I feel like I spend all day at work distracted and in response mode. With emails and texts coming in constantly, how can I ever do long-range planning or produce something meaningful?
The struggle you’re experiencing is increasingly common in this age of perpetual connectivity. While I have a few practical suggestions, it’s always best to start with theology. This helps us apply helpful tools in response to conviction rather than add another line on our to-do list.
Only God Is Limitless
We live in a distracted and demanding world, and trying to keep up is running us ragged. The burden to constantly produce and hustle and fix and respond will crush us if we try to live outside of our limitations—if we try to live like God.
God has infinite wisdom; you don’t. Even as you learn and grow as an employee, you won’t know the solution to every problem set before you. You are not the answer to every phone call and text.
The burden to constantly produce and hustle and fix and respond will crush us if we try to live outside of our limitations—if we try to live like God.
God has infinite attention; you don’t. He can listen to the prayers of a million people at once, without missing a single word. His attention is never divided; yours is. Trying to be constantly present for everyone will deplete you—and inevitably let them down, too.
God has infinite power; you don’t. He upholds the universe and is weaving a redemption plan with hands that never tire and a purpose that never fails. He always accomplishes his will. But your body will grow weak and your plans will derail. As an expression of trust, pace yourself and rest.
There are ways that God has called you to reflect his righteousness in the workplace. You are called to work faithfully and honestly. You are called to treat your co-workers with love and patience. But you must avoid the futile attempt to emulate God’s incommunicable attributes.
Intellectually, we know we can’t do it all. But we still try. And when we do, we strive to be something God never intended. We reject the boundaries he ordained for our good.
So don’t spurn your limits—they remind you that you aren’t God. There is abundant grace, freedom, and comfort in that!
So What Should You Do?
Accepting our limitations, then, how should we function in the real world? After all, we still have jobs to maintain and bosses to follow and employees to lead.
Without knowing the particular details of your position, here are three suggestions.
1. Establish a Plan
Strategic development doesn’t happen by chance. While there are always elements of work that require reaction, most progress happens through intentional planning. It’s good you’re already aware of this.
Make a list of long-term goals and review them with your boss. Then come up with a realistic strategy to begin executing them. It’s natural to focus on what’s right in front of us, so it will take discipline to keep bigger but less immediate needs from falling to the wayside. Establishing deadlines for certain checkpoints will help hold you accountable.
2. Try “Time-Blocking”
You may always be barraged by emails and texts. Some will be time-sensitive and require an immediate response, but a good portion won’t. There’s a certain cultural conditioning that makes us believe we need to respond and react to everything ASAP. We don’t! Besides, escaping reaction mode helps us produce more meaningful work.
When you sense pressure to be constantly reactive, remind yourself of your limitations. Take the opportunity to pray.
In his excellent book Deep Work, Cal Newport recommends the practice of “time-blocking.” This practice minimizes distraction and increases productivity by establishing blocks of time for “deep work” (strategic planning, project development, etc.) and other blocks for less mentally taxing tasks (responding to emails, making phone calls, having meetings, etc.).
During the blocks of time you’ve allotted to focus on “deep work,” turn off your notifications and send calls to voicemail. You will answer them, just not yet. That’s for another block of time. Focusing on a single project for two hours and then responding to the 10 emails that have accumulated will be a much more efficient use of time than constantly shifting your attention between both tasks.
To help mitigate any potential frustration among your colleagues, let them know ahead of time when you won’t be accessible. Such clarity will shape their expectations. Depending on how closely you work with specific people, you can also strive to arrange your schedule in a way that’s conducive to their needs as well.
3. Talk to Yourself
When you sense pressure to be constantly reactive, remind yourself of your limitations. Take the opportunity to pray. Ask God for wisdom about how to prioritize your time and steward your energy. Remind yourself that only God perfectly accomplishes his to-do list.
Finally, resist the temptation to trust in your planning or productivity. You do not know what tomorrow will bring, and even your best laid plans are subject to God’s authority (James 4:13–15). Whatever he brings to you today, “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 4:23).
The Gospel Coalition