By Matt Clakley
Summer has drawn to a close and as days grow shorter and temperatures gradually cool, it is hard to contain my excitement for the arrival of my favorite season—football season. This time of year, Saturdays are spent cheering on my alma mater (Boomer Sooner!) and Sundays (with the occasional Monday & Thursday night) hoping that this is the year my team can make it back to the playoffs. For me, this is the best four to five months of the year.
However, as football arrives, so does a level of temptation to overindulge myself in all things football throughout the week. Like the box of donuts in the office break room for the calorie counter, articles on how defenses will stack-up against offenses, post-game breakdowns, player bios, roster updates for my fantasy football team are all within my grasp – all day long. Deep down inside I know that responsible choice is moderation, but all I want to do is return to that donut box—for just one more—until all the donuts have been eaten, or until the workday is over. Of course, this analogy has its hole: whereas there are a finite number of donuts in the box, the fountain of football stuff available for junkies springs from a well that never seems to run dry.
The vast majority of my workday is spent at my computer. On top of this, I work a job with real goals and expectations, but with a relatively large amount of autonomy as to how those goals are reached. As someone who has been micromanaged in the past, I firmly understand the tremendous blessing that working in an atmosphere of trust and freedom is. Yet, if left unbridled, my football passions can wreak havoc on the productivity that such a trusting work environment is designed to create.
It all starts innocent enough. Empowered with the growing evidence that short breaks between long, mentally strenuous tasks actually increases productivity, I decide to take just a couple of minutes to click over to a trusted website to read-up on who the experts say I should start on my fantasy team this week (declining to observe that such breaks are most effective when they involve physical movement). Inevitably, the two-minute break I intended to take morphs into twenty as I follow the irresistible rabbit trails of pigskin punditry. The twenty minutes may seem innocuous enough, but it is almost five percent of the average eight-hour workday.
The unfortunate reality is that temptation to sneak a few minutes here or there out of my workday to indulge in non-work related passions is not isolated to football season or football as subject matter; it is a year-round struggle. I have had enough conversations with others and seen many more in the act to have enough evidence that I am not alone. Perhaps after clearing your inbox you decide a quick look through the blog roll is a well-deserved reward for your “hard work.” Maybe you get the irresistible “John Piper and 25 others have Tweets for you” email and you can’t quite seem to do anything else without seeing what 140-character wisdom is being shared. Facebook, Free Cell, Fantasy Football, and a thousand other distractions are out to steal, kill, and destroy our attention.
According to a recent study by the Microsoft Corporation, the average US employee spends six of their eight hours at work on the computer. This leaves ample opportunity for many of us to fall into the temptation of “clicking around” while on the job. Add to that the prevalence of smartphones, and the limitless opportunity to disengage from the work we are getting paid to do comes into light.
Corporations have a term to describe the act of employees disengaging from the job they are getting paid to do. They call it “time theft,” and rightfully so. Though I would not identify myself as the sluggard described in the book of Proverbs, as a follower of Christ I certainly am taken aback at the thought of being a “thief.” Concerning thieves, Proverbs 20:17 reads, “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.” As I think of the portions of paychecks I was paid for time I have spent following personal pursuits I can hear the grinding of stones between my molars and an earthy metallic taste on my tongue.
Perhaps some may be quick to point out that although distractions may keep them from staying on-task at certain points in the workday, the work required of them is always accomplished and goals/expectations are always met – an argument employed by myself in the past when confronted of the reality of my own time thievery. Or, maybe you are self-employed or a contractor and your paycheck comes per project. For you, my exhortation would be to examine how whether you are stealing time you could be spending at home with family, or serving the Body of Christ by indulging in distractions at work.
Colossians 3:23 states, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” We are called to work, heartily. The Greek here can be literally translated work out of or from the soul. It is a work that is much deeper than a work that “adequately meets expectations.” We are called to work passionately and soulfully as if we were working for Christ Himself. How quickly we lose sight of the One for whom we work. As disciples of Jesus, our labor is not simply a means of earning a paycheck (even though at times it may feel like it). Our labor is an act of worship to the Author and Sustainer of all things.
May the Lord grant you a renewed sense of purpose in your work, so that when distractions that can so easily lead us down a path of time theft we are reminded of our calling as men to be salt in light in the workplace. May you be a shining example of honesty, integrity, and hard work for unbelieving bosses and coworkers. Above all pray for the grace to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, who on the night he was betrayed, prayed to the Father in John 17:4, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do,” regardless of what season it is.
Matt Clakley lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Elyse. He is a Covenant Member and Home Group leader at the Village Church in Dallas. You can follow his infrequent Tweets @MClakley.
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