As busy people with compounding responsibilities, isn’t it becoming more and more difficult to find time just to think? Commiserating with colleagues and friends, we share how our workdays are filled with an almost obsessed focus on getting as much work done as possible, countless meetings and squeezing every bit of air out of our schedules. In our other roles as fathers/mothers and husbands/wives, we’re faced with another harried stretch of time each evening filled with family dinner, kids’ activities, and the myriad other things that families require. If you are called to the single life, quality time with loved ones and friends also is a challenge. Weekends are often just as hectic. Clever vernacular such as “perpetual hurry syndrome” and “time poverty” are beginning to circulate when describing this phenomenon, but I simply choose to call it alarming. We make decisions all day long, but how much of it is reactive and responding to what others throw your way? Taking time to pray, think strategically, be creative or even pause to reflect on an issue before responding is a growing challenge. The fact that many of us view time to think, pray, and reflect as a luxury is a sad indictment of the culture in which we live.
We are increasingly addicted to background “noise” and connecting with others through our computers and smartphones. I’m not opposed to technology, but recognize how I’ve allowed it to exacerbate my challenge with finding quiet time. What used to be a leisurely drive to work a decade ago is often crammed with phone calls. Waiting for appointments to arrive, stops at red lights, and elevator rides are now opportunities to respond with my iPhone to the barrage of emails I receive daily. In an effort to become more efficient, I am sacrificing thinking time in an unhealthy way. Do you face similar struggles?
While writing this post, I reached out to Dr. Paul Voss, a Catholic husband, father, gifted national speaker, and sought after business consultant who is the president of Ethikos. His company provides leadership and business ethics consulting for companies all over the country. He is also an associate professor of literature at Georgia State University. Dr. Voss is a busy man who integrates his Catholic faith into his daily work life and values his quiet time for prayer and reflection. I spoke with him about the challenge of finding quality time:
Dr. Voss, how would you describe the challenges with work/life balance in your client’s organizations?
“Finding the proper balance between work and life is something of a current preoccupation, with scores of books and self-help guides willing to assist with the process. In fact, we have a term—workaholics—for those who place work and the quest for material advantage above other aspects of life in an unhealthy and even addictive fashion. The pressure for profit and productivity—especially in trying economic times—exacerbates this situation. Many of my corporate clients cite this as the number-one challenge they face when trying to create productive, healthy cultures.”
Is this a relatively recent challenge in the workplace?
“Modern life did not create this problem of work-life balance. In fact, the tension between the life of the mind/reflection (otium) and the life of work/activity (negotium) dates back to antiquity. The Romans, for example, placed great emphasis upon military achievement and conquest (negotium), but they also tried to cultivate a life of beauty and philosophy (otium). The early Christians dedicated an entire day to leisure and abstinence from work—Sunday, the first day of the week, in honor of Christ’s resurrection. Daily prayers, especially the Angelus, and the frequent ‘hearing of Mass’ allowed medieval and Renaissance Christians to fully integrate work and faith.”
How do you suggest the modern professional find peace and time for reflection in today’s busy world?
“Today the expression of faith and the cultivation of an interior, philosophical life, is largely confined to Sunday morning (certainly not the entire day). We have portioned off less and less time for reading, prayer, reflection, examination, and leisure. We seem to have lost the rhythm of the Renaissance world. Early in the twentieth century, T.S. Eliot could openly desire the “still point in a turning world,” a time and space for reflection and contemplation. It was hard—even in the 1930s—to find such a space that one needed the desire to find the harmony. Today, perhaps the greatest threat is a lost vocabulary itself and the subsequent loss of even the desire to cultivate a life of the mind and tranquility of soul—on being in the world but not of the world. It’s a struggle, a heroic struggle indeed. But if we fail to even try, we lose part of our humanity.”
Do Dr. Voss’ insights resonate with you? Is our work/life balance dramatically out of kilter because we are not pursuing those things that matter most in life? Has the technological age, which was supposed to result in a time of increased leisure, in fact, enslaved us? As you ponder these questions, think about the time you spend with these technologies versus the time you spend thinking and pondering your spiritual/family/work/daily activities.
Time to think, time to pray, time with family, time with friends—these are the components of the fuller and richer lives we all want to lead. Work will always demand as much of our time as we allow. But is technology the real culprit? Probably not. We have the freedom to choose how we spend our time and should take this responsibility onto ourselves. Remember that technology was intended to serve us and not the other way around.
So how do we create these respites of time we so desperately need? It’s the little things, the small steps that will help us find our quiet reflection time.
Here are six ideas for reclaiming your calendar (and your life):
Start your day on a different note.
Don’t run to your computer and turn it on. Rather than checking email or reading the overnight news the moment you wake up, designate the first thirty minutes for reflection, reading, and prayer. Have a cup of coffee, sit down, and think about your day. Or perhaps reading or exercise stimulates your brain. Whatever it is, make it your time—it’s the one part of the day when clients aren’t calling and nobody is making demands on your schedule. Set this time aside for God, then yourself. We will likely exercise the greatest control of our personal lives by allowing this time to be ours and ours with God.
Put it on your calendar.
You know the saying that “if it isn’t scheduled, it will never happen?” Try blocking out small windows of time each day for prayer and reflection. Try the Jesuit Daily Examen. I schedule five-minute blocks of time throughout the day to pray, reflect on my actions, and think about the future. Schedule these time blocks around travel, meals, and bedtimes. As I mentioned before about integrating, scheduling time for various activities will help to create a balance in your faith life. Want to ensure that you are home for dinner each night? Put it on your calendar and schedule around it. The same thing goes for important events in the lives of your family members. Make your work life conform to what is truly important, not the other way around.
Introduce simplicity into your life.
Try turning your smartphone off once in a while, especially when you are around your family and friends. Try reading more books. Spend time with good friends who will challenge you. Listen to beautiful music or watch a classic movie. Take a long walk with your spouse or significant other. Do something outside with your family every day. Volunteer to serve those who are not as fortunate as you. Get some time for yourself on the weekend and make sure your spouse does as well. Downsize your possessions, buy a smaller house, live more simply, and get rid of what you don’t need. Remember, you really can’t take it with you.
Don’t feed your compulsions.
Don’t respond every time new email arrives, especially after work hours. It can wait. Don’t feel compelled to answer immediately. Do the same on your smartphone. Turning off the audio or vibrate notification and only check your email at an appropriate time. This can add to your current focus and minimizes those distractions that prevent us from being a part of a more fully integrated life. Look at other tendencies that negatively affect your thinking time and make some simple changes.
Spend time with people who will challenge you and make you think.
It can be as formal as inviting your team to a meeting where you throw a problem on the white board for discussion, or as casual as inviting a few friends to lunch to debate politics. When in the presence of your team, colleagues, or friends, ask thought-provoking questions. In an effort to break free from simply sharing regurgitated ideas and information, ask “why” more often. Go to coffee or lunch with friends who will help you grow professionally and in your Catholic faith. Regardless of how you do it, this open debate and discussion is healthy and will feed and stimulate you in important ways.
Designate certain windows of time as “gadget free.”
Choose times in the day (car rides are ideal) when all electronics are turned off, even the radio. This will take discipline, but imagine the car as your safe haven and “thought incubator.” During a recent Lenten season, I gave up radio and TV, and it helped me reclaim some glorious quiet and prayer time in my car and at home. I regained my reflection time, prayed more, did more spiritual reading, and brought some balance back in my life.
This last point has made a tremendous impact on my life, and has helped me grow in my Catholic faith since converting in 2006. Around the time of my conversion, a good friend gave me a beautiful leather writing journal. That thoughtful gift quickly prompted much alteration in my daily routine that I still practice today. I enjoy writing and often used to email myself article ideas or leave myself messages at work about writing topics—adding to the volumes of messages I already received. Now, I take the journal with me everywhere and find I’m reaching for it instead of my technology enablers. Writing by hand provides me a few precious moments between appointments or in the early hours of the day to gather my thoughts on a number of topics and the process has been rejuvenating.
In the end, our faith journeys rely on moments during the day when we are able to pull away and just be with God. By taking these few precious moments to reflect and to think, we are able to strengthen our faith in Christ and reflect our joy back on others. As many people have a tendency to do at some point in their lives, take stock of what’s important. I am determined to find the time I need for God, family, work, and me. We give the important areas of our lives our best effort when we’re calm, rested, and thoughtful. We own the responsibility to make the necessary changes to give ourselves what we need.
What part of your schedule will you reclaim today to have prayer, reflection, and thinking time?
*Adapted with permission of the publisher and Randy Hain from The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work (Liguori)
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about all of Randy Hain’s books? Take a look at his author page on Amazon and dive into the practical and helpful work of this prolific author.