My entire life I’ve heard messages of go, go, go. Get this thing done and start that. Maybe even while you’re finishing that one up get a jump start on the next. I remember even as a kid being taught to clean bathrooms in a certain order that would allow maximum efficiency and no wasted time. I was in high school when I was told to listen to book recordings while I slept because my mind didn’t know the difference and I could learn all night. As an adult I have found so many ways to hack this. I listen to parenting podcasts while doing the dishes. I get up early to start laundry, coffee, and time for myself so when the kids get up I can multi task different things, things that they can be part of like racing to see who can dress first and who can finish breakfast and get to the bathroom to pick out the toothpaste first. At work is the worst of it. We try to squeeze every ounce of time and productivity out of our people and ourselves. We track hours and sometimes even minutes of the day with more precision and rigor than we track actual output and productivity.
I have seen companies create elaborate tracking systems that account for every minute of every day. Forcing employees tally tasks and time themselves with an online stop watch. It might be an accurate way to determine what people are spending their time on but imagine the message it sends? People feel distrusted, like they are being called lazy, they feel that you’re adding things (clicking the timer and tallying the task) to an already overly busy schedule. If you’re a leader (at work or in any other capacity) and thinking, well I would never do that to my people, think of the more subtle ways you’re pushing the go, go, go agenda? Do you expect your people to be “on” consistently before and after their shifts? Do you structure every minute of time for your kids with sports, clubs, or even educational play? Do you come to your spouse daily with what the agenda will look like for the family that night?
Maybe you’re reading this feeling smug thinking, That isn’t me. Oh I know Suzie Q is soooo like this. I should share this with Suzie Q, but that isn’t me. I don’t push people like that. OK. So maybe it isn’t that pronounced. Are you the one preaching to everyone that they should take time to unwind, meanwhile you’re sending them emails at 8-9 o’clock at night? Are you encouraging your kids to play while you feverishly wash the dishes and pick up the toys left in their wake? Are you sitting on the couch, chatting with a friend, catching up with a colleague only to loudly announce that you have to get something done now, as if every moment leading up to the proclamation was wasted time?
What are we chasing? Is there some illusive finish line I’m not aware of where there is a busiest award? Is someone planning to include that in a eulogy at some point? I hope and pray no one stands at the celebration of my life and says, “What can I say about Kelly? She kept everyone on task and always pushed so hard to check things off the list.” Gross. There is no prize on this one guys. There is no trophy for creating the longest list and checking all or most of them off. Likewise, there isn’t a punishment for having a shorter list either. Do you need to be productive and contribute to the team raising the bar and exceeding expectations? Whole heartedly and unequivocally yes. But does that mean mean you need to have your foot on the gas in every aspect of life all the time? Not even close.
I believe strongly that there is a time or a season for everything in life. I like to think of this in terms of music (Also I think in terms of farming, but I do a lot of rural life references so we’ll go with an orchestra this time.) If you imagine an orchestra with all of the different instruments and the conductor at the head, they never play an entire piece with everyone playing as loudly as they can. That would be too much. Too much for the members of the orchestra and too much for the audience. There is no beauty in that. There is no room for anything else. Not to mention the forte of a tuba and the forte of a violin are very different so the heavy quarter notes will overpower the playfulness of the strings every time. So they don’t all go hard all of the time. The conductor gently quiets and intensifies different sections as appropriate. There are times where that tuba is going to give it all he’s got. There are times when a saxophone will take the lead with some jazzy little interlude. There are times that violins will go back and forth with a playful melody and counter melody. It doesn’t all happen at the same time and it doesn’t happen for the duration. There are times when the bass just plays low slow quarter notes to keep time. There are times when the flouts will all just be set down because they have a 10 bar rest. Rest. They all will, at some point, and with varying lengths, rest.
No one calls the tuba player lazy because he isn’t playing louder. No one rolls their eyes at the flutist for resting a beat. We focus our eyes and our ears on another area of the orchestra. It gives us a chance to miss the high pitch staccato notes to hear the solo of another instrument. We understand that that is what makes the piece dynamic and interesting and fun to listen to. We enjoy it more for the ebbs and flows of intensity and rest. Why can’t we recognize that in life? Why can’t we enjoy our lives for the ebbs and flows of intensity and rest? There are times for us to be at forte or to be playing our solos. There are times to harmonize in the background. There are whole seasons where we just set our instruments in our laps because, its our time to rest.
Work, home, family, kids, finances, hobbies, faith, love, this is the orchestra of life. The balance of it all is understanding which of our instruments to play, at what volume, at what tempo, and whether we are melody or harmony. There is a time for you, and for all of those around you, to belt out that solo, there is a time to support the other players, and a time to set down the instrument and simply immerse yourself in the beauty of the music around you.