She looks well to the ways of her household
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
When I think about being idle, I think about doing nothing. Sometimes that thought sounds downright glorious; I work a lot. My career as a teacher with additional after school responsibilities, along with running our household, added to my personal aspirations as a writer, I figure that I am working something like 14 hours a day. That gives me just enough time to sleep and spend a little meaningful time with my family over dinner. I mean, clearly I am not an idle person. I am always doing something. Of course, I do take some time to “relax” at the end of a hard day, because we all need rest, and I can’t imagine God would mind that.
I yearn to do nothing once in a while. I remember a male friend of mine explaining the “nothing box” as described by Mark Gungor in “Tale of Two Brains.” I was fascinated and extremely jealous. My brain is in constant working mode. I want to stop running through my to-do-lists in my mind and stop troubleshooting, lesson planning, and re-hashing everything. Honestly, a warning for women to not be idle seemed to me like it might be misplaced. The women I know are mostly like me, running like crazy and stretched too thin.
But what if we aren’t talking so much about idleness in the sense of doing nothing, and look at it more like idling, in the way that your car idles. The car engine is on, it’s using fuel, it’s humming along, but it’s not actually taking the car anywhere. It’s putting wear and tear on the car’s engine, but producing nothing of value. Sometimes, I think I’m eating the bread of idling. My engine is racing, but I’m not making any forward movement. I’m stressed, I’m busy, but I’m not accomplishing a whole lot.
Here are 5 things that I have found helpful for me when I find myself eating the bread of idling:
Turn To-do-lists into goals: Sure we have a ton of to-do-lists, whether on paper or in our heads, but do we have larger plans with steps to achieve them? Here is a goal: This summer I want to de-clutter the house. I am going to work every Tuesday mornings for 3 hours and work my way through the house starting in the sunroom that has become just a giant closet. I will end each cleaning session with a trip to Goodwill to make donations. Etc. (More detailed and the smaller the steps and having a definition of a completed task makes for a better goal.) Instead of goals, we just add “de-clutter the house” to the long list of things that looms over us. That long list with no action plan actually feels heavy. Carrying around that list makes us feel tired which makes us need more time to relax even though we haven’t actually done anything. Plan with specifics.
Make a schedule: I’m not a Type A personality. I am disorganized and more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, so schedules are not something that I’m good at making or keeping. However, carving out time to work towards your goals really matters. Once I started setting aside a few hours on a Saturday morning dedicated to writing and promoting my writing career, shockingly, things started to move along. When I set aside specific times each day/week for Bible study or exercise, I am more likely to actually accomplish those things than when I just assume I will “get around to them.” As much as I love school breaks, I actually find that I am far more productive in achieving my non-teaching goals during the school year when I’m on a more structured schedule then when I am on break and technically have more time to achieve those goals. Being on a schedule, like being on a budget, is simply telling your time how it will be spent rather than letting your time tell you. Plan your life.
Take a Sabbath rest: A few year’s back, I made a decision to start taking a Sabbath rest each week. From the time I come home on Friday until church is over on Sunday, I try not to do any work. And by that, I mean paid employment tasks. Setting aside time to not work helped me to be more productive when I was working. In part, I found that without limitations on when I would work, I find myself working whenever I was thinking about work or whenever the email came to me which was all the time. I also found that if I worked on Saturdays I would still find more I could or “should” do on Sundays, but if I put it off until Sunday, I could still finish what was important. In the same way, I made a choice to leave work at work most nights. Sure, there are nights you have to do work, but for the most part, if the work came home “just in case” there was time, I carried it back to work feeling guilty. Define your boundaries.
Plan your free-time: This might sound ridiculous if you don’t have much free time, but it’s so easy for your free time to disappear without actually making your feel rested or relaxed. Let’s say you only have 30 minutes and you go on Facebook or Instagram or whatever’s your poison. You will skip around to what is important and get off. But if you go on without any limit, you might find yourself 3 hours later watching some video of a cat for the 4th time. You are wasting time, but not really relaxing. Had you read for 2.5 hours and then spent 30 minutes on FB, you’d probably felt so much more rested and maybe even a bit accomplished. If you enjoy taking walks or being crafty or whatever else, schedule time for those things and then let social media or Netflix fill in the remaining gaps, not the other way around. The same is true for longer periods of free-time such as vacations. If you plan the “fun” things you want to do, you will end vacations with memories, but if you wait until you feel like it to do something fun, you might find yourself heading back to work or school having zoned out on a computer for a week and time has simply passed you by. Plan your fun.
Know your self: I spend a lot of time on a computer for work and writing and I enjoy social media and movies for fun. I could spend an entire day in my chair on a computer without ever doing anything physical. I love movies, but I know my limitations with TV shows. Nothing robs my time more than a Netflix binge. I start off watching one episode of a TV series and then I tell myself I’ll just watch one episode every weekend, then it’s every evening, and then it’s, “Maybe I can just finish the season over the weekend.” The next thing you know I’ve spent 8 hours a day “catching up” on 6 years of a TV show I didn’t have enough interest in to watch when it was on the air. I know I get caught up in TV shows, so I try to really avoid them and stick to movies, which are over in an hour and a half. The same can be true for book series for me, but it’s not quite so bad. Be honest about what is a time suck rather than breathing life into you. Make time for what rejuvenates you and set limits on what is mindless and steals your time. When you finish 3 hours of hiking how does your soul feel compared to when you finish 3 hours of YouTube videos? What about 3 hours of knitting with friends verses 3 hours of Facebook? Chose wisely.
In this day and age, it’s so easy to get sucked into living life in idle mode. My goal is not to work harder, but more efficiently. Work hard; play hard; live life more fully.