A Barometer for a Too Busy Life

With fall just around the corner, and school off and running, it’s easy to get caught up in schedules. If you have school age kids you know what I’m talking about. School activities, extra-curricular activities, church activities, and family times…just typing that makes me tired. And that’s just the kids! Add in the parent’s obligations and you get a headache just trying to fit it all in.

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It’s helpful to have a barometer to keep the “too busy” monster in check. It is never a good thing to wait until the boiling over point to realize you have too much on your plate.

One important part of living simply is learning to say no to activities as well as clutter. We just can’t do it all.

Our barometer for a too busy schedule.

1. Family Dinner

In my home growing up, dinner was an important part of our day. It was only on rare occasions that we didn’t eat sitting around the table as a family. Since Brian and I have been married, that is something that we have made a high priority.

Numerous studies indicate that regular family dinners lowers teenagers risk of alcohol, smoking, drugs, and eating disorders. In fact, a teens risk of drugs is more closely linked to how many dinners his family eats (or doesn’t eat) together than the family’s economic level.

For us, mealtime is a non-negotiable. If we don’t have time to be sitting around a table most evenings, something has to go.

2. Sleep

Sleep is important, and I have shared with you how to get better sleep. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but if you are out most evenings you are just not going to get the sleep you need. Any evening you are out will inevitably push your bedtime later. It takes awhile to unwind after being stimulated by activities outside the home.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, feel free to come to my house when we’ve had an evening out. My kids will be sure to demonstrate.

This is another barometer for us. If we are consistently not getting enough sleep, something has to go.

3. Evenings Out

Everyone has a threshold of how many nights out they can take. In fact, you and your spouse probably have a different threshold. You need to know what you can handle before reaching that bubbling over point. Having a general gauge for what is good for your family is helpful.

For us, one or two evenings out is more than enough. My husband needs other nights to study, and frankly, we wouldn’t function well as a family if our kids were getting late bedtimes more than that.

This week, for instance, we have an activity at my husband’s seminary for all the families. It is a fun thing that we are looking forward to. But knowing that it is on Friday means we had to say no to another event on Saturday evening that we were invited to.

If you are going to live a slower life, you have to learn to say no to (good!) activities. Obviously, there are specific weeks where things are extra busy. But these should be the exception. If we are out too many nights in a week, something has to go.

Our normal is to eat family meals together, get enough sleep, and only have one or two evenings outside the home. If these things aren’t happening on our normal weeks, it’s a good indication that there is too much going on. Those three things are our barometer.

I can also tell that we’ve reached the “too busy” lifestyle if things are not getting done around the house, I am short-tempered with my kids and Brian, and, in general, am feeling constantly stressed. When all of this is happening at the same time, I almost always look back and realize that we had let too much pile up in our schedules.

Thinking it through and determining these non-negotiables ahead of time helps keep the calendar from spilling over with obligations. Because if I don’t have something in place, I’ll just keep adding things without even realizing how busy we are getting.

What do you have as a barometer for a too busy schedule?


  1. The family stress level is a good barometer for us. We all show it in different ways but when we’re over scheduled everyone feels the affects. We have a basic routine for days and weeks and if the basic routine goes from normal to impossible to happen because we there are too many other things crammed in, I know we have to cut back.

  2. Even though I’ve never specifically pinpointed it, those are my 3 basic checks also! Having dinner together is very important to us, enough sleep is a must (which I’m realizing more and more–especially as Michael and I head into another semester), and limiting our outside-the-home activities each week keeps us sane :-) Thanks for again boiling my thinking down for me!

  3. Good checks. We have said no to evening activities too. I am doing a Bible study with the boys on Monday nights, and we are going to try doing prayer meeting as a family on Wednesdays. But, if it doesn’t work, I am not going to pursue it. My kids need early bedtimes during the school year, and so do I if I am going to keep up my swimming and running, and stay on task in the mornings.

  4. Our kids are a little too small yet for full schedules, but it is good to keep in mind as they grow, are able to do more things and we are tempted to fill their days with activities! Meals are important for us too, as well as early bedtimes :)

    If you collect all your writings and put them in a book, you’d have a bestseller… ever thought of it? 😀


  5. Elizabeth Kane says:

    I really like this idea of having your own barometer in check. I hate that feeling when I have too many things going on and I’m reaching my boiling point. It usually starts when my to-do list runs over and feels too overwhelming to even begin! So when I start my day off hurriedly getting through one thing just to move on to the next, I know I need to take a step back and take a few minutes to remember what my real priorities are.

    • Oh I know exactly what you mean! Some days get off and running before I feel like I even know where we are headed! Slow down… :-)

  6. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, too, because there were times we were constantly way too busy (and still get caught in momentary times like that), and we eventually just had to put up some boundaries.

    Another we’ve had for our family, is whether or not we can still say “yes” to sporadic invitations and interruptions. For instance, if we never have time to talk to or help a neighbor out with a project, we’re too busy. And if we never have time to say “yes” to a friend who wants to drop in, again, our plates our probably too full.

    At one point, we had moved into a specific neighborhood with the intention of having church-connected ministry there. Instead, we were so busy with church programs and activity that we didn’t have time to cultivate relationships. (Thankfully, we’ve since moved to a very different phase of life.)

    • “It takes awhile to unwind after being stimulated by activities outside the home.

      “Everyone has a threshold of how many nights out they can take. In fact, you and your spouse probably have a different threshold.”

      To these, I wonder how much extrovert/introvert personalities play out in what we can handle, but it’s helpful to remind us that everyone does have a threshold. Even if it is with a close friend, a group of friends I enjoy, or just an evening trip to the store, it takes me a good while to unwind. I think this has increased since I’ve had children (and more children), and that little time in the evening to unwind is now an even more crucial part of my day.

      • I definitely think introvert/extrovert personalities play into this. However, I do think that since our culture as a whole has adopted a very busy lifestyle, many people are so used to running on adrenaline and constantly going that they don’t know they need (or how to value) time alone.

        I agree, as I’ve had more kids I need more time to unwind. I need quiet at the end of the day or I won’t sleep well.

  7. I was just talking to my best friend this past week about feeling overwhelmed and second guessing my family’s decision to homeschool. I started telling her all that was going wrong, and she said, “Kelly, your life is crazy. It has nothing to do with homeschooling.” She was right. I had allowed circumstances surrounding us (none I could really change) dictate my attitude and hijack my family. So, we’ve said no to some things this week, and focused on our routines. Sometimes we can’t help the busyness, but we can remember that it’s just a season and adjust our attitudes.

    • It is so hard to keep it under control sometimes! I agree, sometimes it can’t be helped, but there are plenty of other times that I allow it to get crazy. Such a hard balance!

      I really hope you all have a successful year!

  8. My barometer is my impatience with my children. When I realize I’m impatient and hurrying them along all day long, we’ve got too much on our schedule. It’s time to cut some (good) things out.


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