Today we have the fifth and final tip in Shopping for Time:
Plan to Depend (Being Productive in Daily Life)
The final chapter in this slim little book gets down to what some of you might think of as "the nitty gritty" -- the nuts and bolts of organization and time management. But as you might imagine, this chapter doesn't just give you a checklist for being the most efficient woman ever. :) Instead, the authors ask and answer the question, "how do we . . . maintain peace and joy amidst the needs, the interruptions, the unexpected events of daily life?"
The authors are practical, but they're not advocating a "solution-dispensing lifestyle." They're passing on Biblical truth that tells us how to receive heart surgery in lieu of sticking Band-Aids on ourselves.
Here is a summary of their words and a couple of my own thoughts. (As always, I encourage you to read the book for yourself if it's interesting to you, because my little blips don't do it justice.)
The authors write, "For starters, we highly recommend you develop (if you haven't already) a daily planning system that works for you."
This basically means you should acquire (1) something in which or on which to maintain a to-do list, and (2) some kind of calendar. They go on to explain their own personal planning tools, which is fun, because they each do something that best suits their own personality. One sister, for example, uses a big sketchbook and a bucket of markers, while another has everything on her laptop.
If you have an iPhone or a Blackberry, that's awesome, but you don't need one to be organized.
Once you've got the system in place, they give three suggestions for getting the most of your time each day.
1) Fifteen Minutes
Take fifteen minutes each morning to plan out your day. This is based on the businessman's "15:4 rule": "Spending fifteen minutes thinking about what you are doing before you start will save four hours of wasted time later on."
My daily productivity has increased quite a bit since I incorporated this practice into my own schedule. (I'm not counting the weeks I had the flu and nothing happened around here at all. Ha.) I haven't done the math to see if I'm getting four full hours extra from the fifteen minutes of planning, but it would not surprise me if I were.
When I start wandering around the house or getting distracted, I look at it and it whips me back to what I am supposed to be doing. :)
2) Choose the best time
Choose the best time to complete each task in your day. This seems basic, but I had never done it before, really. For example, schedule things that require your brain's full participation during the time of day when you're most alert. More importantly, the authors note, this will combat procrastination. They write,
When you sit down in the morning and look at your to-do list, ask yourself, "Which task am I most likely to avoid?" Then resolve to take care of it first.
They quote Alexander MacLaren, who writes, "No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off until tomorrow."
3) Eat an elephant
This is the old adage for tackling big, huge or unpleasant projects that we can't complete in one day. Eat an elephant one bite at a time. :)
Break big projects in your life down to small, manageable segments, and do a bit each day. They quote Elizabeth George, who writes, "I clean out one drawer, one shelf, or at least one foot of space each day."
I have to tell you that right now my kitchen is more organized than it has ever been in my entire life (I'm not exaggerating) because I ate an elephant. It took me an entire week, but I have a kitchen that makes sense, even inside the drawers and cupboards (!), and I am feeling happier about cooking. I'm not making this up. :) I did a little bit each day.
So those are their straightforward tips for daily planning. Pretty clear and not much fuss. I was surprised, however, at how much these tips have helped me.
But what happens when your plans get messed up?
Some of you are really nice women unless your plans get messed up. You're very pleasant unless you're thwarted, unless someone crosses you, or unless you're under duress.
Oh, you didn't think I knew that about you? :) I know what my own heart is like because it's my heart, and I know what your heart is like because I've read about it in the Bible. We share a common self-centeredness.
When Plans Go Awry
The big interruption lately to my daily plans was the flu. This past month did not go to plan. I have friends who get moved almost every time they just feel settled in a new home and have a good routine established. I have friends who are in the midst of home renovations. I have friends who work outside the home and can't read a page or type an email without someone coming into the office with a question. I have friends who have twenty million kids and never have a single day that goes to plan. People knock on the door, or the phone rings, or the power goes out, or you run out of laundry detergent. Life is full of interruptions to our best-laid plans. You can think of your own list.
"At these moments," write the authors, "this perspective-altering thought from CS Lewis can be of assistance:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of ones "own" or "real" life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one's "real life" is a phantom of one's own imagination. This is at least what I see at moments of insight: but it's hard to remember it all the time.
The Bible is chock-o-block full of verses proclaiming God's sovereignty in all things: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36).
Or, as Jonathan Edwards wrote, “the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle, and end in this affair.”
2) Busy Seasons
If your interruption is actually one long season of interruption (Christmastime, a new baby, finals, a long illness), how do you prioritize what you should do, and avoid anxiety and guilt? Of course there is always the hope that you will be offered help by others. But that's not a given. The authors offer these suggestions when you are having a busy season:
Separate: The authors advise that we "separate the really-do-matter items from the really-don't-matter items."
This is always a big struggle for me. I think all my plans are terribly important :), and I freak out sometimes when I can't do what I want to do because of interruptions.
In the weeks immediately before Claire was born, I injured my back and couldn't move. I had cooked meals all day to put in the freezer so that we could eat easily when she was born. The next day, I was bending to pick up my hairbrush, and my back went out. (She was a ten pound baby!) It was incredibly painful, but besides that, I was incapacitated. And I had SO MUCH TO DO with a baby on the way. I don't think I was very pleasant to be around in that time. When I think back on that time, I regret that I was so focused on being productive. I could have used that time to read and rest and pray before Claire arrived. I don't remember what all I did, but I remember being supremely put out.
The authors use their own priorities as an example. Your other priorities may look different, but if you are a believer in Christ, you should adhere to that first bullet point. Don't skip reading your Bible and praying and seeking God when you're extra busy.
- Sit at Jesus' feet, no matter how busy you are.
- Ask "what one thing would please my husband the most?"
- Ask "what one issue in my child's life needs consistent attention?
- Provide food and clean clothes. If your family is nourished and clothed in clean clothes, their basic needs are taken care of for the time.
Simplify: Ask yourself the question, "How can I make these really-do-matter tasks easier?" Your family needs to be fed, but it may need to be paper plates and pizza or take-out during busy seasons of your life.
Size up your limitations: They quote their dad (C.J. Mahaney), who says, "Only God gets his to-do list done each day. We are not God. We are finite creatures with serious limitations."
3) Inevitable Trials
Trials will come. How do you function when all you want to do is cry?
The authors advocate the old wisdom that you "do the next thing." Sometimes when things are rough, you have to focus on smaller chunks of time. Do the next thing, and then do the next thing after that. But don't get overwhelmed by your whole life at once.
They remind us that believers in Christ live within the promise of Romans 8:28, which says, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
This verse doesn't promise that if you love God, nothing bad will happen to you. It doesn't promise that you will skip through fields of daisies and feel lovely amidst trial and adversity. Romans 8:28 underscores God's sovereignty in life, and His goodness. God orders all of the seasons of our lives. Even the tough ones. His purposes are always good, and He is always good. And He will accomplish His plans to His glory.
John Piper writes,
If you live inside this massive promise, your life is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Nothing can blow you over inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.
Plan to Depend
Finally, the authors close with the hope that their tips will help you manage your busy life, but also with the admonishment that this is not "self-help" advice, because we can't help ourselves. They ask the most important question in the book: What does it mean to depend on God?
They quote 19th century preacher Charles Bridges:
Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction. Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without His counsel. He loves to be consulted.
The authors close with this thought:
In the end, our highest goal each day is not flawless execution of our plans or increased productivity. It's our relationship with God, walking in dependence upon him throughout the day. We should not be more consumed with the completion of our to-do list than pleasing and glorifying the Savior.
Ladies, my own hope for you is that next time you're standing in the grocery store line and a magazine shouts out a quick-fix for your crazy life, or the next time you hear an inspirational quote that sounds good but has no foundation in Biblical truth, or the next time you turn on daytime t.v. and one more person is telling women how to improve their lives, that you'd consider laying yourself at the feet of Jesus, who will not disappoint you if you depend on Him each day.
As you plan your days and gather up your hopes and dreams and make short- and long-range plans, here is something to think about from a book our Bible study has been going through this year called Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp.
" . . . the kingdom of God is about God radically changing people, but not in the self-absorbed sense our culture assumes. Christ came to break our allegiance to such an atrophied agenda and call us to the one goal worth living for. His kingdom is about the display of his glory and people who are holy. This is the change he came, lived, died, and rose to produce. This is the life and work he offers us in exchange for the temporary glories we would otherwise pursue. This kingdom agenda is intended to control our hearts and transform our lives."
I hope this truth is a great encouragement to you as you seek to be wise stewards of your own time each day.