I recently wrote about needing a nap in the midst of a very busy season, so I wanted to bring balance to the conversation and discuss full schedules.
Being busy isn’t necessarily bad. If we’re pursuing God-sized dreams, we can expect our schedules to be full. The problem comes when we’re so busy it depletes us and flows out of a dependence on ourselves instead of God. He is our true source of energy, ability, and resources.
On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people prioritize rest without prioritizing work: things don’t get done, deadlines get missed, those who pick up the slack get stressed, and things that could be excellent don’t reach their potential.
Work and rest are meant to go hand in hand—not one or the other. We can redeem our full schedules by cultivating Christ-centered rhythms and using our time well.
How can we do that?
Let’s start with my favorite word: efficiency. I remember a day when my husband and I were watching The Biggest Loser and there was a challenge where each team had to unload big bags of something-or-other from a truck and carry them to the other side of the field as fast as they could. (As you can see, I remember every detail impeccably.) The team that ended up winning had people in the truck placing the bags on other team members’ backs. The other team threw the bags on the ground to unload the truck, leaving the team members who were going to run across the field to first bend down and hoist the bags onto their backs, using up more energy and tiring themselves out faster. My husband laughed and said, “If you were their team leader, you would have started yelling, ‘What are you doing?! Why are you being so inefficient?!'”
If you can work more efficiently, you can get more done with less energy and in a shorter amount of time, thus giving you margin to rest, thus giving you the energy to continue to work efficiently! If you want to get a lot done in a way that’s sustainable, efficiency is the key.
So let me give you a glimpse of how I make my work efficient:
I pray over my schedule. Yes, that’s right. Author and pastor, Mark Batterson, often says, “Pray like it depends on God, and work like it depends on us.” So I pray for God to help me to be productive and efficient and for anointing in each task I do.
Create momentum. I love to-do lists, but sometimes my lists can be daunting. When I feel overwhelmed, I start with small tasks to get a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum. No matter how large some of the items on my to-do list are, a shrinking to-do list is always encouraging. Some people prefer to do the opposite: complete the largest task first so the remaining tasks seem less daunting. Either way, start with something and shrink your to-do list.
Arrange the puzzle pieces. I think of each item on my to-do list as a puzzle piece. If I place them wherever willy-nilly, they won’t all fit. Just as we need to budget our finances (allotting set amounts from our paychecks towards groceries, bills, gas etc…), we need to budget our time (allotting time for each item on our to-do list).
- Before the week begins, I write down what my puzzle pieces are—what I want to accomplish by the end of the week. As I do this, I’m mindful of what’s most important to me. Is this worth my time? Is this keeping me from fulfilling my Kingdom dreams? (And a word of caution: I don’t believe that God is against fun. He wants us to experience enjoyment, laughter, and beauty. These things feed our work, creativity, and even our worship. So if you’re the type that works constantly without regularly experiencing these things, I highly recommend finding ways to add fun to your rhythm.)
- Next, using my planner/calendar, I decide when the best times to accomplish those tasks are. I use pencil because I may have to rearrange later. It’s typical for me to rearrange as the week progresses because…well…life happens. (No guilt!)
- When possible, I group puzzle pieces according to categories for efficiency. For example, if I have multiple tasks that require me to drive to a certain part of town, I plan to do them in one day so I’m not making multiple trips. If I have multiple tasks that require the use of my computer, I try to accomplish as many of those tasks as possible in one sitting.
- I don’t evenly distribute tasks throughout the week. I put a heavier load in the beginning of the week so that I have more room to work with later when unexpected things come up throughout the week.
- I leave time open later for make up work. It’s important to be realistic and to plan for imperfection. Things happen. Computers crash, traffic backs up, cold and flu season hits, lupus flares…If I set up my schedule so there’s no room for error, I’m setting myself up to fall behind. (The great thing is that if I write in time for margin and it ends up being open, I can rest, get ahead on work for the next week, or do something fun.)
- I don’t budget minute-by-minute; I budget according to segments of the day. (Examples: morning, afternoon, evening; before classes, after classes, after dinner.) Appointments need specific start and (usually) end times. But when it comes to tasks to be done, minute-by-minute rarely works simply because it isn’t realistic. And when my plan for the day doesn’t work, it has a way of making me feel guilty…and guilt is not very helpful for productivity. In fact, guilt has a way of slowing us down.
- I budget time for rest. We’re more productive and efficient when we’re well rested. Chronic illness has made rest a non-negotiable for me, but as I look back to my life before lupus, it’s clear I was in desperate need for rest long before I got sick.
- Procrastination is not an option; rearranging my schedule is. I don’t assume I’ll have time to complete something “later.” Some projects take longer than expected. Emergencies and interruptions happen. If I have time to do it now, I do it now. If, however, I end up not being able to complete a task when I wanted, I don’t get guilty; I get proactive. I simply make the adjustments necessary to get it done.
One last note:
I don’t let other people dictate how I manage my time. At the end of the day, I’m the one who is accountable for how I spend my time and what I accomplish.