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Chasing Problems?—Or Pre-empting Them?

Most of us are pretty busy people. We usually have more to think about and tend to than we can actually fit into our day. We all want to stay on top of our lives, but for me at least, keeping my priorities straight regarding the many things that I want and need to do can sometimes be a challenge, and my days are usually filled with more than I can fit into them.

It’s not just that I have too much to do, but rather that I need to work more effectively, more efficiently. Otherwise, I end up chasing problems, trying to catch up, instead of finding the great fulfillment this life can provide as we walk in sync with Jesus. I’m sure many of you face your own set of ongoing responsibilities, challenges big and small, and the never-ending flow of things that have to be done—things that so easily pile up into stressful, bigger issues if not handled properly.

Too often I’ve found myself caught in a downward cycle of getting gradually inundated by difficulties and the unforeseen or unexpected complications of life and work. When things would start to pile up, my default was to ignore the less pressing issues, because they didn’t appear to be as critical in the moment as the more urgent ones. But then, before I knew it, I’d find myself face to face with one of those once-small problems that I had pushed aside and that had now grown into something much bigger, demandingmy time and attention. So I’d start trying to fix this newly enlarged issue, which by that time usually had also done some damage or caused more complications that had to also be fixed and required even moreof my time. Meanwhile, I’d be repeating the mistake of ignoring all the other little issues that would, of course, keep cropping up during that time.

It’s a dilemma that seems to affect many busy people. This pattern of prioritizing based on facing issues only when they become large, rather than dealing with them while they’re still small, seems like the obvious thing to do at the time, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to spend our lives chasing and stressing over life’s challenges, doing damage control, and feeling frequently overwhelmed by the ongoing spiral of our “problem debt.”

I’ve been trying to pay more attention to things while they’re small and easier to manage. I’ve been changing my modus operandi, shifting my work and life ethic into more of a “pre-empt and prevent” mode rather than one of ongoing damage control.

It has taken more than just changing in one area. It’s required a mindset change in how I look at whatever comes into my life. It takes a conscious effort to see the issues as they arise and take action—or better yet, to foresee potential issues and be ready to nip them in the bud as soon as they begin to develop.

Sometimes, chasing problems can be the result of a lack of sufficient self-discipline. I’d frequently struggle with stopping my work on something interesting in order to start something else that I had scheduled. I’d get so busy concentrating on one thing that the other things I was supposed to be doing that day would get pushed back. Finally, I’d find myself rushing to try to get all the other things taken care of, leading to pressure and stress. In turn, the added pressure would often lead to mistakes that required even more time to fix.

I realized I needed reminders to help change this. After praying about it, I got the idea of using a timer to help me stop one project on time in order to go on to another. Such a simple little solution! Why didn’t I think of this before? Well, it’s amazing the little things that are right there in front of us but that we don’t see until we get serious about change and pray about what to do.

Making the best use of your time isn’t the same as just being busy. We need a balanced life that includes times of focused work and times of relaxation to unwind and let go of the day’s concerns. For example, I had fallen into the habit of continuing my work in the evenings until shortly before bedtime—until I realized it was an inefficient use of that time. The hours I worked late at night weren’t very productive but still required at least the same amount of effort.

I needed to invest time in relaxing to avoid “chasing” the problem of getting less sleep. Working right up to bedtime left my mind so filled with business that even after I’d finally stop, I couldn’t sleep for an hour or two. Investing time in relaxing in the evenings has improved several health issues that were being worsened by lack of sleep.

Having time to relax and wind down before bed is critical to getting the kind of quality sleep that helps to keep us healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Carrying our work over into our sleep time, even if it’s only in our mind, creates a stress-tainted, inefficient sleep that can lead to damage rather than rebuilding and strengthening.

This principle of pre-empting problems large and small is important for everyone in every aspect of our lives, because it affects everything from productivity and finances to safety, security, health, and peace of mind.

I read a good article1 on how small problems can grow into big ones if we don’t deal with them. It’s about a couple who recognized the importance of personal family time but struggled to make regular quality time over dinner with their children a reality. They would find themselves chasing a growing pile of complications that began accumulating from the start of their workday, until the backlog made it nearly impossible to make it home on time for dinner together. They knew this time with their children was a priceless opportunity that was being lost forever.

The solution required them to find the root of their problem and pre-empt it. Ironically, it was something they had never imagined. A small lack in foresight was causing a chain reaction throughout their day that left them inundated, trying to play catch-up. But once they took the time to discover what was at the root of the problem, all that was needed was to take some simple steps to pre-empt the problem, enabling them to achieve their goal of providing what their family needed.

There are many more examples that could be cited. I’m guessing that you can probably think of some from your own experience. Introducing a few new habits and adjustments into your life can make it so much more productive, effective, and less stressful. Why not take a look at your life and make a list of areas where you could take charge of your situation? Discover how much more quality your life can have, free from the stress and frustration of chasing problems!

 


1. See https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/10/how-asking-5-questions-allowed-me-to-eat-dinner-with-my-kids/?_r=0.

Maria Fontaine

Maria Fontaine is the spiritual and administrative co-director (along with her husband, Peter Amsterdam) of the Family International, a Christian community of faith dedicated to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. She is the author of numerous articles on the Christian faith life. (Articles by Maria Fontaine used in Activated are adapted.)

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