Managing What Matters

January 23rd, 2018

For as long as I can remember, I have loved planning. I get excited when it’s time to purchase a new paper planner and thrive with schedules and routines. But loving to plan doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m always spending my time on the most important things.

While I’ve always had daily time management strategies, it wasn’t until the beginning of last year that I started incorporating more long-term goals and dreams for my life into those plans. The addition has really impacted my work, family, and relationships.

This is one of the biggest lessons I learned in 2017 – No one just backs their way into a life of purpose.

So how do we get there?

Explore what actually matters

First things first, we have to reorient the way we think about our time. It isn’t just necessary to get lots of things done. It’s necessary to get the most important things done.

The most valuable thing I did at the beginning of 2017 was to start with a clean slate. In order to rework my routines, I had to throw any expectations of what my days, weeks, or months “had to” look like. By doing this, I could begin to engage my life at a deeper level that helped me uncover my truest desires.

Here are some questions I asked myself:

What type of person do I want to be? What do I hope my marriage looks like in ten years? What type of family culture do I want to create while our kids are growing up? What do I wish I could spend more time doing? What do I wish I could stop doing all together? What activities bring me life? Where do I utilize the gifts God has given me? What relationships matter to me?

These questions are helpful in identifying your actual priorities in life. Rather than starting with what seems to be urgently calling for your time, these questions start with what you wish and want and dream to become.

This exercise, while really beneficial, was fairly difficult for me. I tend to live mostly in the day-to-day or week-to-week. I seem to be well-aware of the things in my life that I HAVE to do.

Bring snacks for my kindergartener. Make a dentist appointment. Run errands for the upcoming event at work. Call my mom back.

But when I give myself space to dig in and dream, and when I carve out time to let my mind wander, I’m often amazed at where I end up.

Some of the things that actually matter will be simple but important things: eating dinner around the table with your family, exercising consistently, devoting regular time to your spouse or friends, traveling, hobbies – the particulars are yours to decide. These things are often priorities in our hearts, but they take a back seat to the urgent tasks that get thrown at us, especially in ministry.

If we want to work toward what really matters, we have to remind ourselves of what we value, before we put anything back on our schedules. Then, we’ll be able to curate our schedules and routines to reflect these priorities.

So write down those few things that you’ll be focusing on, so that you have what’s important right in front of you as you continue through this process.

Be specific and realistic

Next, we get back to the present day or current season’s needs.

Make a list of basic tasks/chores you have to do on a monthly/weekly/daily basis (especially those things that you find yourself pushing to the side or spending more time on than you wish you would.

Since, we’ve already given ourselves space to dream and set our overarching priorities in life, now is the time to be specific about the other parts of life that aren’t exciting but have to get accomplished.

Laundry, dishes, and cleaning always rank right up there for me when it comes to chores I wish I didn’t have to do. But alas, I know the necessity of these things and am realistic about my need to schedule them into my life rhythms. Work events and hours in the office are part of this equation as well. Anything that is essential, such as paying bills, feeding your family, grocery shopping, should be listed during this stage.

Some good questions to ask during this step include:

What does my job require of me? Evening meetings? Travel? Early mornings? Am I adding anything to that list of requirements that isn’t really there? What do I have to do to keep myself/family/home functioning? What activities am I involved in? Are those immovable?

If you have a family, I suggest asking similar questions of their activities/jobs/school functions. The more specific and realistic you can be, the better.

Be clear with what you must keep on your schedule, so that you know what can get kicked to the curb if it doesn’t line up with your priorities.

Make a plan

Depending on your personality, this could be the best or the worst part of this process. Start with a blank calendar and slowly begin to schedule your days or weeks or even months, whatever chunk of time feels reasonable for you to handle. Before you add a task or activity to the calendar, make sure to look at step one and step two. Try to look at your priorities from step 1 as the big picture ideas that undergird all decisions, while step 2 should keep those important tasks of everyday life in front of you, so they aren’t missed.

For example, if eating dinner as a family is important, what do you need to do to accomplish this? What are the barriers from step two (those specific and realistic tasks) that will get in the way? Are there lots of activities in the evening hours? How often can you realistically accomplish this? What will you sacrifice to make it happen?

Continue this process slowly, working through your schedule bit by bit. I like to plan a month at a time in general, and then look more deeply at the week ahead on Sundays.

Give yourself grace

Progress is the goal here. No one, not even the best planners and organizers, can figure out how to do it all. In fact, I’m guessing those who are most satisfied with how they manage time have actually narrowed in from “doing it all” and are instead “doing what matters most”.

When we reset our goals by starting with what matters, our gauge for success is now different. We can look at our lives as making daily progress toward what we know to be important. We can rest in the truth that our process has landed us with this to-do-list, these particular routines, and these monthly goals.

Instead of letting our lives run us and racing to keep up, we set the pace. We decide when we say “no” and when we say “yes!”. We get to chose, daily. After all, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Christina is the Community Outreach Director at Imago Dei Church in Peoria, Illinois. She and her husband, Dustin, are in the final stages of adopting their two precious daughters. Christina is passionate about foster care and those on the margins of society, aiming to show hospitality to all and creating a home and life that reflect those values. You can connect with Christina on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM or follow her BLOG.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.