Burnout is never caused by a single area of life. Burn out is a function of our total life management. One area of life cannot get out of order without overt choices of neglect being made other areas of life. This means that if we managed the others areas of our life well, it would have contained the area (i.e., work, ministry, parenting, etc…) that was the primary cause of burnout. We must resist the temptation to blame life, or even one area of our life management, for the experience of burnout. Burnout is a result of how we have managed our life as a whole.
So we might begin our assessment of burnout’s cause with this foundational statement—burnout is the result of living beyond our means with the time God has provided. It is common to say that someone is “living beyond their means” financially. There is a cultural epidemic of people spending more than they earn. The majority of Americans have a negative net-worth; we owe more than we own. We will use this parallel of financial and time management many times, so begin to think in these categories.
The first thing God’s fairness requires of the person moving towards burnout is to rest in the fact that everything fits in a 168 hour week. This means that even if there are 200 hours worth of excellent things to be accomplished in a week, that you can have assurance at least 32 hours of your agenda is outside the will of God for your life; not “outside the will of God” in terms of being bad, but “outside the will of God” in the sense that God will accomplish this, if it needs to be done, through someone else.
Budgeting Rest, Work, and Family
In order to think this way, you must have an intentional plan for how you use your time. Like a financial budget, it must be detailed enough to be useful, flexible enough to be practical, and looked at enough to alter your life. Let me begin by offering some general parameters for this time budget. First, you should allocate at least 50 hours per week to sleep. This is a bare minimum of honoring the Sabbath command to express faith in God by resting a significant portion of each week.
Second, you should budget around 50 hours per week for work. Even before the Fall, God called every person to productively use his/her life for the betterment of others and stewardship of creation (Genesis 1:28). Allocating these hours may be easier for someone who works an hourly job than for those who are business owners, independent contractors, or full-time parents. But some limit must be put on this sector of life or our defeating motive (i.e., greed, ambition, people-pleasing, guilt, perfectionism, etc…) will expand this aspect of life until it destroys the others. When the rest of life is destroyed, productivity loses its purpose.
Third, you should budget at least 17 hours per week for marriage and family. This number is chosen a bit arbitrarily, but it represents a tithe (10%) of your time devoted to family. Being part of a family will strongly influence your usage of the rest of your time. This 17 hour time allotment is a recommended minimum amount of time to set aside for exclusive focus on family. If you are married with children, it would very difficult to have “quality” time with your family if this “quantity” of time is not being met.
“Family time” does not merely mean “in the same building at the same time.” A useful definition of “family time” would be “investing my full attention in something that affirms my spouse or child by allowing me to know them better and makes them feel more known by me.” What kind of activities fit this description will vary widely based upon factors such as personality, interest, age, and season of life. But the main point is that family time reinforces and strengthens the sense of knowing and being known within the family.
Budgeting “The Rest of Life”
Fourth, if you follow the recommendations above, that leaves 51 hours to be allocated for “the rest of life.” The other parts of life should feel “holy” (set apart by God) before the week begins. In the first 117 hours of the week you are merely looking for the most situationally-wise and enjoyable way to accomplish rest, family time, and productivity. It is only in these last 51 hours that we should feel an additional degree of freedom about how to use them.
For many people this mindset will be uncomfortable, but when we call ourselves “God’s servant” and claim to live “under the Lordship of Christ” this necessarily places a limit upon our freedom. Within the first 117 hours we are free within the God-given role of finite creature, spouse-parent, and productive worker. Within these last 51 hours we are called to do maintenance, service, and recreation.
- Maintenance: This involves cleaning one’s home, mowing the yard, going to the grocery, paying bills, and the other mundane activities necessary for life. In this area, a grandmother’s advice on home cleanliness provides sound guidance for all areas of life maintenance, “A home should be clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.”
- Recreation: This involves the kind of activities that you find rewarding and replenishing that place you in the mental, physical, and spiritual condition to serve God and others. Life requires more than 50 hours of sleep in order to be healthily sustained. Here the advice is to know yourself—what restores you, gives you energy, or relaxes you? Whatever these things are should be a regular part of your schedule.
- Service: This involves service through your church to the congregation and community for the purpose of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and deeper into the lives of those around you. The discussion that follows will focus primarily upon this area since that is the particular area of life that this document is designed to prevent from becoming a contributor to burnout.
No recommended percentages or time allotments can be given for these three areas. But it should be noted that all three are essential to healthy living and should be given time. Healthy relationships are those that actively help you guard and honor balance in all three of these areas of involvement.
Here is a time budget tools to help you implement these concepts: Burnout Time Budget
You can order my booklet on burnout here.