The One-Minute Manager taught me to start with one-minute goals then review and clarify regularly.
Steve Covey’s successful habits taught me to distinguish tasks by importance and urgency.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done enlightened me to the possibilities of stress-free productivity.
Death by Meetings added valuable insights into assembling for efficient purposes.
Google calendar allows time management by the quarter hour (or less if you want!) across multiple electronic platforms.
I tried many systems. Some portions of their principles worked for me but the overall schemes never lasted long.
Shockingly, I found that my days did not progress in an orderly, hourly pattern. My many attempts to schedule days left me frustrated and feeling defeated. The timetable began orderly. By lunch, however, I was an hour behind with several self-assigned morning tasks unaccomplished. Furthermore, the stress reduced my desire and ability to reach out and help others.
I underestimated the length of time to research a topic. A phone call took longer than expected. A colleague dropped in to confer on a project. If at home, well … sometimes getting bread from the downstairs freezer can take an hour.
I noticed a pattern: when no one called or visited and when I had no meetings or appointments, I was able to complete the day’s agenda! When I was in complete control of the day, I had the discipline to bulldoze through the longest of to-do lists.
Reality check: only 2 or 3 such days like this exist in a month!
Reality is messy. I don’t have an assistant (physical nor virtual) to run interference or finish a job for me. Furthermore, we live in community. We are designed that way. When interrupted, I struggle to tell people that I am not available. More importantly, I found that interruptions may actually be divine appointments. God’s plan trumps my agenda.
A parent dropped by my office late one morning. She needed to talk. Her son had made some bad choices and was facing difficult consequences. I listened. I prayed for God’s wisdom. I listened more. Precious little advise emerged from my lips. In conclusion, we prayed together. With my heart fixed on the Lord, words poured forth. Encouragement, reassurance, gentle rebukes, and wisdom flowed. Upon “Amen”, I looked into her tear-streaked yet content face and knew that God had used me to speak directly to this mom’s heart. I thanked God for the interruption.
Course correction time. When the interruptions became a source of irritation, I knew my time management strategy was ineffective and fraught with distorted priorities. A change needed to happen.
Integrating bits and pieces from various sources, I now have a more workable time management strategy that best integrates work, family and faith for me. In the peace comes a better awareness of God’s promptings to reach out to others.
Monthly (Because awareness is a huge part of feeling at peace)
- Last week of the month, scan the large projects and needs of the coming month.
- Add all family schedules to online calendar.
- Ask what needs to be accomplished by the end of the month. For example: What family birthdays and anniversaries are this month? Add cards (and gifts) to the weekly shopping list.
Weekly (Move toward manageable tasks)
- On Sunday afternoons, review the coming week including work meetings (especially evening ministries), family appointments, and children’s commitments.
- Chat as a family so everyone is aware of the week’s schedule.
- Group similar tasks and add them to the schedule: routine emails and newsletter updates (Monday morning), errands for home (Friday morning), etc.
- Choose 2-3 larger tasks for the week: complete small group discussion guides, resolve a Verizon issue, or plan the Winter Retreat. Break down each task to smaller efforts that can be accomplished in one step; such as add icebreakers to discussion guides, find correct Verizon number, choose the theme for the retreat. Keep adding doable, smaller tasks until the larger task would be complete by week’s end.
- Add the small efforts and incremental steps to daily to-do lists. I use Remember the Milk to capture the details including due dates, tags, locations, and priorities. This sounds more complex than it is…really. Once I got started, the routine tasks were already repeating in the system.
Daily (Time to act)
- Daily time with the Lord is a priority. My preference is early in the day, but that is not always possible depending on the needs of my family. Reading scripture, journaling and praying are non-negotiables for every day. If the day begins with a running start, however, my conversation with God is present and ongoing. Time in the Word becomes a late afternoon or evening opportunity.
- Choose 2 to 4 specific tasks to complete each day. Ideally this selection takes place the previous day so I have my direction upon waking up. Prioritize between important and urgent tasks. Regularly investing a few minutes to review my calendar reduces the times when urgent tasks consume my day.
- Here’s the important part: don’t stress about the actual time slot for the task. Progress is defined by completion at the day’s end … whether leaving the office or bedtime for home efforts.
One more note: Inspiration and recall happens at the oddest times! With the help of a couple organizer programs that function across multiple platforms, nothing gets lost. Anytime of the day I can add a reminder to schedule an appointment, jot down a brainstorm for an youth talk illustration or upload a link to a gift idea. But I don’t have to tend to the thought right away…just record it and take it off my brain. The cranial synapses are now free to work on the needs at hand… including living a more missional life reaching out to others!
How do you manage your time? What resources work best for you?
Update: I recently came upon an excellent article about time chunking. Life Coach Marie Wetmore encourages readers to find chunks of time 15-30-90 minutes to accomplish tasks. No more multi-tasking or scheduling alerts!
Photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds (Creative Commons)