Time management

Time is one thing that you can never get back again. The Bible talks about “redeeming the time” or “making the best use of the time.”1 That calls for some commitment to developing our time management skills.

It’s so easy to fritter time away, to be caught up in the whirlwind of busyness, yet come to the end of the day realizing we didn’t accomplish what we had intended. It’s a tremendous challenge to consistently use our time wisely, to get the most important things done, and to find the right balance in the time we devote to the responsibilities and tasks—work and personal—that we are faced with each day.

There are a lot of time management buzzwords out there, and I want to mention two of them: efficiency and effectiveness. There is a big difference between being efficient and being effective. As Jeff Haden explains:

Efficient people are well organized and competent. They check things off their to-do list. They complete projects. They get stuff done.

Effective people do all that, but they check the right things off their to-do list. They complete the right projects. They get the right stuff done.2

While it’s great to become more efficient, if we’re missing the effectiveness component, then we’re likely not reaching our goals or getting the most important things done. So we need to look at becoming effective in all that we do, including how we make decisions, set priorities, and implement wise time management practices.

Let’s look at five key points in the realm of time management.

Number 1. Prioritize.

Jeff Haden put it well: “We can’t do everything, but we can all do a few things really well. Decide what is most important to you, decide to focus on those things … and decide to let go of the things you may want to do but realistically cannot, at least for now.”3

The first step is to accept that you won’t be able to do everything. In order to get the most important things done, you will have to set priorities and give the lion’s share of your attention and time to those.

If you look at your to-do list and see everything as equally important, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with your volume of tasks, rather than the quality of your work. But consider this: The Pareto Principle suggests that 20% of your tasks produce 80% of your results—and that means that a small fraction of your daily work deserves the majority of your attention.4

Not everything is equally important. Not everything that comes to you should receive your attention. If 20% of what you do yields 80% of your results, this should be a key filter through which to view the importance of your tasks.

Number 2. Be clear about what to do and what not to do.

If you want to get the right things done, the first step is to take a good hard look at what you currently spend your time on, versus what you should be spending your time on. This means looking at your overall life plan, being clear about your goals and what you are aiming for. You may need to give a fair bit of time and thought to this initially, as this will serve as the base plan that you work from when creating your daily, weekly, and monthly goals and plans.

Generally speaking, you want to identify your major short- and mid-term goals. You will probably identify a few work-related categories and a few that relate to your personal life. Don’t pick too many. As you allocate your time on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, it’s helpful to place the majority of what you do into one of those categories of focus. This will help you to align what you do on a day-to-day basis with your overall work goals and life goals. Start with a plan, but don’t be afraid to make revisions as needed.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” And here’s Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Just as important as knowing what you should work on is knowing what you should not work on. Some people call this an “ignore” list. It helps to identify and note what types of tasks come your way that you shouldn’t be doing, even if you like doing them. Our time is limited, so we need to be judicious with it.

Number 3. Identify and reduce time-wasters and distractions.

If you want to be the master of your time, you need to know what trips you up. There are many interruptions that come at us each day, not to mention the countless time-wasters and distractions that technology has made available to us. How do you tend to fritter time away? Is it TV? YouTube? Social media? Computer games? Cooking shows? Tracking sports events and scores? Randomly surfing? Checking out celebrity news?

What all of the above have in common is the uncanny ability to steal away hours of your precious time. Many experts suggest that you log the amount of time you spend on activities in a week, so that you’re aware of where your time goes. Then make a plan to reduce or limit your usage; even consider turning off your devices at certain times so you can harness the power of your full focus.

Number 4. Capture and organize your tasks.

Find an organizational system that works for you. The key phrase here is “works for you.” Unfortunately, people can end up spending a great deal of time managing and tweaking their organizational systems, which takes time away from their priority work.

The same holds true for to-do lists. If your to-do list is pages long and you add to it daily, then you will probably not find it hard to believe this stat: 23% of people spend more time organizing their to-do lists than they spend working on their tasks! The takeaway here is: Keep your system as simple as possible, and most of all, go with what works for you.

One of the most classic rules of productivity is this: Do your most important work first. Tackle the top item on your list—which can often be the hardest thing—when you have the most energy and the freshest mind.5 You’ll not only get more done, but you’ll feel great having your priority work behind you.

Number 5. Don’t overextend yourself; be realistic.

God has given us a finite amount of time each day, and no matter how much you want to accomplish something, you can only realistically accomplish so much.

Be realistic about the amount of time that a project will take, whether you can take on another task, and whether you can deliver by the deadline. Be aware of what you already have on your plate, which a well-kept to-do list should provide. And ultimately, be willing to say no when necessary. It’s going to be difficult, but in the long run saying no to tasks that would overload you will protect your ability to do important, quality work, to remain focused, and to be fresh enough to contribute to discussions, creative problem-solving, etc.

  1. Ephesians 5:16 ESV
  2. Jeff Haden, “9 Habits That Turn Efficient People Into Highly Effective People,” Inc., October 6, 2014
  3. Jeff Haden, “Success? It’s Just a Decision Away,” CBS Moneywatch, October 19, 2011
  4. Lea McLeod, “The Job Skill You Need (That Nobody Talks About),” The Muse, September 7, 2014
  5. Trent Hamm, “Do the Hard Things First,” The Simple Dollar, September 17, 2014

Peter Amsterdam

Peter Amsterdam has been active in Christian service since 1971. In 1995 he became co-director (together with his wife, Maria Fontaine) of the Christian community of faith known as the Family International. He has authored a variety of articles on Christian faith and theology. (Articles by Peter Amsterdam used in Activated are adapted.)