Confronting the Curse of Busyness

This is a guest post by Coach Steve Scanlon of Building Champions, the company I use and recommend for executive coaching. Steve has accrued more than 8,000 one-on-one hours coaching business professionals and is also an active blogger at “Reality and Hope.” He and his family live in Portland, Oregon. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The literary giant, C.S. Lewis, wrote many wonderful books and stories in the mid-twentieth century. Among his finest works is The Screwtape Letters, in which Lewis portrayed two demons with the malicious intent of wreaking havoc in the life of the “Patient” assigned to them by their dark master. Their ploys were crafty, filled with accusations and lies.

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Whether or not you believe they are real, the story compels us to consider what these demons might write about us today. What tricks and treats would they deploy to distract us from our purpose and lead us astray?

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Certainly one key strategy would be this: Keep the subjects burdened with busyness!

In other words, make them feel guilty if they are not producing something. Use every possible means—from e-mails and texts, to calendars and systems—to fill their lives with infinite busyness. Tie their self-worth to what they do rather than who they are. Cast a spell of confusion on their minds so that they no longer believe they have time for the things that once brought them true fulfillment and peace.

This, my friends, is the Curse of Busyness. And it has too many of us in its clutches.

In another letter, more powerful than Lewis’, the Apostle Paul referred to the fact that our life’s struggles aren’t against each other, but rather it is us against the rulers and authorities of a dark world (see Ephesians 6:12). It is these “authorities” that are in part to blame for our incessant busyness.

The good news is that we can do something about this. A rebellion is brewing, but this rebellion is personal. No group needs to be created, and no committee formed (because let’s face it, that would only lead to more busyness). Instead, we must make a private pact to turn away from the calendar-jamming world we have created, and make way for being. We need to get back to reading, reflecting, and playing.

I beseech you to restore to your life a few activities that have no measurement, no economic gain, and no benefit other than the virtue of being. Play an instrument, listen to music, go for a walk, or simply make time to sit and listen to someone you love.

Too many of us have swallowed the lie that we just don’t have the time for this, as our parched souls compress more and more into our days. Let us reject this lie by fighting against the curse of endless busyness. You are a mighty warrior in this battle when you make a choice to enrich your life by doing something that the world says is fruitless.

The best news of all is that this battle requires no great plan. But it does require great courage.

So what say you? Will you join us? We hope you will—and hope is no small thing.

Question: What will it take for you to join the rebellion? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Pitch

    Taking a day off away from the computers, cellphones, TVs or whatever activity that is preventing you from enjoying life (life suckers), should be a good way to fight this so called busyness.

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  • Kingsly

    Wow! Beautifully Said…As it is said “BUSY” is “Being Under Satan’s Yoke”. I am with you in this..I am going to Break this curse of Busyness …I love the post…Thanks

    • Michael Hyatt

      I like the BUSY acronym. How true!

    • Benjamin Lichtenwalner

      That is a great acronym and one I’ve not heard before – thanks for sharing.

  • V.V. Denman

    And it’s a constant battle isn’t it? Once we whittle down our schedules so that we’re not so busy, we have extra time. That’s great, but it’s all too easy to fill that time with something else. Then we’re right back where we started. Constant. Battle. But oh, so worth the results!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Exactly, I have to do calendar triage about once a quarter.

  • Dennis

    Thanks for the great post. Because of my personality and background my self-esteem was wrapped up in doing and succeeding. God has shown me how this has robbed me of life. Your post comes at a perfect time when I am re-examining what is truly important.

    Count me in as part of the rebellion. It took me falling into depression and seeing my family suffering. I wish it had not gotten to that point. I encourage others to join the rebellion before they hit rock bottom.

    Once again thank you Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Hyatt for this post.

  • Teresa Trujillo

    This is a great post. My husband and I are in the middle of moving from Metropolitan Los Angeles to rural Kentucky because we want a much slower life. We know that our outlook is unique as we pursue a second career as sustainable farmers. We are looking forward to a new life tied to the land and the seasons.

  • @PaulSteinbrueck

    I struggle with busyness myself, and I think it’s a bigger, more insidious problem than most people realize. It’s become the air we breath as Americans and so we don’t even realize it. So, I appreciate you raising the issue here.

    Two things in the article I disagree with though…

    >>I beseech you to restore to your life a few activities that have no measurement, no economic gain, and no benefit other than the virtue of being. Play an instrument, listen to music, go for a walk, or simply make time to sit and listen to someone you love.

    Those are great things make a part of one’s life, but the temptation for a busy person is to try to add things like this on top of what one’s already doing. That will only make a person even busier.

    >>The best news of all is that this battle requires no great plan. But it does require great courage.

    I think this battle does require a plan. If I want to curtail my busyness I have to figure out what I’m going to stop doing. I may even need someone to hold me accountable for my stop doing list.

  • Gary

    The use of a simple planner has helped me stay focused. On the top of the list for everyday is “God time.” That keeps the demons at bay for a little while anyway. The planner allows me to priortize what really needs to be done, especially when it is filled in during “God time.”

  • Daniel Decker

    A post that I can personally relate to indeed. I’ll be honest, there are times when I make reading blogs and getting things done more of a priority than reading the Bible and spending time with God. Sneaks up on me but thankfully when I realize it, I realign.

    Funny, Lindsey and I + a few others were talking about MARGIN (and the lack thereof) on Twitter last night. This post is timely.

    • Michael Hyatt
      • Walter

        I agree Michael – it is a very helpful resource

      • Amy

        Yes. It’s a powerful book. Our family has spent the last 2 years trying to find margin. For us that meant a huge life shift: selling our big (time-consuming) house and renting a manageable home half its size. We have our six children in no activities except Boy Scouts. People may think we’re crazy, but I’ve never been happier.

      • Daniel Decker

        No. Have not read it but will check it out. Thank.

  • Brad

    It takes a concentrated effort to slow down. As a father with four young children, slowing our life down has become a high priority for me lately with the holidays coming up and remembering the True reason for Christmas. Thank you for the post as it is always a great reminder for me to focus on what is most important.

    • Steve Scanlon

      I too am a father of four, so I thank you for your comments. Be blessed this season!

  • Tammy Shineldecker

    After feeling very strongly that we need to simplify our life, and becoming stressed out and having high blood pressure, I have recently let go of my role as a Core leader for Community Bible study. When that didn’t seem to be enough, I withdrew from my college courses, and put that dream on hold for now. My passion is being a wife and mother, but my busyness was not reflecting that. Pruning is very difficult. I clung to my dreams, and did not want to let go. I am however, looking forward to more time to read, reflect and play. Best of all, I feel FREE!

  • Ryan Hanley

    I had to go on a business trip to San Francisco for two days. I’ve done this many times. Except this time I took my wife and we spent three extra days on the West Coast. I turned off my blackberry and didn’t open my computer. It was the best three days I’ve had in a really long time.

    The first few hours were stressful but then I relaxed and we had an amazing time. Everyone needs to unplug once in a while.


    Ryan H.

  • Steve Scanlon

    I really appreciate all the comments thus far and even the one about a plan. I concur that a plan is often crucial, but to thwart the very “busyness” I am referring to often doesn’t need anything grand. Thanks for the feedback

  • Anita Mathias

    Yes, if one is too busy to read, one is too busy!!

  • Robert G. Taylor

    This post really resonated with me. The easiest thing is to medicate an empty life with the term “I’m busy.” As long as I can pour myself into a project, I don’t have to look at who I am. A mob of trivialities elbow out life. Thanks for the holding up an important mirror for so many people.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is really true. I certainly used to do this earlier in my career. Thankfully, with a little therapy and some help from my coaches, I have gotten better at it. Given my personality type, I think this will be a lifelong struggle.

    • Jørgen Sundgot

      Excellent point, Robert – a rather unfortunate percentage of the population seems to default to what you describe as an alternative to introspection, which, for many, can be a harrowing experience without the right kind of perspective.

      As far as I’m concerned, facing flaws and failures represent nothing more than an opportunity to learn and improve – it’s how we humans move through life, after all; it’s just that some vastly outdo others at the process and thus benefit accordingly.

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    A not-coincidental and meaningful message to me today. Thank you.

    At the same time… busyness is the evil of only a portion of all. At the other end of the continuum on this behavior is sloth. The devil attacking us at both ends of our human frailty. I agree, it is a within-person battle.

  • Ron

    I like the responses that say scheduling and a concerted effort – that’s what it takes for me. I need to make myself slow down sometimes by scheduling times for it.

    We also can’t overlook the sin that often accompanies busyness – pride. If we’re busy we love to tell people that we don’t have time for other things like they do. Gives us a sense of worth, that for Christians, should instead be found in Christ.

  • Judith Robl

    Learning to form the word “no” when asked to do just one more thing has helped. And still my life is too busy.

    Prioritizing is another way to simplify. If it can be delegated or simply ignored, I delegate or ignore. Somethings just die of attrition.

    My grandmother used to say “In a hundred years, who will know the difference?” If the answer is “no one,” I generally skip it.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am trying to get better at saying “no,” myself. It’s hard because I struggle with being a people-pleaser.

      • Jørgen Sundgot

        I can relate to this to a certain extent – wanting to help is part of the equation, but my insatiable interest for new challenges and opportunities isn’t exactly helping, either.

        The most effective way I’ve found to counteract my impulse to jump on a bandwagon is to follow one of the core principles of David Allen’s GTD, which really is just common sense: keep an out-of-head inventory of what’s on your plate. Keeping up on this continuously lets me easily see whether there’s room for something else, and if not whether I should reprioritize.

  • Joan Ball

    There are so many hints in this post and in the comments that point to what I perceive to be at center of this matter: we have lost (or in some cases never found) the ability to hear and obediently follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The reference to busyness as a curse rather than a choice (we are victims of our busyness), the sense that guilt/self-worth/self-esteem are at the center of it (aka my pride keeps me busy) and the widely accepted notion that we should plan, make lists and rely on external accountability for matters of self-control are evidence a tendency for many self-identifying devout, Bible-believing Christians to solve spiritual problems with human effort. The answer to this is simple of course: stop. Recognize that in stopping we may lose things. That in stopping we may “fall behind”. That in stopping we may suffer. This is more than dropping Twitter for a weekend. This is sabbath rest. This is making spiritual practice and the pursuit of God first and top priority, not something we fit in between putting the kids on the bus and meeting a few friends at Starbucks. It is something we do because we are so grateful and humbled by have been given the gift of faith to which many sick, hurting and lonely people have hearts hardened and eyes closed that we are ready to risk everything and do anything asking nothing in return but the grace that has already been given to us. It is the gift of living differently and trusting that we follow a God that will provide in ways that we could not imagine if we actually trusted him to do so and coming to realize that our busyness is a veiled sense of self-importance that we need to purge in order to hear what’s next…

  • Brittany

    Thanks for this post, Mike. Brings to mind the Wendell Berry poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, . My favorite line is “So friends, every day do something that won’t compute.” Here’s to that!

  • J. D. Bentley

    The “Tie their self-worth to what they do rather than who they are.” line has really given me something to think about today. I tend to judge how successful a day is by how much I’ve been able to accomplish. To imagine that I can be a “success” without having to “earn” it, simply by being, that’s a really freeing idea.

  • Ben

    It is easy for me to fall into the busyness trap at work, mainly because I am required to account for every minute of my work day. We track our time based on which project we are working on. Since we have a backlog of projects, we should never have any down time (in theory). Unfortunately, I let this carry over into my personal life, too. Thanks for the post.

  • Geoff Webb

    Great post. Our church is going through Pete Scazzero’s book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” right now and I’ve really been convicted about guarding my family’s sabbaths – both the weekly ones and the daily ones.
    Thanks for the enlightening post.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I’m plagued by busyness and have lamented lately how much it feels like I’m missing out on life.

    Last night I had some substantial homework to complete, but my little girl was really sick and needed her daddy. I felt torn for a brief moment, but thankfully made the decision to hold her for a few hours and make her feel safe.

  • Riete

    It took me a burn-out and a depression to “get it”. I’m a recovering workaholic now and doing fine … enjoying many walks in the great outdoors, listening to wonderful music, reading just for fun, time with friends and nice meal in nice restaurants.
    And the work I do is done much better now … because I’m not stressed out anymore.

    Was it hard? Of course it was. I had not only to convince myself that I needed to step down from most of my committees, boards of directors and leadership functions, but I needed to convince my fellow workers too. And I had to make sure it was all left in good order. But I and they managed and all is going well …

    Sometimes it’s still hard. I’m seem to have an overdeveloped responsiblity system (according to my doctor, lol)so it’s a struggle not to engage in new workloads again.
    But I now know I don’t NEED to perform to be who I am. I can jsut BE … and that gives me so much rest!
    I love my life (including my work) again!

  • Olga Griffin

    This is something we all need to hear. Even my 85 year old mother is busy at a time in her life when she could slow down. One thing to remember is that no matter how busy we are, we all have time to do what we really want to do.

  • Curtis Marshall

    I like this post, but I think there’s a balance in being busy. We can clutter our lives with unimportant things and feel good about ourselves in the name of “busy”; but we can also pull back the throttle so much that we live for ourselves. I believe that simplicity is essential, but sometimes God’s calling requires us to be busy. I don’t think that Paul had the luxury of vacation time, but he pushed his body, mind, and spirit to do what he was called to do. He had time to reflect, in prison, but I don’t think that was exactly relaxing.

    I think there is a balance, but sometimes the calling has to come before the relaxing.

    • Lynette Sowell

      Those are great points! I am a very busy person, and it’s very easy to become unbalanced.

  • Steve Scanlon

    These are all amazing comments. I hope sincerely that all of us will hear from God that much more clearly as we make the space. The enemy be damned – litterally

  • David Santistevan

    What a great post. Michael, I appreciate all your practical insights and great guest posts. You’ve inspired me and my blogging. I recently wrote a post on the topic of ‘busyness’ as well. Feel free to check it out:

  • Angie Weldy

    The main thing that stops me from living out the lie of busyness is when I hear myself say to my kids, “Honey, Mommy doesn’t have time to _____.” I have actually started hearing the sentence forming in my mind and I stop myself from saying it as much as possible.
    I think the biggest lie we believe is that busyness = importance and God says that is not true. We are important because He says we are!
    Great post!

  • Laurinda

    I catch myself doing this all the time. I plan “empty” time to just relax and make sure I plan time with friends. I think it was Joyce Meyer who said we are called to be fruitful not busy. That has stuck with me ever since she said that. Big difference, but often confused for being the same.

    Thanks for the recommendation of the book Margin by Richard Swenson

  • Laurie

    This post hit home! I just posted on a similar thing last night because I’ve been thrown into life as a work at home mom, head-first and high-intensity since my hubby lost his job a few months ago. Beyond that, my heart is to help other moms of special needs kids like me to just BE more of the time. It’s almost impossible with all the appointments and therapies our special needs kids require just to survive. I’m still trying to find my way there…. Glad to know there are others out there looking for ways to fight the battle of the busy curse!! Thanks for what you shared.

  • Brandon

    I am an intern at a Lutheran Church and I find that if i’m not busy I’m not being a good intern. I often reflect on this thing called “busyness” and what it means. I pray that I will find comfort in who I am.

  • Christopher Scott

    Yes, I’m up for the rebellion!

    I have committed to putting a book on my desk at work to pick up and read through once or twice a day. That will help me to slow down from the “busyness” and to reflect.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I think it’s a good practice for us all to be asking, “What can I shed from my schedule?”

  • Steve Scanlon

    JD’s comment above is so right on. As a coach I see too many slip into finding their worth in doing only. I do think, though, that we also possess the ability to swing too far with our ideas. Much of our doing and creativity is God-honoring – by all means, let us press ahead with our abilities. We must all take heed, the enemy is crafty and left unexamined, we can and do become workaholics and worse. Victory and freedom exist in beating busyness. Thanks you guys

  • James Castellano

    I am with you. I have all but refused to schedule meetings. We talk through issues as they develop. When important issues arise, we try to handle through conversation, not through agendas and meetings. I am trying to schedule family time in advance so I can take care of me and my family before work.

  • Wiledr

    Excellent post and definitely relevant for me and the folks around me. The challenge for me, though, is that when I get overly busy and try to free up space, I’m more likely to cut out my personal stuff than I am to reign in some things related to my work. I’ll end up skipping my workout so I can get to the office a little sooner. I’ll grab a bite at the drive-thru, which will save the time it takes to cook. I definitely find it easy to work late, cancelling that guitar lesson that I have scheduled.

    How can I make “my stuff” important enough to fight for it?

  • Baljinder

    Wonderful! I will schedule time in my calendar just for being…:)
    ….oops, I get the point!

  • Lynette Sowell

    I think we also get addicted to busyness–addicted to the feeling of “look at everything I am getting done, aren’t I amazing?” And this is a hard addiction to break. They say if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. Well, I’m learning to insert “no” into my vocabulary a little more. Just because an opportunity presents itself to me, doesn’t mean it’s for me to take.

  • Josh

    There’s just too much information out there—and I’m talking about good information, not junk. Focusing on what is important in the big picture of eternity and letting the trivia go helps. Nonetheless there’s still this lurking sense that something I need to know is in my email and RSS readers, and if I don’t read it and apply it a competitor will.

  • Amy

    I do not function well when I am too busy. I know it is wise to live with margin but it is something we must be proactive about because the messages that are everywhere do not support anything but a busy lifestyle. great article.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Steve,

    I pull back every 1 to 2 hours just to be. Usually I meditate, once in a while I visualize.

    Taking the time to just be kills the anxiety that leads to the sickness of busyness. It allows one to pull back and watch their self-destructive tendencies from a 3rd person perspective, almost similar to watching a movie.

    When I stick to this practice I am content to go with the flow and allow myself to embrace the fullness of the moment. When I don’t, I get too busy for even busyness ;)

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight :)


  • Trenidy Davis

    Great post, a timely reminder for me. We have instituded what we call a “Do Nothing Rest Time” around our house. Its difficult for us type As but in the end a Sabbath is what we all need.

  • Krister

    Question: “What will it take for you to join the rebellion?”
    Answer: Reading articles like this. Fantastic!
    (Also, great decision on a guest post.)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I knew it was a winner the instant I read it.

  • @NowInANutshell

    Yes, let’s take on the blessing of being. This is a timely post. Thank you very much.

  • Joel

    I’m declaring a “media fast” for the weekend. Going dark now!!

  • Iván Ríos Mena

    This topic compels me to recommend the following TedX talk by Scott Stratten of Un-Marketing. If you need a kick in the pants to make room for the truly important things in life, listen to it:

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for that link. I’ll watch it this morning!

  • Mark in Tx

    Ed Hallowells wonderful book, “Crazy Busy” has come up with some great terms to describe some of these activities that keep up us majoring in the minors; terms like blind baseball, screensucking, gigaguilt, and gemmelsmerch. He has a lot to contribute to this conversation.

    I think of Warren Buffet working alone in his office without a computer…

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’ll have to check this one out, too. It sounds really good.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    I think for me to conquer the curse of busyness is just to learn how to say no. Especially in ministry and service opportunities. I volunteered for Catalyst, Passion, I’m doing a missions conference, helping with a college group, working with a singles group, then taking 18 hours and working.

  • Karen Jordan

    Yes–the accuser tries to “make them feel guilty if (I’m) not producing something” ALL the time! I love that “BUSY” acrostic, too. Thanks a million!

  • Art

    The problem is… for me at least… is that THE CHURCH is the #1 source of the curse of busyness in my life. I’m on staff at a church of 275 that tries to keep up the activity level of a church of 1275. It is unbearable at times to say the least. What to do?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Just say, “no.” Someone has to have the courage to start.

  •…now-what-to-do/ Katherine Hyde

    My aging body has done this for me to some extent. I just can’t go round the clock anymore. But I still have more crammed into my days than I can realistically accomplish with the energy I have. I’ve been trying to cut back for years, but everything I do seems essential either to my family or to myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree completely with everything you said–it’s just finding a way that’s hard.

  • Anonamous


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  • Mike Skiff

    Great post! Enjoyed the references to The Screwtape Letters – which I feel is one of the greatest books of our time. It is still as relevant – if not more relevant – today than it was back when it was published. Busyness is certainly an epidemic in our society – one which I battle on a daily basis when I get to work and am faced with the daily decision to be busy, or be intentional with how I spend my time that day.

  • Donyes

    great post! convicting and true.

  • Brett

    For those for are more characterized by “Achieve! Achieve! Achieve!” …great words.

    But It seems to me that when considering how much time Americans waste watching television, there is a large percentage of the population that needs to consider how to spend more time being productive!

    • Brett

      I want to clarify that I understand the difference between busyness and productivity. But I think the norm is that the highly productive types are the ones that have the hardest time with the curse of busyness.

  • Vicki Walkden

    I love this post. It’s only in switching off, and being in peace and quiet that true creativity happens, even if we don’t know about it at the time. More of these kind of posts please, they’re inspiring. Too many people in my circles don’t get it, like they’re in denial or something. I like inspiring posts. It’s cheered me up tbh.

  • Joy Argow

    Brilliant Michael! My favourite line ‘The good news is that we can do something about this. A rebellion is brewing, but this rebellion is personal. “

  • Meg Steele

    The easiest way to overcome incessant busyness is to spend time with a child. Playing is Job 1 and even work is play to a child. Spend an hour or two playing CandyLand or building with Legos, and listening to children imagining new worlds and solving the problems of their worlds.

  • FGHart

    The saying goes “if you want something done ask a busy person to do it.” I suppose the thinking is that they will be too busy to argue. Sometimes it’s easier to do a thing than to argue against it.

    In not saying “no” or by not finding a way to manage the clutter we can get buried in an avalanche of things to do. I’m thinking specifically of things like e-mail, which have a tendency to get out of control if we don’t stay busy or create a system for effectively managing “incoming”.

    Along this vein I’ve spent the last 2 weeks struggling with NaNoWriMo (& this touches on several excellent posts/reposts from this site: being over-committed, announcing your goals, etc). Ironically, the novel’s theme is on the demons that plague us. This post gives me food for thought that may well be digested into material for the story. I’m blessed by this morning’s visit, as always!

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  • Jennifer

    I commented last week on your Google Reader post mentioning using iGoogle as well.. Here is an example of a great benefit for putting the blogs you love and trust most in the iGoogle box.. I’ve been too BUSY to keep up with my Google Reader for about a week, but I went to search in Google for soemthing and couldn’t resist clicking on this link. GREAT guest post and much needed. Thanks!

  • Janice Campbell

    Coach Scanlon is absolutely right when he says that “Too many of us have swallowed the lie that we just don’t have the time…, as our parched souls compress more and more into our days.” I often write and speak on the topic of “Making Time for Things that Matter,” and I’ve observed the same thing. Busyness is truly a curse, and leads to a pinched, narrow life. Great post!

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  • Ken McFarland

    Ah, yes. The plague Charles Hummel called “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” Hurrymania…always more to do and less time to do it. I’m not immune, and I know how destructive time stress can be. I love your invitation to rebellion and will make some way to join in….today.

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  • Taylre

    For me, playing an instrument IS what makes me busy :| And trying to get into a good college.

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  • Jeff Randleman

    This is an area I’ve recently become convicted in. In fact, I’ve already booked a series of personal retreat days into my calendar for 2011, days that I plan on just getting away with the Word and a journal for the purpose of slowing down and listening to God.

    The problem is that the rest of the staff wants to join me. Maybe I haven’t communicated the purpose of these days clearly enough…

  • Georgiana

    It’s very important to take time out of life’s hecticness to just “be” and have some alone time to relax and rejuvenate. Taking time to focus on God’s meaningful Word adjusts our mindset on what’s truly valuable in life and where our focus should concentrate on — genuine relationships with our family, friends, coworkers and community. :-)

  • Dr. Brad Semp

    Hi Michael –

    Thank you for allowing Steve to share such an insightful post via your blog platform. Busyness is no doubt a “hidden evil” of society and one that unknowingly sabotages the dreams of so many talented individuals. I believe, however, that one by one we can shed light on this prevalent problem to help others to get out of busyness, accomplish one’s dreams, and to do so with a life filled with fun and enjoyment.

    Great post!

    Dr. Brad Semp

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