Thank you for sticking with me through parts one and two! I hope the ideas there will be as life-changing to you as they were to me.
Now we get to dive into the practical, shoe leather ideas. My mother has been a huge help to me in learning how to grow in my management skills, so she gets a lot of the credit for these great tips!
1. Do Less
This is the advice my wise mother has given so many times! Listen to these words from a new wife who has found the same thing:
"Say ‘No’. I’m the kind of person who feels bad saying I don’t have time for something. I feel guilty turning down an opportunity to ‘help’. But the truth is, we can’t do everything. We just CAN’T. I’m still learning this lesson, but I started learning it while single. There are times we have to rest. When married, your husband won’t want you running harem-scarem stressed from one thing to another, never seeing you..."
I took advantage of the people who crossed my path this week and asked them what lessons they have learned on time management. A father of seven who manages his family and his own business said,
"As counter intuitive as it sounds, time management means doing less.”
You may be thinking, "Isn’t time management about learning to do more in the same amount of time?" That is our default way of thinking. But time management is really time stewardship. We are to invest our time in the places our Master wants us to. Sometimes this doesn't equal busyness.
Oftentimes, my schedule has to be flexible to fit in a heart to heart talk with a family member or a friend, to do some planning with my parents, to stop and pray (like Susanna Wesley who threw her apron over her head), and many other things we aren’t able to "schedule".
We will keep being frustrated as long as we are trying to serve both our own desires and God's. We can't serve two masters. The double-minded are unstable in all they undertake (James 1:8). And that's our problem, isn't it? We aren't thought out, deliberate, and confident that we know God's will for us, like the Proverbs 31 woman. We're unstable, scurrying from one thing to the next and trying to do way more than we can actually do.
You don’t have to be frustrated. If we surrender our lives to Christ, we live according to Christ's agenda, not ours.
But that's often the burr under our saddles isn't it? Sometimes we are unwilling to cut those things out.
Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). Perhaps our problem is that we are trying to do more than God is actually asking of us.
From time to time, have someone else help you reevaluate how much you are trying to do. List out everything you want to do and then add up all of the hours it would take you to complete what you are trying to do and see if it even fits in a 24 hour day (this exercise can be quite enlightening!). God doesn’t ask us to do more than we can actually do.
2. Plan Like a CEO.
If you don’t plan your day, someone else will.
I often find myself saying "I just don't have time to plan today, I have to get stuff done." This is a HUGE mistake. I've been shocked as I've read about multi-billionaire CEOs and how much time they devote to planning and prioritizing. Even though it can feel unprofitable in the moment, it is so worth it. Carve out time in your day, week, and month to deliberately plan and prioritize.
Here's a short, interesting article that suggests that CEOs spend 50% of their time planning. I'd encourage you to read a book or peruse a few articles written for CEOs once in a while, because the tips they give are very applicable to managing your life and home. Here's a great one to start with:
“A philosopher has remarked that if a man knew that he had thirty years of life before him, it would not be an unwise thing to spend twenty of those in mapping out a plan of living and putting himself under rule; for he would do more with the ten well-arranged years than with the whole thirty if he spent them at random. There is much truth in that saying. A man will do little by firing off his gun if he has not learned to take aim.”
Don’t spend your day playing the game of "productive distractions."
William Alcott has this to say about the subject: "He who rises early and plans his work, and early sets himself about it, generally finds his business goes well with him the whole day. He has taken time at the ship’s helm and will be sure to go before, or drive his business; where as his more tardy neighbor 'suffers his business to drive him.'"
Learn to plan the day before it happens.
3. To Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.
This article title shocked me. "What do you mean to-do lists are evil?", I lamented, "I am the to-do list queen!" Well that was true. I was the to-do list queen. Before I learned this rule, I was also the queen of procrastinating the things on my list.
Cal Newport's advice to schedule everything really makes sense when you think about it.
To-do lists by themselves are useless. They’re just the first step. You have to assign them time on your schedule. Why? It makes you be realistic about what you can get done.
My mother taught me a really important skill that puts this advice to work. When you have a goal (this can be a job with a deadline, a paper to write, a personal goal, etc.) you need to break it up into bite sized chunks. Make each task start with a verb. Then assign a due date to each task. One of the first times I remember really doing this was for the piano recital my studio had. For instance:
Plan Piano Recital
1/20/15 Finalize student's pieces (make a list of the titles and composers)
1/21/15 Write speech
1/22/15 Create first draft of the program
1/23/15 Finalize program
1/24/15 Print and fold program
1/25/15 Lay out and iron clothes + gather everything and put in the car
1/26/15 Recital day!
Simply having a "to do list" can end up with us scrambling the day before to get everything done, leaving us frazzled and running on little sleep on the day of our deadline. Planning ahead this way keeps us from procrastinating, because if we don't do the task for the day, we know we will have to do double-duty the next.
3. Have a Routine
Having a routine saves our energy because it saves us from having to reinvent the wheel every single day. We want to apply our mental decision-making energy to the most creative aspects of our work, not when to brush our teeth. Personal systems work because they make things automatic.
For me, I have found that just having a morning schedule works the best for me. I am then freed up for the rest of the day to be flexible with what life brings and to work on my important projects. It usually takes a few hours for my brain to get going anyways, so spending that time in chores and all the every day stuff leaves me free and prepared to work well from noon onwards.
4. Plan Ahead
Evenings are another ideal time for routines. I learned this great tip from Elizabeth George's book Loving God with All Your Mind.
Prepare in the evening. If you were going to climb a mountain early tomorrow morning, I'm sure you would do certain tasks the night before. Well, the same is true for everyone who feels overwhelmed by the demands on them. They do well to follow this same principle of doing certain tasks the night before.
5. Start with Manageable Goals
If you're like me, then you like to lay out optimistic goals like "memorize the book of Isaiah this week". I have found from personal experience that it is much better to take those gigantic goals and bring them down to a level that I can easily do on a daily or weekly basis. This means you will probably feel like saying “that is way too easy...” Like "memorize one verse per week”. It is often too hard to do all of your goals every day, so choosing to do them on a weekly or monthly basis enables you to make your goals more realistic.
For 2015, I sat down and thought through all of my responsibilities. I wrote out everything I could think of, and then I broke each one up into daily and weekly goals.
For instance, Bible reading is something I want to do every day, so that goes on my daily list. I want to listen to an 80-part sermon series this year, so listening to one of those sermons goes on my weekly list. I broke my chores into daily pieces. I broke my reading into weekly pieces. Journaling and reconciling my budget are also something I want to do once a week.
After going through each goal/responsibility, I have a streamlined daily and weekly list. It saves me so much energy! I know that I am steadily making progress on my "big" goals because I am doing the bite-sized piece for that day, and I don't have to worry about if I'm forgetting something. Homework, deadlines, goals, everything is all there in a manageable list I can do every day.
Here's a shortened sample version of what my weekly list looks like that you can download and customize.
6. Squeeze More Hours Out of Your Day
Yes, you read that right. We've been taught that 24 hours is all we get, and that is definitely true. However, I think there is principle that we often neglect.
Why is it that we often feel like we don't have enough hours in our day? I would like to suggest that one of the reasons may be the segregation that the last few centuries have introduced into our lives.
Life used to be more integrated. Think about how life used to be a few hundred years ago. Why didn't they have to go to the gym? Well, their work and their exercise were often combined. A farmer doesn’t need to go to the gym... come to think of it, they don’t need to get a tan either! Cross two things off the list. Their family relationships and work were also combined. This is the art of killing two birds with one stone. Life wasn't broken up into as many categories because life was all interconnected.
Here's how I've applied this to my life
If I have several jobs to do, I think about how I can combine them. Our individualistic mindset makes it hard for us to be creative. We don’t need to break life up into so many separate areas. We can live in an integrated manner. For instance, cooking dinner with a sibling is a great way to build my relationship with them, while at the same time doing a chore. I can listen to an audiobook while getting ready in the morning. I can read a theological book with a sibling which disciples them, encourages me, and builds our relationship. I mow the lawn and get a workout at the same time. I can go on a walk and pray at the same time.
I think there are so many ways to do this! We just aren't used to challenging the norms of how we're used to doing things. I'm only just touching the tip of the iceberg!
"We have all the time we need. We just need to use it well."
7. Time Management is Mind Management
The secret to discipline is motivation. When you are sufficiently motivated, discipline will take care of itself.
Our time management accurately reflects our true priorities, whether we realize it or not. If I spend 15 minutes surfing the web, I just prioritized pleasing my flesh over whatever I was supposed to be doing with that 15 minutes. It wasn't a mistake, it probably wasn't even a lack of discipline so much as it was an wrong thought that led to a sinful action. If we truly thought that our life depended on praying and reading our Bibles everyday, we wouldn't spend 15 minutes surfing the web and "forget" to have our Bible time.
One thing that I have incorporated into my schedule is reading through a list of hard-hitting reminders that I need every day, which I call my "Heart Checklist". Yes, it gets boring to read the same thing every day, but I am surprised at how often one of them jumps off the page and smacks me like a 2x4. Orienting our lives around God's priorities is an important aspect of living deliberately. The world, the flesh and the devil are all working against us on this one, and we need to be proactive to counter attack.
Here are a few of mine:
And that’s it! Seven practical tips to help you in your own time stewardship. I hope these ideas will be as helpful for you as they have been for me. Remember, I didn’t write this because I’m naturally good at time management. I wrote this because I am not good at it, so if it works for me, it can work for you!