Life Management in a Time of Crisis

By Gary A. Shockley

 The first of John Wesley’s Rules for Preachers: “Be diligent. Never be unemployed a moment. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time; neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.”

 Wesley was a stickler on time management. He had high expectations of those who led in ministry.

In the blink of an eye the whole world changed for us. Many of us are now working from home and self-isolating from colleagues and those we’ve been called to serve. It’s new territory for us. This new reality brings significant challenges as it relates to time management.

Some thoughts about staying on track while working from home and probably with all sorts of distractions

  1. Focus on good consistent self-care. This seems a bit selfish, I know, but think about it. How much help will you be to your family, friends and employers if you work in such a way that harms you? I’ve often said to pastors, “you are not an unlimited resource. There is an end to you!” But many of us, self-included, behave as though we must give 110% of ourselves ALL of the time. We need rest. We need renewal. We need sabbath. We need care. We need God. Think about what YOU need to be and then do what is required of you. I know what these things are for me and I am learning to schedule these FIRST and everything us around them. Devotions, meditation, creative expression, fresh coffee, a walk, a good night’s sleep, entertainment, conversations (virtually) with people I love. What’s your list? It’s like the flight attendants tell us, “Put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others.” Good advice!
  2. Schedule time for the big block stuff. Stephen Covey called these “The Important but not urgent”. These are the tasks that are most important for us to accomplish in our work because they are directly related to our vision and values. At the end of the day we want the greatest share of our time invested here. Trust me, if we don’t state these as the beginning of our day and give great intentionality to caring for them we will likely end up doing a lot of things that really haven’t been all the important.
  3. Limit the urgent things and make sure they’re important. There are things in our work and life that come to us with great urgency and importance and shouldn’t be ignored. For me these include unscheduled conference calls with cabinet. The bishop calls for an urgent meeting and, believe me, I am there. These are urgent AND important as we order our ministry together. There are urgent things you in a time like this. What we must do is limit the urgent things that are NOT all that important! A year ago, I stopped watching the news on television. It increased my health and well-being significantly. For the past two weeks though, I’ve been drawn back into the news. Curiosity about what’s happening NOW and what I need to know has become somewhat of an obsession for me and has increased my anxiety ten-fold. I am back to self-limiting this again and it’s hard. Figure out what fuels an unhealthy sense of urgency in you and take some steps to limit this.
  1. Pace Yourself. Confession time. Because I’ve lost a sense of “regular” hours in my work and there are no clear lines between work and home anymore I am finding myself working constantly at things. This has now crept into my sleep. At 3 am I am awake and thinking about work. This is not good for me and it certainly isn’t sustainable. I think this might be the most dangerous thing for those of us who are forced to work from home for perhaps the first time in our careers. People who’ve always worked from home have learned how to manage this. We can learn from them. Find a healthy pace. Every few hours take a good 20-30 minute break to do ANYTHING that is not work related. Sit at a window and watch the birds outside, tinker in the garage, clean out a junk drawer, exercise, paint, nap…whatever. These can help promote a good work/life balance.
  1. Commit to Sabbath keeping. If you’ve struggled with taking an entire day off as sabbath this might be a definite challenge for you in these days. Eugene Peterson says that sabbath should have these three elements: stay, pray and play. The staying part is taken care of right now. Prayer is something that could be part of the rhythm of our day by being interspersed throughout. Play is a part of sabbath we may not think about. During my isolation I’ve enjoyed watching adults and children playing together outside. Bike riding, chalk drawing on every driveway, artwork taped inside front windows and a group of youth 20 feet apart trying to catch a frisbee on a stick. Think about how your sabbath can incorporate play. I hope we can continue our playfulness when this pandemic ends and that we don’t all rush back to the work and busyness of our lives untouched by the time we’ve been given together. Online worship is a gift right now and I am so impressed with how many churches got up to speed on this so quickly! This is a new norm for how we do church. Take advantage of this for yourself and your family.
  1. Just breathe! When we are stressed and feeling anxious our breathing becomes tight and shallow and we decrease oxygen intake to our brain and vital organs. When we are stressed the body produces hormones that ramp up our fight or flight reflex. While helpful when we are in immediate danger these hormones over time can kill otherwise healthy cells. Deep and rhythmic breathing releases what the body needs to combat the effects of adrenaline and cortisol. Simply, as you slowly count to five, breathe in through your nose, hold for a moment and exhale slowly though your mouth to another count to five. Close your eyes while doing this three or four times. While doing this, imagine a favorite place or think of someone you love or who loves you. Do this several times a day and if you find yourself awake at night. With practice, you’ll begin to feel more at ease and less stressed.

This crisis affords us all the opportunity to live differently, work smarter and be healthier people. Let me know what’s working for you!

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