According to Business Dictionary, Time Management is the systematic, priority-based structuring of time allocation and distribution among competing demands. A more user-friendly definition for those of us not in the business world might be, the process of organizing and planning how to best budget your time among specific activities.
Time Management God’s Way requires that this budgeting be done with a focus on the things of true importance.
Time Management God’s Way also requires that we manage (or budget) our time well because it is such a precious resource.
Recall Ephesians 5:15-16:
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
In this final post of our Managing Time God’s Way series, we want to consider a few “systems” for helping us become better time managers.
As you survey this list, keep three important things in mind.
- There is no perfect method. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. Ponder your life season. Then choose your system or combination of systems. It’s all about discovering the right fit for you.
- You don’t have to do it all. Huge lifestyle changes can be overwhelming often leading us to give up altogether. Take small steps and be encouraged by this fact – If you choose to implement just one or two new time management systems that result in saving you even ten minutes a day, you will have two and one half extra days at the end of the year!
- Each of us is commanded to be a time redeemer (Ephesians 5:16). The responsibility for how we steward the gift of time is ours.
Systems for Prioritizing
Prioritizing is a crucial step in effective time management. It will focus your time on things of importance, and keep you from spending too much time on tasks that simply don’t matter.
Ask yourself questions
You cannot possibly prioritize all the things on your list if you do not know what is important to you.
So the first question to ask is, “What is most important to me?” Is it my relationship with God? My spouse? My family? My health? Serving my church family or my community? Losing 25 pounds? Developing better eating habits? Finishing my degree? Paying off my debt? Saving for my children’s college?
Then as you determine the priority level of things on your schedule, ask yourself questions, such as:
- Will this strengthen my relationship with God?
- Will this nourish my soul?
- Is this in agreement with what I have determined is truly important?
- Does this matter with regard to eternity?
- Will this matter next year? In five or ten years?
- What will happen if I don’t do this today? Next week? At all?
Plan with big stones
Remember the story of the psychology professor with the mason jar, golf balls, pebbles, and sand. When you prioritize the things on your schedule, begin with the things that you have identified as truly important (the golf balls). Then schedule in the other things in your life that are important such as school and work (the pebbles). Finally, save the sand for last.
Write down your priorities
Take ten minutes. Examine who or what is important to you right now in this season of life. Then write it down. Base this list on what is truly important to you not on how you have been spending your time. Keep your list where you will see it often. This will help you make sure the big stones come first.
Choose a prioritizing format
- Label the things on your to-do list, A, B, or C. Label the things that are truly important with an A. Use B for the important things and C for the less important. As you label items with A, B, or C, look to see if any of the items on your to-do list can be delegated, set aside for another day, or eliminated completely.
- A similar coding system is the A-F labeling system. In this case, A is assigned to the items of highest priority. The letter F is used for tasks with very low priority. This leaves B-E for everything in between. Of course, the number of letters can be adjusted to fit your style, or numbers can be used instead.
- Create a 4-quadrant chart. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey introduces a four box model for time management. This model fits beautifully with our attempts to separate the truly important from the urgent. On one axis are URGENT and NOT URGENT. IMPORTANT and NOT IMPORTANT are located on the other axis. Prioritize the items on your to-do by filling in the quadrants of your diagram with what you determine fits in each.
Prioritizing Tip: Be specific when adding items to your list (whatever format you choose).
When specifics are missing, confusion, procrastination, or even missed steps can occur.
Systems for Planning
Seek God’s Guidance
Ask. How often do we go about trying to do things on our own? Yet God is there, ready and waiting to help. Ask Him to show you how to set your schedule to allow for a good balance of work and rest, alone time and family time, input and output.
Prepare the Night Before
Each evening write out your daily checklist for the next day. List your to-dos in order of their priority. The next day, work your list in order.
Use the prioritized list you created the evening before as a guide for completing your tasks.
Make the Best Use of Your Time
Each of us has different rhythms, different times of the day when we feel the most energetic and productive. Are you a morning person? A night person? Organize your tasks and time for maximum productivity and efficiency. Schedule your highest priority tasks during your peak time. Likewise, schedule lower priority tasks during your down time.
Make a Time Table
When you have a large task to complete or even several smaller tasks, try making timetable for each step/task you must perform to complete the job. Make daily timetables with one to three steps or tasks on each. Basically you are giving yourself deadlines for completing a portion of the bigger work. Achieving these smaller goals provides needed motivation.
The Time Blocking Technique
The Time Blocking Technique is simply the act of planning out your day in advance with the intent of dedicating specific hours to the accomplishment of your tasks. Using this technique requires that you determine in advance what you will accomplish and exactly when you will accomplish it. Once you have an understanding of these, enter them into your calendar and then get to work on those tasks at the appropriate time during the day.
When writing out your schedule, it’s important to block out both proactive blocks and reactive blocks. Proactive blocks are when you focus on the truly important things on your priority list. Reactive blocks are when you allow time for the lesser priorities and the unexpected. (Hint: Schedule proactive blocks during your peak time and reactive blocks during your down time.)
This method is different from the standard daily checklist or to-do list in that it provides you with a specific time frame for completing each task on your list rather than leaving the time frame open-ended.
The Most Important Task Technique (MIT)
This technique is all about focusing on the essential. Choose 1-3 tasks that are absolutely essential and focus relentlessly on them. It’s not that you won’t do anything else that day. It’s that you won’t do anything else until the 1-3 identified tasks are completed. The Most Important Task Technique is all about laser focus rather than trying to “get it ALL done.”
When you consider your top priorities (the truly important), most days there really are only a few things that MUST be done. The MIT Technique helps you sort through all the thousands of voices vying for your attention.
Once you determine your 1-3 most important tasks, schedule them first in your day. This helps you make progress on essential items before you get bombarded by distractions.
Another option is to combine The MIT with The Time Blocking Technique. This would result in blocking out your early hours for your most important tasks.
Systems for Carrying Out the Plan
Some of us are great at prioritizing and/or planning. The problem comes when it’s time for implementation!
The Pomodoro Technique is a method for breaking time into smaller chunks. It works well for mentally taxing or time consuming tasks. It is also a great tool for helping you be sure to take needed breaks throughout your day.
How the technique works:
- Set your timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on your task until the timer rings.
- Take a short 5-10 minute break. (Grab a cup of coffee, take a walk, do something creative.)
- Continue the cycle.
- On the fourth session, take a longer break (20-30 minutes).
There are some wonderful benefits to this technique which was developed by Francesco Cirillo. First, the relatively short sessions of work allow you to focus intently on your task without becoming mentally fatigued. Additionally, the technique allows you to accomplish a significant amount of work while still taking an adequate number of breaks. And importantly, the breaks provide space and time for your brain to exercise its creative side. (Without these intentional breaks, your brain will exercise its creative during your work which can result in procrastination and time-wasting.
The human body operates on cycles called ultradian rhythms – blood circulation, eye blinks, pulse, and heart rate are a few examples. The ultradian rhythms are present in both our sleeping and waking lives and are broken into a series of peaks (times when we are energized) and troughs (times when we are exhausted.) As a result of these rhythms, our brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break.
Using the 90-Minute Focus Technique allows you to take full advantage of the peaks and troughs of the ultradian rhythms. Work 90 minutes. Then rest for 20-30 minutes. Working in conjunction with the natural rhythms of your body gives your productivity a major boost.
There are many more tips and techniques for prioritizing and planning as you budget your time, but we’ll save those for another time. What was it we said about being overwhelmed to the point of giving up? Too much information can certainly cause “the overwhelms,” and we don’t want that!
If you find time management to be one of the biggest challenges facing you right now, go back and skim through the list of ideas and techniques one more time. Choose only one or two and give them a try. Be patient with yourself as you work toward change (it takes a while to develop a new habit), but if your chosen technique clearly doesn’t work for you, drop it. Try another.
I’m praying for you. May your soul find freedom and peace and joy and rest as you grow more and more to manage time God’s Way.