By Pat Ennis
Can you identify with the old saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get?” Though difficult to believe, the challenge is not the amount of time we have, but whether or not we have assembled our God-given assets (Matthew 25:1-30), committed them to the Lord (Romans 12:1, 2), and trusted him to multiply them (Philippians 4:13). As we think about assembling our assets, it is necessary to consider the most valuable one we possess, our time.
Let’s begin with a few basic facts. Everyone has the same amount of time (Genesis 1:3-5). God supplies all the time we need (see Philippians 4:19). If we feel pressured by time, it means we are doing the wrong things or we are doing the right things the wrong way (see Proverbs 3:5, 6).
First Things First
If we are going to use our time wisely, we must establish priorities and goals. The word priority implies that some things come before or prior to others—not instead of them. Priorities enable us to walk purposefully through life with guidelines for making decisions. God’s plan of creation provides a priority model—he made animals and humans only after creating an environment to put them in (Genesis 1:6-27). Priorities provide incentives (Proverbs 29:18) and allow us to use our time wisely so we can make a greater impact for the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33, 34). A Christian’s priorities should reflect an eternal perspective and follow the model of the Lord who glorified his Father while he was on earth by finishing the work his Father gave him to do (John 17:4). David Livingstone observed,
I will place no value on anything I may possess except in relation to the Kingdom of Christ. If anything I have will advance the interests of that Kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I may promote the glory of him, to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity (Studies in Christian Living, Book 6, “Growing in Service,” NavPress, 1969).
More Than a “To Do List”
Priorities help us set goals—results that require action to achieve. Productive people set goals; unproductive people focus on wishes. If our lives are going to significantly impact the kingdom of God, we will prayerfully establish goals. Proverbs 16:9 encourages us to make plans, counting on God to direct us. Proverbs 23:23 instructs us to get the facts and hold on tightly to all the good sense we can get. Home management educator Elizabeth Goldsmith writes, “In the greater scheme of life, goals are arranged in a hierarchy from fairly ordinary to extraordinary.” Writing down our goals and the steps required to accomplish them allows us to visualize the tasks before us and put them in order of their priority.
One Size Fits All?
While many resources to help us manage our time are available, ultimately, you must decide what works in your unique situation. Generally a variety of techniques must be tried and customized for individual needs. Don’t feel discouraged if someone else’s pat answers don’t work for you.
There are, however, some tactics that can assist you in assembling your assets. Prayer is the most vital, yet habitually the most neglected tactic. God has promised to provide all of your strength and all of your needs (Philippians 4:13, 19). Without him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). With him, all things are possible (Luke 1:37). Taking the time to seek God’s assistance helps you prioritize your responsibilities while reducing your stress level (1 Peter 5:7, 8). In his classic booklet, The Tyranny of the Urgent (InterVarsity Press, 1994), Charles Hummel places this tactic in perspective: “We know that Jesus’ prayerful waiting for God’s instructions freed him from the tyranny of the urgent. It gave him a sense of direction, set a steady pace, and enabled him to do every task God assigned. And on the last night he could say, ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.’”
Dovetailing or bunching requires creativity, since you are combining two or more activities and completing them simultaneously. For example, you might wash a load of laundry while doing a cleaning task close to the laundry area.
Distinguish between the urgent and the important. While many obligations seem urgent, only a few things are truly important. Focus on the important.
Know the difference between planning and control. Although organized people make things happen, they may also be tempted to lose their dependence on God. That is why prayer must precede planning (Proverbs 16:3).
Set aside time to plan. The time you will save performing your tasks will far exceed the time you spend planning.
The longer the planning period, the less detailed the planning needs to be at the outset.
Plan for the predictable. Leave ample time for the unpredictable.
Work smarter, not harder. Do difficult tasks when at your best, small tasks regularly to avoid bigger, more time-consuming jobs later, and delegate when you can.
Think ahead. Do big projects piecemeal to avoid coming up short in the end, since few things really have to be done at the last minute. Take time each evening to prepare for the next day.
Don’t trust your memory. Record priorities, plans, and appointments on a calendar and then check it before making a commitment.
• Conserve and control time by establishing personal deadlines that occur before the actual deadline. Handling correspondence once, taming all electronic devices (they should be time savers, not time wasters), and proctoring the three thieves of time—procrastination, perfectionism, and poor punctuality—can potentially add hours to your days.
• Learn to live with loose ends.
• Reward yourself for completed tasks.
• Relax and enjoy life (John 10:10).
Set Yourself Up for Success
Priorities, goals, and use of time are tools that allow you to fulfill the purpose God has called you to—not your best friend’s or next-door-neighbor’s. Going against your God-given assets depletes your energy and victimizes your time because it causes you to expend effort in the wrong direction. Successful asset management depends on a sensible assessment of how you operate and what you can handle. The two things you should know about yourself in order to effectively embrace the successful management of your assets are your body cycles and your natural pace. Understanding and functioning within your body cycle allows you to maximize your most productive days and minimize your commitments when your stamina wanes.
Dr. Hans Selye, the father of stress research, held that we all have a natural pace. Some people he likened to racehorses—fast and vigorous; others are like turtles—slow but sure. He warned against violating either bent. ”The difference is inborn. If you force a turtle to run like a racehorse, it will die; if a racehorse is forced to run no faster than a turtle, it will suffer . . . every person has to find his own best stress level, the highest level of activity that is pleasant for him.”
If you know your assets and ask your heavenly Father to assist you in assembling them, you will be freed to joyfully fulfill his will.
Pat Ennis is a freelance writer in Burleson, Texas.
Time Management Tips and Tools
“Working By Priorities and Not Activities” by Jerry Figueroa