How Lifehacking Ruined My Life

For the past week, I have felt an uncontrollable amount of stress. Anxiety is probably more accurate. You know that feeling you get when you are a little nervous about something and then drink a cup of coffee? It’s pretty much like that, except all day, every day. Sure there are a few moments of peace and clarity throughout the day. But sitting down at my desk to do homework, walking between classes, or trying to fall asleep at night, my mind and heart are racing.
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This doesn’t make sense though! I have spent hours on end studying, reading about, and listening to ways to be more productive, use time efficiently, and make the most of every day. I could talk productivity tips and life hacks all day. I have used all of this information to create some systems for my life that will keep me organized, on time, focused, efficient, and stress free. My systems are pretty awesome, and so far I have been consistent with them. I have a morning routine that I love, an awesome calendar, a flawless system for taking and storing notes, a task management system, daily reviews, to-do lists, and even systems for doing homework. I have engineered my life for maximum efficiency and zero stress. And yet, my stress levels seem to be soaring. Why?
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I have been thinking about it a lot, and I think there are a couple of factors that can best be summed up by this sentence:
I have made productivity my god.
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No, I haven’t given up on my faith. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. But I have allowed productivity has slowly expanded its place in my life. Truthfully, I have elevated it to the role of a counterfeit God, an idol. Tim Keller speaks on the idea of counterfeit Gods and idols quite a bit. He explains that a counterfeit god is really anything that we prioritize over God, but more tangibly, it is anything about which we might say “If only I had (insert idol), then I would be happy.” Money. Love. Success. Fame. Approval. Likes. Followers. Productivity?
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Without me realizing it, productivity had slowly crept its way into the center of my heart. I longed for it. If I could just be more productive, then I would be happy and stress free. This is an issue for a number of reasons. For one, it was affecting the way that I interacted with people. Here’s a daily example:
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*walking (running) from class to dorm for homework session*
Friend: Hey Scottie!
Me: Oh, uh, hi. *Looks down at watch anxiously*
Friend: You know that thing we love to talk about and you always feel encouraged and uplifted after talking about it with me?
Me: Yeah *anxiety building*
Friend: Want to stand here by the sidewalk and chat casually about that for ten minutes?
*hastily pulls to-do list and calendar from pocket and fails to see “Casual chat with friend” anywhere on the list or calendar* 
Me: Hey, uh, yeah, sure, maybe not, no, sorry, bye.
*sprints to dorm for unproductive twenty minute homework session* 
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A desk set up for maximum efficiency.
A desk set up for maximum efficiency.
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Okay so that may have been an exaggeration (barely), but you get the point. This is my last semester of college with a bunch of incredible people who I love and care for deeply. This is not how I want to spend that time. But this is actually the less important of the key issues with my idol of productivity.
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When I feel stress and anxiety, I run deeper and deeper into productivity. When I feel overwhelmed, I look for a better system to manage everything that is overwhelming me. It never seems to work. It doesn’t work because I am running in the wrong direction. When I obsess over becoming more efficient and productive, I am failing to give things over to Jesus. I am refusing to rest in His love and trust that He is enough for me. A few pieces of scripture come to mind.
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“A generous man will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25
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“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:38
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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
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These are verses that you have probably heard before, and these are verses that I have used to encourage other people numerous times. Nowhere in these verses do I see a command to work harder, plan better, and be more organized to find rest for my soul. All the times that I am running towards my own endeavors as a way of experiencing peace and rest, Jesus is calling out for me to come to Him, whose yoke is easy and burden is light. My endless search for productivity will never satisfy. But God, ever patient and always loving, is rest for my spirit, peace for my soul and ultimate satisfaction. In my times of stress and anxiety, He is my ONLY hope. He is the one I should run to, not any website or podcast that I think might hold the solution.
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As a simple, tangible step for this, I plan to spend a week without listening to any productivity podcasts or reading any blogs, books, or websites about it. That time will be replaced with prayer, leisure reading, and even listening to the Daily Audio Bible app. I don’t think that it is wrong to use time efficiently and I think productivity tips certainly have their place. In fact, in the future I plan to write a few blog posts about some of the ideas that have been the most useful for me. There is always work to be done, and I still believe that it is good to work diligently. But for now, it is time to take a break from optimizing my life and start resting in God’s grace.
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Where do you run when you get stressed?

I Don't Have Time to Write This Post

I haven’t written anything on this blog in a long time. I love writing. I particularly love writing for myself. I haven’t had a lot of time to do that lately. For the past 8 months I have been working on a Departmental Honors thesis. It is a long term research project that stands as one of the final obstacles between me and graduation. It is a little overwhelming. It is a lengthy project that requires a lot of work. It doesn’t take up all of my time, but it sometimes takes up almost all of my thoughts. Whether I’m just walking to class or trying to fall asleep, thoughts of my thesis are almost always running through my head.

There is always more that I could be doing. There are books that I should be reading, sources that I should be finding, and pages that I should be writing. When a friend asks me to go get lunch, my first thought is: “Yeah but, I should be writing my thesis.” When I am ready to walk out the door and go to one of the campus ministries I think, “I would love to go but, I should be writing my thesis.” When it is Saturday afternoon and the weather is perfect for a hike, I think: “That would be great but, I should be writing my thesis.” You get the idea. It has already consumed my thoughts, and it is slowly beginning to consume all of my time.

With all the anxiety I feel about getting my thesis done (I’m starting to get really tired of the word “thesis”), the thought of writing for pleasure was just, unthinkable. I couldn’t fathom spending precious time writing something that was not contributing anything to my thesis. There was too much important stuff to do. Too many sources to read. Too much proofreading to be done. To waste my time writing something so inconsequential as a blog post would be downright irresponsible. I simply don’t have time.

Come to think of it, I really don’t have time for a lot of things. Not with this 40-something page paper hanging over my head. I really shouldn’t waste an hour in the mornings reading my Bible and spending time with God. And exercising? No way. Spending time with my best friends during our last semester of college together? Absolutely not. Spending a whole weekend visiting my girlfriend in Knoxville? Maybe next month babe. Wait. Hold on. This is ridiculous.

If I don’t start setting aside time for the people I love and the things that I truly enjoy while I’m in college, when will I? If I have learned one thing from working in a coffee shop and listening to adults talk about their lives all day, its that life after college doesn’t get any easier. I heard one guy say that when you are an adult, every week feels like finals week. Well crap.

So with all of that being said, why am I even writing this? Did I give up on my thesis? Am I calling it quits and ONLY doing things that are enjoyable to me? No. Not in the slightest. I plan to spend most of this evening working on my thesis, because work is good, and work has value. No, I am writing this because it is time for me to start prioritizing the things that are important for me. The work will always be there, and there will always be more for me to do. I’ll never have a bunch of extra time to read the Bible, go for an afternoon run, eat dinner with friends or express myself by writing on my blog. If these are things that I want to be a part of my life, then I will simply have to MAKE them a part of my life.

Running, writing, reading, laughing, spending time with God. These are all things that give me life and make me who I am. They give me joy and they strengthen my resolve when the work gets tough. I can not let the overwhelming stress of having more work that COULD be done today keep me from enjoying all the simple pleasures that each day brings.

One small way I have done this is blocking off the first two hours of my day before class to reading the Bible, journaling, making a real breakfast, and listening to podcasts. Technically I could be spending those two hours working on my thesis (or sleeping), but I know that if those things are a priority for me, then I need to set aside that time for them. I also know that I am better prepared to take on the day when I start it doing something that brings me so much joy.

Another way I want to do this is by making time for this blog. I spend so much of my time pounding away at a keyboard, trudging through the pages of my thesis. It is exhausting. And yet when I write for myself, when I tell stories and reflect on God’s grace and goodness, my fingers feel light and they flicker across each key, excitement building in my chest as the words flow together and words become sentences and sentences become ideas. Writing is important to me. It brings me joy. And I want to make time for it. I am going to make time for it.

I’m resolving to write on my blog two times a month. That realistically means about 4 hours a month set aside to writing for myself. That isn’t much. But if I’m not careful, those 4 hours can easily be sucked into half hearted efforts to work on my thesis (or 8 episodes of The Office). Some posts will be long, and some will be short. Some will be interesting, and some might bore you to tears. Some will be clever, well crafted and inspiring, while others will resemble the ramblings of a cranky old man. If nobody reads them, that is okay with me. Writing on my blog is an important discipline to me, and I just want to be consistent with my efforts. It is a small way for me to escape from the stressful world of academia and to just let words and thoughts flow. By making time for this one small thing that I enjoy, I hope to gain the discipline to make time for the big things that get so easily overlooked.

“I have so much to do today that I must spend the first 3 hours in prayer.” -Martin Luther

To any friends reading this, if I can’t hang out at some point during the next couple of months, I promise I’m not avoiding you, blowing you off or using the thesis as a way of saying no. But I will need you to just accept me saying “Sorry but, thesis” as a reasonable excuse.