I have a confession to make. Sometimes, when my phone rings, I ignore because I don’t want someone to ruin the plans I have for my day. Typically, I’m afraid that my kids’ preschool will be calling to announce my kids have caught the latest bug, and my schedule is obliterated.
Every time I hear the word “balance” used when describing how to manage our lives, I laugh a little on the inside. In my experience, I’m far too powerless when it comes to my life to pursue balance. As a father, I’m one phone call away from my kids’ preschool turning my day into chaos. As a husband, I’m always adjusting my actions to best serve and help my wife who also has a full-time job. As a pastor, I’m one crisis away from seeing my agenda change. Additionally, there are seasons where my work will swell beyond boundaries and then seasons where my personal life will swell beyond boundaries too.
Finding an Alternative to Balance
Several years ago, I began searching for a more personally helpful metaphor than balance. I now alternatively use two metaphors.
The first metaphor I’ve found helpful is rhythm. When you think of a song, there’s verses, choruses, and bridges. Each section has a different tempo, level of intensity and length. I resonated with this metaphor because I felt like it better described the “push hard” and “pull back” of life and work. For some of us, winter is our frenetic phase, while summer is slow and easy and vice versa.
The second metaphor I’ve found helpful is seasons. If you live in an area which experiences all four seasons, you know the drastic difference between winter, fall, spring, and summer. Here in Phoenix, where I live, we have two seasons – hot and not so hot. The unique angle of the seasons metaphor is that it highlights the value of each season. For my wife who grew up outside Buffalo, New York, the idea of indefinite weather is miserable. For me, a native of the deserts of Las Vegas and Phoenix, the idea of indefinite days of 120 degrees is suffocating. In the same way, any season of our lives is not designed to be sustained indefinitely.
The secret of applying these metaphors is found in the practices each of us applies regardless of season or rhythm. Many of us can be healthy and present within less busy or intense season. Yet, when we’re pushed by intensity at work or crisis in our personal lives, how do sustain the same health and level of presence? The way we remain healthy and present is in dedicating ourselves to a small number of life-giving practices.
Carve Out Time for Life-Giving Practices
For me, I’ve always been moved by Rick Warren’s quote, “To avoid burnout, divert daily (whatever relaxes), withdraw weekly (a Sabbath), and abandon annually (disconnect completely).”
Somewhat following Warren’s patterns, I categorize my practices four ways – daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. I strongly encourage you to consider a similar framework and your own set of practices within each.
On a daily basis, I wake up before everyone else in my family. I resist the urge to check email right away; instead, I focus on stretching, praying, meditating and reading Scripture. I have a daily phone call with a friend at 7:30 am – we check in with one another and pray together. I do my best to leave my phone by the front door when I initially get home at night so that I can focus on my wife and kids. I also try to exercise three to five days per week and get at least 7 hours of sleep.
On a weekly basis, I make Saturday my day to disconnect. I don’t set an alarm and let my kids wake me up. I take my oldest son grocery shopping in the morning, and I go on a date with my wife without our kids in the evening. I’ll read a book or take a nap. I don’t schedule meetings and avoid work commitments.
On a monthly basis, I look to take a day away to renew myself. Our church actually encourages every minister to engage in this practice. These days typically include walking a labyrinth, meeting with a long-time friend for coffee or lunch, reading a fiction book, writing in my journal while sitting next to the pool or watching a movie. (If I can be totally transparent with you, writing this article has reminded me that I’ve let a few months go by without engaging in this practice. I need to renew my commitment here.)
On a yearly basis, I try to schedule a vacation ten to fourteen days long. As a pastor, I’ve learned that I need to skip at least two consecutive Sundays to really feel like I’ve disconnected. I’ve also discovered I need a few days to transition into my vacation. Long weekends aren’t really conducive to this kind of renewal. I try to minimize my phone use, even personal use of social media. I delete all of my calendar and email apps, so I’m not tempted to check them. And if I can, I leave my computer at home. For years, I couldn’t disconnect to this level because I was a bad leader who hadn’t trained and empowered others to lead in my absence. It was my fault things fell apart when I was gone!
Take care of yourself. It’s the one job you cannot delegate to anyone else.Tweet
Between the monthly day away and the yearly vacation, I also strive to take one or two overnight retreats where I gain some objectivity on the state of my rhythm or season. I typically write 25-30 pages in my journal and read a book about soul care, spiritual formation or personal health. I sleep a lot and make sure I’m doing the job I cannot delegate to anyone else – taking care of myself.
I was asked by someone recently how I pursued excellence in my work while taking care of myself and avoiding burnout. These four categories and their practices were my answer. Your process may look different than mine – that’s a good thing! I hope this series at Thin Difference is helping each of us recognize that the way we do our work can work against our most important work – being healthy, whole people. It doesn’t matter what your practices look like, but it does matter that you discover your practices.
Take care of yourself. It’s the one job you cannot delegate to anyone else.