“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
All of us are called to be good stewards of the time God has given us, but when we get down to it, our struggle tends to be not as much a matter of time management as it is of priority management. This sounds simple enough, but our culture does us a disservice by pluralizing the word “priority,” confusing us as to what our “priorities” are. When we talk about our “priorities,” we’re talking about something that doesn’t make sense—the nature of priority is singular. We are only able to have one priority.
Below are some of my personal time-tested applications of this idea, my own "stop doing" list, and my suggested reading list to help you focus more on this idea of priority management. I've also recommend this helpful worksheet from my friend, Adam Holz, to serve as a simple "assignment" if you'd like to more closely evaluate how you think about to whom/what you're giving yourself.
These are different things I've tried over time – not all at once, but usually more than one or two at a time. Figure out what works for you and make your own list.
- Put together a time budget. Like money, do you even know where your time really goes?
- Schedule and plan a personal retreat. Even if it's for just half a day, get some time away and make a plan.
- Re-evaluate your commute and how you use it. Much time gets wasted in the car. Listen to audio books, review Scripture, pray, or try initiating actual meaningful conversation with your kids (you might be surprised what happens).
- Read (and don’t feel guilty). There's nothing like reading to make you slow down because you can't really multi-task in doing it.
- Make a “stop doing” list. Over time, tasks and responsibilities accumulate, and not always for the best reasons. What do you need to stop doing?
- Plan blocks of time for projects. The alternative here is to figure out how to make those 5-15 minute windows of time work.
- Delegate (but don’t abdicate) what you can. Maybe you need to ask/pay/beg someone for help. This is not a sign of weakness; nobody's omni-competent.
- Get to a point of being able to declare to yourself (and others) how much time you actually have. It's a thought experiment – try it.
- Be sure to match the reason to the season (and vice versa); that is, there is a time for everything (and this may not be it).
- Make the word “priorities” singular again (“priority”) in your mind and vernacular. It can make a big difference in your thinking.
Craig's "Stop Doing" List
While this list is philosophical, I periodically make practical "stop doing" lists each year to help me discern if something I've been doing needs me to be the one doing it.
- Stop whining about being so busy. No one wants to hear it, and it’s probably not that tremendously interesting to anyone but you.
- Stop believing that you can have it all. You can’t, so you’ll have to choose what you want to have instead.
- Stop ignoring the Fourth Commandment. True, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, but you’re not even close to violating that, so stop pretending.
- Stop feeling guilty about not being able to help everyone for every reason. Jesus is the Savior; you are not.
- Stop being so lazy. There’s very little on television or the Internet worth viewing, so why spend hours trying to find it?
- Stop refusing to delegate to others. They may want (or need) to help.
- Stop letting yourself get overburdened and overworked. Cars were made to be driven; you were not.
- Stop believing the lie that you are important because of all you do; rather, learn to believe you are important because of all Jesus did.
- Stop wearing a watch (at least not on your wrist). Make access to a timepiece just a little more complicated so you might stop reaching for it as much as you would otherwise.
- Stop letting busy people speak into your life. Why let them make you into who they are?
Suggested Reading List
I've read all or most of each of these books and found them most helpful in considering priority in life and how it does (or doesn't) direct everything else. Good stuff.
- New Way to Be Human by Charlie Peacock
- What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
- Bodies in Motion and at Rest by Thomas Lynch
- Traveling Light by Eugene Peterson
- Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford
- Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
- Boundaries by John Townsend
- How to Get Control of Your Time and Life by Alan Lakein
- Seven Habits of Highly Effective Leaders by Stephen Covey
- Getting Things Done by David Allen