In The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Earley describes four weekly and four daily habits he developed for his personal use. As a collective rule, the goal is to take “the small patterns of life and [organize] them towards the big goal of life: to love God and neighbor.” Here are two brief excerpts from the introduction:
…I had no idea how much my ordinary habits were shaping my soul in the most extraordinary ways. I had no idea how much my life was being formed by my habits instead of my hopes. Most of us don’t, of course, because habits are the water we swim in.
You’ll find that once new Common Rule habits are established, by definition they don’t take up time and mental space. They work in the background. They’re designed to free up your time, create meaningful space for relationships, turn your energy toward good work, and focus your presence on the God who made you and loves you. That is not constricting; that is liberating. You were made for it.
From there he goes on to describe the principles behind each purposeful habit and tips to implement each habit so that it fits your life and priorities.
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A big part of living on purpose and making the best use of our time is knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it.
“Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.” Cal Newport, Deep Work
Newport wrote a book about work that actually moves us forward, and the quotation above is describing a major block to that kind of work. Busy for busy’s sake does not get you anywhere. It is spinning in a circle. Busy is not the same thing as productive.
If you know your end goal, your priorities, your calling, then you know where you are going. You have your why.
Now when you look at your activities, you can more easily see what fits with your why and what doesn’t.
If it doesn’t fit with your why, move it out of the way, off the road. You need that room for your actual work.
If the activity fits with a minor priority, make sure it is not consuming the majority of your effort. Move it to the side but not off the road.
If it does fit with your priorities, your why, you are either continually supporting the goal (like never-ending laundry or dishes) or moving closer to the goal. These activities are productive, not just busy.
Please, I beg you, don’t be busy just to look busy. Think about what you are doing and push toward the goal. That is a good day’s work!