Monday, October 10, 2011

How Overwork Happened to Me

I have preached against overwork for years.  I've condemned others (vocally and internally) for consistent overworking.  I've prided myself in my "structural preventions" for working too much.  In our house, we have a weekly sabbath, family night, and date night.  I arrogantly believed that these protected me from the increasingly common problem of overworking.

"Pride comes before the fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

As a pastor, I expect to work 50-55 hours a week.  If we expect church members to work 40 hours a week, attend worship services, hang out with church people, and volunteer, then it's fair to expect pastors to put in about the same amount of time.  I've thought for years that my structural barriers kept me at around the 50 hour mark, and that difficult weeks wouldn't push me too far overboard.

Difficult circumstances and a new baby have forced me to reexamine my schedule.  I was shocked when I counted my hours in a normal work week.  My normal - not so difficult week - totals 57 working hours.  That put a quantifiable explanation to my feelings of fatigue, depression, overload, imbalance, and inability to catch-up at home.  No wonder I've been tired.  No wonder I can't seem to do any of the things I've been wanting to do at home.  No wonder I haven't been doing any art.  No wonder I feel stressed and anxious.  I'm chronically overloaded!

How did this happen?  After preaching against overwork and being a staunch supporter of simplicity, how did I end up a victim of one of my own greatest enemies?

It happened slowly, one little change at a time.
  • My daughter started elementary school.  I began walking her to school and going to the office at 8:30 instead of 9:30.
  • Our church added a regular Wednesday night activity.
  • When we added assistant pastors with busy daytime schedules, our weekly staff meeting moved to the evening hours.
  • I added a meeting every Friday morning at 7:30 with older men at our church who will pray for me and advise me.
On an individual scale, all of these changes were either positive or neutral.  However, combined, they added 8-10 hours to my normal work week -- all without any reduction in work hours at any other time.
I'm still in the process of discerning how to adjust my schedule.  However, here are a few lessons I seem to be learning.
1) Small changes add up over time.
2) We need regular check-ups to curb our tendency to overload.
3) Drastic steps may be needed rather than little adjustments.

Working with that third lesson, I'm thinking of taking Mondays off (in addition to Saturdays).  That would still make my normal workweek about 50 hours since I work long days Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I just don't think I will be able to cut my hours effectively any other way.  If I just try to work a little less each day, the pressure of unfinished tasks will slowly and certainly erode that time off.  I'm thinking of a two month experiment with two days "off" in which one will be for rest, and the other will be for housework, exercise, family budgeting, etc.

So here's my challenge to you.  Count your hours working or actively doing stuff.  If you don't actually work too much, you may still be overloaded with volunteer activities, Bible studies, extra educational classes, or social activities.  Take some time to seriously consider if you're doing too much.  If you are, cut, cut, cut.  It will be painful, but it's a good pain.

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