that seem to attack us all.
1- PROCRASTINATION & CLUTTER
"Clutter is delayed decisions." -Barbara Hemphill, professional organizer, speaker, author
Oh how true. Every single piece of paper you set aside in a pile is an act of procrastination, which then transforms into clutter. Every dish you stick in the sink instead of sticking in the dishwasher becomes sink clutter. Every email sitting unanswered in your inbox is a digital pile of clutter. Every time you say to somebody, "I'll call you later," or "I'll drop that off tomorrow," or "I don't know where to go to eat tonight, I'll choose later," this then becomes mind clutter. And every piece of trash sitting in your car is a deferred decision to toss out, and therefore becomes car clutter. Are you getting the picture? Our day is filled with decisions we need to make, and when we delay decisions over and over, we pile up the clutter and reduce our ability to produce the greatest amount of work in the smallest amount of time.
Clutter zaps our brain power, our attention, and our productivity by adding unneeded stress, which then causes our brains to slow down while processing information. We are taught by professional organizers to only keep the things we love, need, and use, but we end up making piles of the uncategorized things to decide on "tomorrow." Our attics are filled with delayed decisions. Our garages are piled with stacks of clutter. All to be decided on at a later date. Say hello to stress and goodbye to productivity.
Picture this. You have a deadline. Pressure is on. You walk into your office and find piles of delayed decisions on your desk. As much as you try to concentrate on the project at hand, your eye catches various glimpses of those pesky bills, unanswered correspondence, school papers needing to be filled out, and such, that are desperately needing your attention. You're unable to focus, as the pressure of clutter kills your optimum energy for productivity. Does this happen to you?
Or picture this. Your kids are going to be late for school. You're racing around the kitchen anxiously searching for the permission slip you need to sign. The bus is going to arrive on the corner, and if they miss it, this means you have to drive them 30 minutes to school. Why didn't you sign it the minute they showed it to you the other day? Oh yeah, you thought you'd handle it 'tomorrow.' Well, 'tomorrow' never came, and now you're facing an hour round trip morning drive. Hello, stress. Goodbye, lost hour of productive time.
Clutter is a big time grabber. It's simply setting something down with the intention of dealing with it later. If we eliminate the bad habit of delaying our decisions, we'll conquer the clutter. But conquering clutter is not a one time thing. Nope. I must say that again... CONQUERING CLUTTER IS NOT A ONE TIME THING. Clutter enters our lives each and every day, so we must create a lifelong habit of controlling it as it walks in the door, and then train our loved ones to do the same. When we unleash Simplify, you will learn how to handle clutter and never allow it to control you again.
Oh, the wonders of technology. For those of you old enough, it truly is amazing to compare our lives today with our lives way back when, isn't it? The organizational benefits that come from having a desktop, laptop, iPad, iWatch, and iPhone all connected, with storage in the cloud, has transformed the lives of people all over the world. (OK, confession time, we are a Mac family, so interpret that last sentence into PC language, if necessary). Access to any amount of information within seconds has allowed students and researchers to gain more knowledge in a fraction of the time pre-internet. The ability to quickly communicate via text or email to anybody in the world has catapulted the pony express into bygone days, while embracing the futuristic dreams created on The Jetsons. But all of this comes with a price, doesn't it? And for some, that price is steep.
If there ever was a productivity crusher, it just has to be technology. As much as technology has helped save time in many areas, if not used & controlled properly, technology can be an enormous time grabber. Between emails, texts, calls, notifications, games, a new TV series, direct messages, apps, reminders, and the like, the digital world is screaming for us to give it some of our time.
Most of us "are unaware that behind each app there is a team of developers, psychologists and gaming experts whose sole object is to steal your attention," says Belinda Parmar, former pro-tech, now tech-addiction campaigner. "The tech industry keeps promising to bring the world closer, but really their prime target is to take time away from us," she says, noting some companies, such as entertainment platform Netflix, don't even disguise it. According to the company's chief executive, Reed Hastings, their main competitor is "the pesky human need to close your eyes and sleep for a third of the day." (source) Can you believe that? Sleep is their main competitor!! No wonder people get addicted to coffee so they can wake their brains up in hopes of getting something done. I'm all for coffee, don't get me wrong, but as a cure-all for Netflix binge watching, um, no.
So just what causes the addiction? The connection between dopamine and social media is very fascinating to consider. What is dopamine? According to Psychology today,
"Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. Dopamine helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. It also enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them. Since dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasures and satisfaction as part of the reward system, the neurotransmitter also plays a part in addiction." (source)
Numerous studies have been done on how this affects us in our everyday lives. (Don't fall asleep on me, you must understand the importance of this!) Three of the four major dopamine "highways" are labeled as those associated with rewards, and release dopamine in various parts of the brain, shaping the activity found there. In the circumstance of addiction, these "highways" have proven to be dysfunctional. The neurotransmitters, the body's chemical messengers, become active when rewards are given or when a reward is anticipated.
Trevor Haynes, Research Technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School explains:
How do social media apps take advantage of this dopamine-driven learning strategy? Similar to slot machines, many apps implement a reward pattern optimized to keep you engaged as much as possible. Variable reward schedules were introduced by psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1930’s. In his experiments, he found that mice respond most frequently to reward-associated stimuli when the reward was administered after a varying number of responses, precluding the animal’s ability to predict when they would be rewarded. Humans are no different; if we perceive a reward to be delivered at random, and if checking for the reward comes at little cost, we end up checking habitually (e.g. gambling addiction). If you pay attention, you might find yourself checking your phone at the slightest feeling of boredom, purely out of habit. Programmers work very hard behind the screens to keep you doing exactly that. (source)
In case you are still not convinced, studies have proven a link between electronic media usage at night, sleep disturbance, and depressive symptoms. (source) Or, how about this? Have you ever sensed a vibration on your leg, or in your pocket, where your phone normally is––yet your phone isn't there? It actually has a name! It's called phantom phone sensations (PPS)––the false perception that one’s cell phone is ringing, vibrating, or blinking. (source) A few years ago, Bran used to experience this every now and then. That concerned him greatly, so he doesn't put the phone in his pocket anymore.
And, of course, we all have that one friend who means well, but who endlessly texts us with useless information that piles up in our brains, all during the time they know you're busy with work or school. You know the one. You get a text from her at all hours of the day or night that maybe says something like,
Whatcha doing? I just read a new Pinterest post I found on how to crochet a cover for toilet seats. You should check it out! (I know you don't crochet, but maybe for the sake of understanding what I am doing and am interested in, you can read it.) It's fascinating! It also has a corresponding video that shows each step, and it's only an hour long! Can you watch it soon? Maybe we could watch it together over FaceTime! That would be fun! Name the time! How does tonight sound?
It almost makes you want to change your number, right? But it's not just texts from other people that try to steal our time and attention. We can also be guilty of setting ourselves up for defeat. How many of you have set notifications that go off every time your favorite podcaster posts a new show? Or how about a notification when there's an earthquake, a new sale at Kohl's, or when your delivery guy drops off a package? These all steal your time and attention away from the task at hand. And when our brain gets halted during a time of productive creativity, that's classic 'time grabbing.' Even in little increments, time grabbing all adds up to a significant loss of productivity. We must kill this time grabber!
Unless we learn to control technology, we will become addicted to it, just like a drug. According to the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation,
Technology addiction can be defined as frequent and obsessive technology-related behavior increasingly practiced despite negative consequences to the user of the technology. (source)
And even more experts are realizing the addictive nature of technology evidenced by this: on May 25 of this year, the World Health Organization officially voted to adopt the latest edition of its International Classification of Diseases, or ICD, to include an entry on "gaming disorder" as a behavioral addiction. How's that for acknowledgement? But what about regular people like us––ones who don't really play the games, and who don't really feel like we're being controlled by screens, much less, addicted to it?
Well, according to Deloitte, a UK company, Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before, on average 52 times per day. (source) 52 times a day! Talk about a time grabber. And it's just so automatic. We grab our phones constantly to check replies, the weather, the views on a video we uploaded, the likes on a post, etc. And though we don't realize (or count) what this does to our productivity, the Washington Post sure calls it out...
"Adobe describes the problem with some pretty startling numbers. According to its data, which is sourced from a self-reported survey of more than 1,000 white-collar workers in the country, we spend an average of 4.1 hours checking our work email each day. That's 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, more than 47,000 hours over a career." (source)
Realizing the affect of technology on our time is the first step in conquering it. Getting you to cognitively assess its affect on your 960 daily allotment of minutes is crucial before we teach you how to proactively handle each and every bit of technology so it never again slows down your productivity. Simplify can help. Technology can and should be tamed!
3- EMOTIONAL ISSUES
The emotional baggage that each of us tend to carry around from time to time can weigh us down, steal our time, and ruin our productivity. Our minds can be preoccupied with envy, worry, blame, fear, anger, and many other things that are counterproductive, and frankly, outright sin. The prevailing issue seems to be satisfaction, or rather, dissatisfaction. When will we realize that we can never be satisfied with what the world has to offer? It’s impossible. Contentment is the beautiful result of trusting in an Almighty God who loves us, sent His Son to die for us, and offers us the free gift of salvation. How are we not satisfied again?
If you truly know Jesus Christ, and are following Him, you must remember that your identity is in HIM, which then means that you are no longer a slave to sin (Romans 6:6). You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Satisfaction comes in Jesus Christ, alone. We must learn to be content, which means to be satisfied with our current circumstances. (Psalm 73:25–26) But there is a difference between trying to be satisfied in our own accomplishments (which can never satisfy, by the way) and being satisfied in God’s provision for us. The former is the foundation of pride (where we rest in our own accomplishments), and the latter is the foundation of a grateful, satisfied heart. We are taught all throughout Scripture to be thankful in all things. And when we’re thankful for what God has done and for what He has provided for us, it’s pretty difficult to foster envy, worry, or fear in our hearts.
When we recognize that we are created to bring God glory, and in turn, live for Him, our souls are satisfied, and we lack nothing. Being dissatisfied in life is really a result of not understanding God’s sovereignty over all things, and accepting the good and the bad we endure. Jerry Bridges, author of Trusting God When Life Hurts puts it this way:
“That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.”