Have you ever wondered how you’re going to fit everything you need to do today all into one day? Are you overwhelmed with a hectic schedule? Do you want to be a good steward of your time, but you just don’t know what are the most important things to spend your time on?
If you’re like most Christians, you already know that time is a gift from God, and you want to use it wisely. But how do you that when there are thousands of things clamoring for your time and attention every day?
Here is my step-by-step approach to time management. I’m sure there are many ways, but of all the many methods I have tried, this seems to work best for me in the long run. I have found that I am less stressed and feel more productive at the end of the day, while still maintaining close relationships with my family and friends.
Step 1: Determine Priorities.
What is most important to you? If you take just one minute to write down those few things that are the most important to you, you’ll likely find that it’s usually the “big things:” God, family, friends, and necessities.
So why do we spin our wheels trying to fit all these extra, non-essentials into our lives? We’ve been fed this lie that every moment needs to be used up being busy, doing something in order to be “productive,” or to “keep up with the Joneses,” or just to feel “worthy” or “acceptable.”
I struggle with this, too. One of the strategies that has helped me most is to schedule my time into building good habits.
Step 2: Pray for Clarity.
We’ve all heard the story that Jesus told about the three servants and the talents:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 25:14-30, NLT).
Even though this parable is specifically talking about money, it can be applied to abilities or time or possessions, anything that our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us. Pray to be a good steward and to use His gifts to us wisely.
Not one of us knows how much time we have. If today were your last day on earth, what would you want your family and friends to remember about how lived? This is a sobering thought for me. I don’t want my children to remember how glued to my laptop or my phone I was. I don’t want them to remember that I told them I would play with them but never did. A song that reminds me of this and always motivates me to do what is most important is “Next 5 Minutes” by Steven Curtis Chapman.
I’m living the Next 5 Minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes may be all I have.
And after the next 5 minutes
Turn into the last 5 minutes,
I’m taking the next 5 minutes and starting all over again… (http://stevencurtischapman.com)
What is God leading you to do with your talents, abilities, and desires? If an activity doesn’t advance your calling, prayerfully consider dropping it out of your schedule altogether, or at least cutting back on the hours you will designate to that activity.
Step 3: Create a Blank Template for your Week.
You have 168 hours in your week, just like me. No one has more or less time. It all comes down to how we spend it. I’ve found that I need to schedule the most important things, or they will get pushed to the side.
I personally prefer an Excel document, but you can use any app, calendar, or piece of blank paper that works for you.
Here is my Excel document for each day, broken down into 30-minute increments.
Step 4: Add Existing Commitments to your Template.
If you have over-stretched yourself, you will have filled in almost every available block of time already. What we’re looking for are blocks of un-assigned time, “free time” that hasn’t been allotted for something else.
If you have no “free time,” you will need to eliminate some of your existing commitments. Start with the least important. Maybe someone at church corralled you into helping out with a project that does not use your talents. Or maybe your children are too over-extended and half of your day is taken up as a chauffeur. I’m not saying you can’t do anything for anyone else. Just realize that you have to be able to say “no” sometimes. If you’re one of those people who don’t want to let anyone down, need to have every second filled with activity, or just can’t say “no,” here is your permission to start. 😊
If you have kids, they won’t remember how many dollars you made, how many chores you checked off your to-do list, or how clean your house is. In my case, they won’t remember how many levels of Cookie Jam I completed. ☹ They will remember the time you spent with them (of if you didn’t spend any time with them).
If you don’t have kids at home, your days are probably a little less full than those who do. Maybe that’s just a stereotype that us parents with children at home have that is unjust. But, regardless, we all need to be good stewards of the time we’ve been given. I’ve found that normal activities are taking longer and longer the older I get. We need to take that into consideration when we schedule how long an activity is going to last.
I’ve found that many Christians say, “We’re going to do such-and-such at this time.” But they don’t take into consideration how long it may take to get ready or how hard it may be to say “no” to someone else who wants this time. It leads to feeling like promises were broken. Even if you didn’t say the words, “I promise,” people hear that when you don’t add any uncertainty. For example, simply say, “If nothing else comes up…” or “If all goes to plan, I’m planning on being there at…” or “Barring complications…” It makes a difference when someone can’t rely on you to be on time or can’t rely on you to perform a task, because you’re constantly “running late” or constantly double-booking. It ruins your testimony of being dependable.
Step 5: Schedule Specific Times for Those Things that are most Important to You.
Using your short list from Step 1, add those things into your weekly schedule.
· Ask your spouse when you can schedule a date night or just time for yourselves when the kids are asleep.
· Schedule time with your children, preferably individual time with each child. You may have to make it a “date night” with your kids so that you will keep the commitment. Do whatever you need to do to make this a set time that doesn’t get pushed off when something else comes up. I have trouble with this one myself. ☹
· Make sure you have scheduled a time for Bible Study every day. Whether this works best for you in the morning or evening or at your lunch break, it doesn’t matter. Just be sure it gets on your schedule, preferably the same time each day so that it will become a habit. Then if you miss it, you will miss it.
· Also, make sure you schedule time for corporate worship with other believers. Church, Bible Study groups, or Sunday School class get-togethers are so important for living out our faith together.
Step 6: Schedule Specific Times for Those Necessary Things that Absolutely Must Get Done.
Whether we like it or not, we adults have the responsibility to provide our necessities of life for ourselves and those who depend on us. There must at least be food on the table, clothes to wear, and a shelter to sleep in. We don’t have to get fancy in any of these things, but if we need to work to provide those things, then that is a necessity that needs to be added to your schedule.
This is not meant to give advice on money management, but let me just insert a quick thought here. If you’re working extra hours or had to get a second job in order to pay all the bills, you might need to think about simplifying your life and getting rid of the cable bill or the $700 iPhone. Your time is more important than spending that extra money you’re making on frivolous extras. Of course, I’m not saying you can’t get anything you want or you should live like a spartan. But I have found that we often mix up our needs and our wants. We think we “need” a new phone when ours is slow, or we think we “need” another TV in the bedroom so that we can watch what we want to watch without having to share the remote. But these aren’t needs, and the money that these things costs translates into valuable time lost. Things we can do without; time we will never get back.
Step 7: Make Measurable Goals.
If there is something important to you that you are trying to accomplish, say a New Year’s Resolution of losing weight or a goal of starting your own business, start by setting a big Yearly Goal. Every goal must have a deadline and some kind of result that can be measured, or it won’t get done. “Losing weight” won’t do anything for you. “Lose 60 pounds by December 31st” will.
· Set a Yearly Goal.
· Then break that Yearly Goal into Quarterly Goals.
· Next, break down those Quarterly Goals into Monthly Goals.
· Finally, dissect those Monthly Goals into Weekly Goals. This will help you to stay focused and not feel overwhelmed.
· Now you have a concrete task that you can put into your weekly template.
· My Yearly Goal is to write and publish my second novel by the end of 2017.
· Then breaking that down into Quarterly Goals, the first quarter of this year was spent in publishing the first novel [insert shameless plug for Love is Not Arrogant or Rude] 😃; the second quarter was spent in writing and editing my second novel; the third quarter will be taking more time than I did on the first one and promoting my second one, including sending proposals to traditional publishers; and the fourth quarter will be publishing and post-publishing promotion.
· To accomplish the second Quarterly goal, I broke it down into Monthly Goals. For April, I wrote the rough draft of my second novel (very rough!). For May, I am taking a break from the writing process and focusing my time and energy on marketing. For June, I will edit and rewrite my novel.
· My Monthly Goals are still too broad to add to my daily schedules, so I broke them down into these Weekly Goals.
o Week 1 = Find a marketing strategy that works for me.
o Week 2 = Begin my very first blog.
o Week 3 = Continue blogging and learn more about marketing.
o Week 4 = Continue blogging & take half of week off for our 15th anniversary trip! 😃
· Now for Week 3, I have specific tasks. On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I will write for at least 15 minutes a day on my next blog post, and I will watch two videos or read two pdf’s each day about marketing on Platform University. On Tuesday, I will publish my second blog post and promote it. On Friday and Saturday, I will take those days for Family Time and errands. On Sunday, I will go to church, rest, and then plan for my next week.
Step 8: Add Specific Tasks to Achieve Your Goals into your Template.
Step 9: Reevaluate.
Now see if you have enough time to get all the important things plus tasks to fulfill your most important goals. If you find you still don’t have enough “free time” to fill in these goals, reevaluate what’s already on your schedule and take out any other extraneous stuff.
If there is just nothing else that you can take out, consider reducing your goal. Maybe extend the deadline for your weekly goal into two weeks or extend a monthly goal into a quarterly goal.
Step 10: Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits.
I have found that just cutting out time for bad habits doesn’t get rid of them; I need to replace them with good habits.
For example, for a long time, whenever I finished checking my emails and Facebook messages, I would automatically click on my favorite Facebook game, Cookie Jam. I would spend almost an hour every morning using up my free lives and sometimes the extra lives my friends sent me. That was an hour of my life that I could have used for Bible Study or cleaning or spending time with my children. But I didn’t. I got in the habit of indulging myself in Cookie Jam whenever I got on Facebook. Then I would wonder why I always felt like I was running behind.
When I made my new schedule, therefore, I didn’t include Cookie Jam anywhere. I totally cut myself off. And guess what? I went through withdrawals, almost. I had been in the habit so deeply that when I cut it out of my life, I missed it. And then guess what? Yes, I found some extra time to go back to it. I realized that I needed to not just cut out the bad habits, I needed to replace it with something better, more productive.
So now, when I get on Facebook, I’m looking for inspiration for my next blog post. I’m connecting with other bloggers that give me great tips. I’m still on social media, but the purpose is not just for fun anymore. I now have a greater purpose for spending time on there. And it helps me also curb that time. If I don’t find anything quickly, I have no problem with closing out of that window and going back to my daily schedule. It’s better now.
And I also found that I can schedule one half-hour a week for Cookie Jam on Saturday for when I don’t have as much on my to-do list. If I get to Cookie Jam, it’s fun but it doesn’t take time from anything more important. And if something else comes up, Cookie Jam is much more easily pushed to the back burner. It no longer attracts me as much.
Step 11: Schedule Time for Yourself.
I don’t want this to sound like you can’t spend any time in fun. In fact, we need to take time for ourselves to recharge our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual batteries. Whether this means an extra-long soak in the tub, a quiet run in the early morning by yourself, reading a book before bed, or whatever you need to do to recharge, plan for it! Again, it won’t get done, if it’s not scheduled. But don’t let this “me time” be your excuse for laziness during times you have scheduled for other things. There is a balance, like in everything else. For introverts, like me, you will probably need alone time. For extroverts, you will probably need to schedule time with friends or family routinely. The point is, schedule time for yourself—put it on your daily calendar!
Step 12: Take time to Enjoy what you Have.
One of the simplest but hardest things to do in order to de-stress is not to work harder to fit every little thing into your day. It’s to stop, smell the roses, enjoy what God has given you, and be thankful. This is how to be content. When we’re content and grateful, we’re less likely to covet more stuff. We’re less likely to become a workaholic. We’re more likely to spend time with those who are God’s gifts to us, i.e., our family. We’re more likely to be less stressed and feel more productive at the end of the day, though still maintaining close relationships with family and friends and most of all the Lord.
I hope this has been helpful to someone. Let me know if you plan to use this 12-Step process. Or let me know if another process works better for you. What will you do this week to use your time more wisely?