Catholic Tradition holds an ancient solution to the very modern challenges of busyness, time management, margin and overload: Prudence. I addressed this solution in a previous article. Here we'll get practical. We'll explore very specific ways that thecardinal virtue of prudence helps us conquer busyness and overload and build margin into our lives.
1. Prudence conquers busyness and overload by helping us to focus on what is most important.
Prudence is the virtue of knowing what is truly good and making a plan to attain it. So the first thing practicing prudence leads us to do is to evaluate the things we are after. What goals is your life oriented toward? Are these the greatest goods? Are they the best use of your time, energy and resources? Here are some of the standards we use to analyze the directions our life are heading.
Do our current goals lead us into a deeper relationship with God?
Are our current goals making us better, more loving people?
Do our current goals feed and nurture our relationships?
2. Prudence conquers busyness and overload by encouraging us to set goals and work toward them so we're always making progress.
Productivity experts tell us that a fundamentally important step to achieving anything is to
create specific, measurable goals
Write them down
Look at them every day.
Most of us don't take the time to stop and think about our goals, let alone shape our lives around them. As a result we live most of our lives floating from event to event, wasting a lot of our time and energy on things that don't move our lives forward or lead to spiritual growth.
By taking time out to think about our goals, we empower ourselves to
Focus on what is truly important (see the point above)
Orient our lives toward getting the most and the best out of life
Create specific plans to attain what we need to be fulfilled
Know concretely what we need to invest our time, energy and personal energy into
3. Prudence conquers busyness and overload by leading us to plan what we do with our time and therefore regain control.
The main problem in what we call “busyness” is a lack of control over our time. We feel pushed from even to event, task to task. In fact, I’m feeling exactly that sensation as I write this. I have three deadlines looming, and I have had very little time this past week to work on any of them.
So how can prudence help? Well, the reason that I didn’t have any time to work on my deadlines is that I did not plan well for the needs of my family last week. Instead of being a planned use of resources, my family became an intruder into my schedule, adding to my sense of busyness - lack of control.
What would have happened if I had communicated better with my wife and planned the needs of my family into my week? Would I have had the time to complete my deadlines? Probably not, actually. But I wasted a lot of time fretting, rearranging my schedule, and multitasking. If I had planned more carefully I would definitely have had more time to dedicate to those projects.
The good news is that my family didn’t suffer this time from my lack of organization. Thanks to the small but steady progress I’ve made in setting priorities, they received my undivided attention when they needed it most.
Remember - I stink at this stuff! So I’m struggling to implement these strategies right along with you. But the good news is that they work, even for someone like me! I could have taken much more control over my time this past week by exercising prudence more completely.
4. Prudence conquers busyness and overload by reducing our tendency to react to life and increasing our ability to respond.
My experience from last week illustrates another point too. The reason I wasted time last week was because I fell into old habits of multitasking and reacting. So when I say “reacting” I mean that I spent a lot of my time giving immediate, unplanned attention to little emergencies that popped up - emails, phone calls, orders to get out, requests from my wife, etc. These constitute what marketing professional Dean Jackson calls “reactive activators.” They are triggers that activate within us a behavioral pattern of giving up control of our time.
Prudence helps us to turn off these “reactive activators.” Yes, phone calls and emails need to be answered (most of the time). Yes, I need to respond to my wife’s request (all of the time). But we can do these things much more efficiently when we exercise prudence and plan a thoughtful response to them rather than spontaneously reacting to them. For example, if we set aside a defined period of time to answer email, we tend to respond to emails much more efficiently and much more thoughtfully than when we spontaneously react to them.
These are just four benefits of prudence, but they are the four benefits that I think are most related to conquering busyness and overload. Because as Catholics we know a lot about the virtue of prudence, we are actually in a good place to activate that knowledge and conquer this time management thing in a major way.
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