top of page

How To Be Busy Better

If you ever struggle with busyness, Brenda and Serene share tips on how to make your tasks more manageable, and when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

by Brenda Tan-See & Serene Ng

“Oh, I am so busy, I haven’t had time to catch my breath!” “I have no life!”

Many of us would have, at one point or another, said something similar. Busyness is part of the daily grind. From the moment we step out of bed until the time we collapse into it in exhaustion at night, we are constantly bombarded by the need to check off the numerous activities on our ‘to-do list’.

But what exactly is busyness? If busyness could be defined as a mathematical formula, it might look something like this:

And while we are more familiar with the definition of busyness as “the quality or condition of being busy”, the dictionary also defines it as a “lively, but meaningless activity”. If we feel overwhelmed by the lack of time to complete all the various tasks we set out to do, living with our eyes on the clock, barely coping with running one errand after another in the hope of accomplishing our goals — then perhaps this is the perfect time to stop, think, and sieve. Otherwise, being busy not only throws our lives out of whack, but busyness deafens us to God’s voice and blinds us to His intentions and purposes in our activities.

The “Eisenhower Matrix”, also referred to as the “Urgent-Important Matrix”, was developed by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help him prioritise tasks by urgency and importance so that he was able to deal with the many things he had to do each day.

The matrix is simple:

Once all our tasks are put into the matrix, it becomes easier to see how to deal with the activities in the four quadrants more constructively. In tandem with this matrix, we can use the simpler “What, Why, and How” method too:

WHAT List the tasks to be done and decide on their urgency and importance using the Eisenhower Matrix.

WHY Asking “why” provides us a perspective regarding the intention of the activity. After all, what is important may not necessarily be urgent. For example, our relationship with our children is important, but it may not be urgent enough for us to put into the “urgent” column. Yet, because the relationship is important to us, we might intentionally create a special slot even on a packed “to-do” list to spend some one-on-one time with them.

HOW The four quadrants—Do, Decide, Delegate, Delete—simplify the actions we take with the tasks.

Beginning with “DO”, it’s useful to arrange the tasks with a time-table, so that we are less likely to over-run our time.

In the next quadrant, where tasks are important, but less urgent, it is good to visibly list these tasks so that when there are urgent or new items, or if there is new capacity for a new task, these important items can be factored into the “Do first” list. DECIDE on when these tasks would begin, as this will allow us to plan how “busy” we will be and give us a better gauge on how many new tasks we are able to take on.

For Urgent, but Less Important tasks, it would be good to DELEGATE the work where possible. Is there someone else who can do the task instead of you? Are you able to give that person the information he or she needs, so that they can handle it themselves? Could you call in a favour from another person to do that work? Then check on the progress of the work by email or conversation.

Finally, in “DELETE”, these are tasks that you really should consider not doing at all. One good way to decide if something is a “don’t do” item is to ask ourselves, “What am I working toward?” and “What are the core values that drive my life?” If the task doesn’t lead us in either direction, it may be good to say no.

However, saying ‘no’ is usually a very difficult thing to do, especially when we have a habit of saying ‘yes’ whenever we are asked by people we love and respect. So how do we say no? Here are the ABCs:

AWARENESS Being self-aware about where we are working towards and what our core values are provides clarity on whether to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any task that is presented before us. Sometimes, it may be scarier to say ‘yes’, knowing that the task could be time-consuming and create more ‘busyness’, yet, if the task is aligned to our purpose and values, it could be a way for God to stretch us and for our faith to increase. In such a situation, we would also need to see what current tasks have to be deleted in order to take up the new task. If the task isn’t aligned to our purpose and values, then we can find it easier to decline it in favour of the tasks that we are already doing.

BEING FIRM We need to speak Matthew 5:37 and let our “no be no”. Being firm in our ‘no’ helps to create a boundary that others will eventually learn to respect.

CONSEQUENCES Every ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is a choice that carries a consequence and a trade-off. In reality, there are very few decisions that we make that will have purely good consequences for ourselves and all parties involved. Often, we have to deal with some disappointment in others that saying ‘no’ will create, or we could feel that we have lost an opportunity of being involved with others because we said ‘no’.

We need to learn to accept the outcomes by allowing ourselves to embrace the imperfections that will arise from any situation that we find ourselves in. After all, God is always aware of our humanity and limitations, and He is more keen about our obedience and effort, rather than us attaining ‘perfection’ and forgetting values like compassion and forgiveness along the way to our achievements.

Interestingly, the Chinese character for busyness is 忙, which is made up of the characters “心” (heart) and “亡”, which is translated as “perish”. It’s not hard to see the folk wisdom in this: When we are busy, we do have a tendency for our heart to lose its focus and “perish”.

On the other hand, opposite to 忙 is 慢 (slow). Made up of “心” and “曼” (graceful or prolonged), the latter character can be further broken down to “日” (day), “目” (eyes/see) and “又” (and) forming “a heart that sees the day again”, or a reflective heart, one that “counts our daily blessings”.

Being busy isn’t inherently bad. However if our busyness creates anxiety and troubledness, or if our busyness makes us feel like our heart is dying, then we really do need to slow down–even to the point of “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), and realign our focus and to allow God to take charge of our activities.


Writers’ Profile:

Serene may have accidentally discovered the secret of parenting a pre-teen and teen – Counting her blessings! By doing so, she can parent with a joyful and thankful heart 😀 Brenda gives thanks daily to God for her washing machine, dishwasher and vacuum cleaner. Not only does the machines remind her how God’s transformative power brings chaos into order, their efficiency allows her more time to focus the people around her.

Issue 18

This article first appeared in Issue 18, July 2018 CHORUS Magazine.


bottom of page