Organization would be at the top of most of our to do lists if we had time to make a to do list. But the fact is that most of us go through life each day just trying to survive. We live as though we are a passenger in our own lives. We’re simply along for the ride. We go through each day with no real direction other than the urgent demands of our days. And then we often wonder why we aren’t moving forward in many areas of our lives. What would your life look like if you began to live intentionally? What would change if you made an effort to become organized in how you approach your days and weeks? What would be different for you if you began to try to organize things in every area of your life? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
In the 1960s, Time magazine reported that a subcommittee of the United States Senate was assembled to discuss the topic of time management. Essentially, the best experts in the field were concerned that with advances in technology the biggest problem by the end of the century would be what people would do with all their free time. It was actually suggested that workers would have to cut back on how many hours a week they worked, or how many weeks a year they worked, or else they would have to start retiring sooner. The truth is that the average workweek is now 47 hours – up from 43 hours two decades ago. A recent Gallup Poll found that 44% of Americans consider themselves workaholics. As a pastor, I am no different. I see the needs of people around me and because I haven’t set up boundaries in how I will use my time, I find myself being pulled in multiple directions at once and feel guilty when I can’t rise to the demands. But this isn’t a biblical perspective of how we use our time.
Would you classify yourself as a workaholic? It’s not something that we should brag about. In fact, to be a workaholic is to be out of God’s will for your life. Part of his plan for your life is to have downtime as well as time with family and opportunities to build relationships. The reason we find ourselves in these situations and often facing burnout is because we don’t discipline ourselves with how we use our time. Organization is discipline in action. Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”. The questions we should ask ourselves is are we being careful? Are we being wise? Are we making the most of every opportunity? How we organize our day will determine how well or how wisely we will live that day.
This is why I have four basic areas I work through when I am trying to make sense of my days, weeks and months.
- Itemize. Be detailed in your plans. This is where you randomly write down everything that you have going on. What is it that is consuming your thoughts. Write it down (i.e. pay bills, get groceries, pick up kids, write sermon, etc…). We often fail to start with this very simple step of actually writing down what it is we have to accomplish throughout the day or week. Then when we remember it, we go into panic mode because we are rushed for time to accomplish everything. So I would encourage you to take some time to write it down.
- Categorize. Assign relevance to the details. Once you have your list of items written down, you will start to notice areas that go together on your list. You may notice some main categories like Ministry/Work, Personal, Family, etc… Then you may also notice some subcategories with these. Under Personal, you may notice several Financial things that must be accomplished and can group them accordingly. (I would put it on my priority list as follows – Personal: Financial: Pay bills.) As I began to pull all the personal things together, I would also group the financial areas. You can do this in every area to start to gain clarity in what is really taking place. This also works great in ministry when you are working in multiple areas within the church to begin to gain clarity and focus of objectives.
- Prioritize. Determine the order of importance. Let’s face it. We have a lot to do every day. But the truth is there are some things that we do that could be done at a later time (or eliminated all together). Place importance on the categories that match up with who God made you to be and what He wants you to accomplish. There may be some things on your to do list that have nothing to do with where God is leading you in your family, ministry, work, etc… These are areas I usually start eliminating because they are simply noise in my life. Once you have successfully itemized, categorized and prioritized what is going on in your life, there is one last area that can’t be missed.
- Strategize. Plan your day and work your plan. It’s great to have an idea of what is going on and even to assign priority to it. But what does this look like on a daily basis? This is where the strategy comes in. I think it’s important for us to realize that mentally and emotionally, we can only go in a few different directions in one day. Because of this, we need to be strategic in what we allow ourselves to be focused on each day. It may be that you group all of your Personal:Finance items into one day along with a few other personal categories and make that a part of that days strategy. You may have different areas of focus in ministry. I would encourage you to have certain days of the week designated for certain areas of focus. (i.e. Monday Ministry: Communication: all emails, phone calls, newsletters etc…, Tuesday Ministry: Sermon Prep: Finalize sermon for Sunday, continue to develop sermons for following weeks, Wednesday Ministry: Staff: Work with staff concerning areas of need, etc…) The key is when we get phone calls to pull us into a different area that we push those into the days where we are actually going to be working in that category. (There may be emergencies that come up, but most of the urgent demands that come up can actually wait.) This will help reduce stress and also help us stay focused on what needs to be accomplished that day.
Now, I know you may be thinking that this will cost me more time and I can’t spend time doing this with everything else I have going on in my life. I would say that you will actually gain time by making this process a priority. This approach to my schedule has helped me stay focused even in some of the most chaotic times of my ministry. I’ve heard it said, “If we fail to plan, we plan to fail.” And I believe this to be true. When I find myself getting stressed or overwhelmed, I can usually look and realize that I have stopped being wise with my time and I am letting others control my time for me. A good example of this process in practice is found in Genesis 1 when God created. He took chaos and gave it order. He didn’t create all at once, but allowed different things to be accomplished on different days. He had details that he wanted accomplished, but worked through categories and priorities to accomplish His strategy. I would encourage you to read through that chapter again and see how God organized that one week according to the above areas and see what changes you could make to model that in your life.
Update to blog: As requested, I have put together a sample to do list of what a finished week might look like. You will need to discover your own categories and priorities, but maybe this will help you as you are putting it together. You can download it here: Sample To Do List
Note: I use evernote one my phone and have used docs to go to keep track of this electronically. It’s easier to manipulate once it’s in the computer.
- Make Your Time Count (substanceovershadows.com)
- One Minute To-Do List (dextronet.com)
- Time Management: A Proven Blueprint of An Absolute Winner! (blissreturned.wordpress.com)
- Being An Intentional Person or Living Life Intentionally (yadayadayadah.wordpress.com)
- Time Management Enhances The Quality Of Your Life (balancinglifetips.wordpress.com)