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The Secret of Being Challenged Without Being Overwhelmed

My productivity lately has felt more like walking on a treadmill than blazing new trails.

But I am convinced that working harder is not necessarily the right solution.

Burnout is a real issue these days and according to the experts on productivity there is a fine line between fulfillment and flaming out.

I’m trying figure out how to have a proper balance.

For those serving as a called servant in a gospel ministry, a gospel-motivated approach to work should not cause a person to burnout, nor should it be justification for slothfulness or sloppy work.

Yet, when I struggle with over-commitment or the feeling of being over-whelmed, I have spent too much time staring at a computer screen rather than trying to further a gospel ministry.

I imagine that you may have felt this as well.

What is the fine line between fulfillment and burnout – being a faithful servant and over-fatigue?

Fulfillment is linked to a sense of purpose. When clearly defined, purpose effects our sense of urgency and productivity. Work becomes a privilege rather than upholding a responsibility. It provides an honest answer to why we do what God has set us apart to do.

Burnout begins to arrive at our doorstep when we feel that each day ends with one more attempt to squeeze in a productive hour at the end of the day.

According to experts on productivity, there are some key adjustments that have been very helpful for me.


Start-up organizations and planting new churches creates a unique dynamic where a sense of purpose clearly reigns. A small group of committed people rally around something that is greater than themselves. It’s invigorating and challenging. Over time, the effort can either begin to fizzle or grow in number. Either way, the dynamic can shift into a comfort zone that makes it difficult to move the needle with purpose-driven activity.

We try to sharpen our focus and give more quality time and energy on a task – but our day can disintegrate by distractions, and we submit into the arms of disorder.

Burnout happens when we have completely exhausted our productive efforts and fall into a trap that takes all the air out of our sails.

And that gets so frustrating.

When the joy of being challenged starts to change into storms of being overwhelmed, we submit to the idea that instead of seeking valuable rest, more effort ought to be given towards looking busy rather than being busy. We miss the signals our body tries to give us.

The feeling of being overwhelmed is no longer taking deep breaths to relieve tension but letting out a long, exasperated sigh.

What is the best way to respond when we:

  • Feel more energized with unexpected requests because it takes us away from needle-moving tasks.
  • Immediately surf the internet when we turn on our computer rather than accomplish a specific task.
  • Berate ourselves with frustration for wasting time.
  • Notice more deadlines keep looming nearer.
  • Always feel so behind.

This is what the productivity experts suggest that makes a huge difference:

When those unproductive moments occur, start noticing and acknowledge each disturbance.

Recognize that slight sensation of feeling overwhelmed or frustration that typically starts as a small gentle wave. Ride the small wave and allow the feeling to subside and break against our shore. When left unchecked, small waves turn into tsunamis that can destroy any semblance of a productive day.

Gospel ministry is like an ocean. There will be high tides of great joy and low tides of doubt and disappointment. Waves or urgent requests and tasks will always be coming onto our shore. While oceans can create havoc on beaches, the waves and tides can also be a cleansing agent. It can take away the garbage of the sea and leave it with fresh sand.

One way to start clearing the garbage and clutter in our work lives and in our mind is to be grateful for the problems the Lord has set us apart to solve.

When stress produces unproductive moments that morph into something exasperating – when a tsunami wipes out gospel motivation – take a moment to ride the gentle waves of a gospel ministry with God’s promises and assurances.

A Great Tip

When you go to a favorite restaurant, you still look at the menu. Even though you will probably order your favorite dish, it’s good to peruse all the choices.

Create a menu of good things that you really appreciate and want more of in your life. These are conscious choices that separate good activities from those that do not ultimately bring satisfaction.

Here is my life menu that mysteriously helps me feel productive.

My Good Life:

  • Eat less portions of food that I love.
  • Walks in the sun or by water.
  • Coffeeshop visits with friends.
  • Learning a new skillset that’s not technological.
  • Reading a novel.
  • “Deep Work” time.  (Activities like writing that require great concentration but are fulfilling.)
  • Sipping margaritas with my wife.
  • Thousand-piece puzzles.

My Detox List:

Things that I think may help me relax, but really don’t.

  • Drinking too much coffee
  • Receiving inbox notifications
  • Fixating on self-doubt
  • Stewing over slights
  • Surfing the smart phone

A menu helps me ride the gentle waves of unproductivity that occur throughout the day.

A productive day of work for me can look like:

  • Scoping projects and designing potential outcomes.
  • Tackling problems through innovative solutions.
  • Creative writing or blogging to share my thinking or what I’m learning.
  • Planning my day to minimize interruptions.
  • Creating “sacred” hours devoted to deep work.

A productive day doesn’t look like:

  • Spending time in my inbox
  • Checking my to-do list more than twice to catch up
  • Multi-tasking
  • Scoping projects I am not interested in just because it seems like an opportunity
  • Taking meetings with unclear agendas

I believe that we all desire to be more productive. Typically, it’s not so much of being productive at the end of the day but feeling productive by carrying out activities that make a difference and are personally fulfilling. With a few adjustments, establishing positive momentum can help us arrive at a place where we no longer feel frustrated or overwhelmed.

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