It’s been a busy past couple of months, but I’m grateful that even in that busyness God has still been teaching and growing me. One of the things that I’ve been learning about as of late is how to manage my time well. Before I dive into some of the more practical points of this discussion, I think it is important to first stop and consider what time management should mean for us as Christians.
What Time Management Means For Christians
There is not really a specific verse in the Bible that tells Christians to “manage their time well.” I believe that this is, in part, due to the fact that “time management” is a relatively new term. Briticanna, in discussing this very topic, relates that the “time management” label didn’t emerge until the 1950s and 60s.
Nevertheless, modern terminology aside, there is the recurring idea in Scripture of “running the race well” or as Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). It’s the idea that the Christian life is a marathon, and like any marathon, the runner must not only persevere but also make wise decisions to ensure that he finishes the race well.
Ephesians 5:16 is a verse I stumbled upon as I was trying to understand time management in the context of Scripture. Here’s what it says:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
When I first read this verse, I was excited. “Aha!” I thought to myself, “Here is a verse that talks about time management! It even says that we are to make the ‘best use of our time’!” But here’s the kicker, Paul is not writing this verse with “schedules” or “procrastination” or any of the other tag-alongs we associate with time management in mind. He’s writing it to encourage the church in Ephesus to, as the ESV study notes put it, “actively take advantage of the opportunity to do good.” In other words, Paul is calling his Christian brethren to walk in a way that is faithful to God. To do that requires wisdom.
This, my friends, is where we unlock the true meaning of time management for the Believer. It’s not about schedules. It’s not about time wasting or procrastinating or checking off all the boxes on our to-do lists. For the Christian, time management is about using wisdom to live a life that is faithful to God in order to bring Him glory.
Yes, a correct employment of time management helps us be productive and get things done, but the ultimate end is God’s glory in our lives.
Please don’t forget that as we move on to the next part of our discussion.
4 Ways To Manage Your Time Well
Now that we’ve spent some time setting the backdrop, let’s dive into some of the things that I’ve been learning (and am still trying to apply) about time management.
#1 Managing Your Time Well Sometimes Means Saying No To Good Things
What some people may not realize is that as much as wasting time is a hindrance to good time management, we also need to make sure that we are spending our time on the right things. One of the biggest hindrances to spending our time on the right things is overcommitment. When we overcommit ourselves, we are agreeing to do too many things at once, which means that our days are spent running around as we try to survive and meet all of the obligations we’ve put on ourselves. Here’s an example.
Last year I was faced with a tough decision. Up until that point, I had been taking private piano and violin lessons. I had just switched violin teachers, and God had opened the door to an amazing opportunity to learn from a skilled violin teacher who was literally one of the best out there. Not to mention the fact that she agreed to teach me at a significant price discount. So, I began to take lessons with her. It was around this same time, however, that I was beginning to seriously pursue my passion for writing. But on top of my school load, my responsibilities at home, my piano practice and lessons, and my violin practice and lessons, I was burnt out and I didn’t have time to put the energy into my writing that I wanted to. That’s when I realized that I had to drop something. After much consideration, I made the grueling decision to drop violin. I chose to say “no” to an amazing opportunity for the sake of pursuing what I was really passionate about and preventing burn out.
There are only a certain amount of hours in the day, and it’s up to you to decide what you are going to spend them on. This is why overcommitment can be so dangerous. It’s deceptive, because if you sit back and look at your schedule, you’re not, in one sense, wasting time because all of the things you are doing are good things. But, in another sense, you are wasting your time, because you aren’t investing your energies in the things that really matter. You see, the problem with time management is not what you are spending your time on, it’s what you aren’t. What aren’t you doing that you would like to, or should be doing? Are you resting? Are you spending time with God in personal devotions? Are you investing in your family? Are you staying on top of responsibilities that have been placed in your life like school and chores? Are you able to pursue your passions?
If you don’t have time to invest energies in those areas of your life that are most important, or if there are certain responsibilities that are being unintentionally neglected, then that is usually a sure fire way to tell if you have too much on your plate and need to take a step back and reevaluate.
The other reason that overcommitment can be detrimental to our productivity is that it sets us up for massive burn out because it keeps our bodies from having time to rest. In fact, burn out is another way that you can tell if you have over extended yourself. If you don’t have time to rest, then you need to take an honest look at your schedule and see if there is anything, even good things, that you need to say “no” to.
Recently, a good thing that I have had to say “no” to is my blog. You heard me right. This very blog that you are reading right now. (Are you starting to understand why I went a couple months without posting?)
I love my blog. I certainly don’t want to quit. The problem, however, is that at the beginning of this second semester I looked at my school schedule and saw how utterly behind I was on several of my subjects. I had known I was behind, and some of it wasn’t my fault. I got sick a lot this winter and as a result couldn’t do school. Still, behind is behind. I realized I needed to give focused time on my school load in order to try to catch up. In order to do that, I needed to eliminate, or at least, take a temporary break from those things that would draw my attention away from school. One of those things is my blog. In fact, I took a temporary hiatus on all my writing in order to give more attention to the other responsibilities that God has placed in my life.
And now, I am in a place where I feel like I can start writing again and take a more balanced approach to my schedule so that I can still get to those things that are important to me while at the same time not neglecting my other responsibilities.
#2 A Little Is Better Than Nothing…
I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those “all or nothing” kind of people. If I’m going to try to do something, whether it be writing or school, I’m either going to sit down and do it for five hours or not at all. If I can’t devote a decent amount of time to something, then why do it? The problem with that kind of attitude is that it is not very realistic. Because of the nature of my schedule, I don’t have time to devote an hour or two hours to every little thing I have to get done. If I did that, I would hardly be getting anything done at all because I’d be spending my entire day on one project. Or, if I have a really busy day where I’m jumping from one obligation to the next, I’ll spend my spare minutes on my email because I “just don’t have enough time to do anything productive.”
Instead of wasting those spare minutes on my email, however, I should take advantage of those few seconds that I do have to make a little progres, no matter how small, on whatever it is I need to do.
For instance, at this moment, I am writing this blog post during a 10 minute break before I have lunch. As much as I would like to sit down and devote several hours to a blog post, and even knock the entire thing out in one sitting, that is not realistic with how my life is right now. So, I am trying to do a better job of taking advantage of those times, even if it is only a few minutes, to get a few words down here and there. And eventually, those little bits of progress will turn into a completed blog post.
#3 Use Things That You Are Tempted To Procrastinate On As Motivation To Get Something Done
This has been somewhat of a revolutionary idea for me, though perhaps for some of you this is a given. Earlier I mentioned my email. Well, that is one of the things that I am tempted to procrastinate on most commonly. Afterall, you open up the Google browser and it’s right there, waiting to be clicked on. Here’s what I’ve realized though: Instead of using my amazing willpower to move my cursor away from the email link and click on the bookmark to my English assignments (it’s an online class), I can tell myself: “Right now I need to be doing a school assignment, but, if I get my school assignment done, I’ll let myself check my email afterwards.” I can actually use the things I’m tempted to procrastinate on as motivation to get things done. And later, once I’ve completed my school assignment, I can reward myself with a trip to my inbox which will most likely be bloated with emails from pinterest, but you know, I could unsubscribe if I wanted to.
A Note On Procrastination
“Procrastination” is often a word we throw around a lot, especially when discussing time management, so before we move on to the next and final point, I think it will be worth our while to give it a definition.
Procrastination: the act of delaying or postponing what we should do in a particular moment by doing what we shouldn’t do in that moment. (this is a combination of google’s definition and my own embellishments)
I think the phrase “in that moment” is especially important. We’ve already talked about how the things that we “waste” our time on aren’t always bad, but there’s another piece to that puzzle. Managing your time well doesn’t mean that you will never be able to do those good things that you’ve said “no” to ever again. All it means is that, in that moment, they may not be the best thing for you. To take this on a smaller scale, this can even apply to those things like Pinterest or TV or email or other more obvious time wasters. While checking my email in the middle of writing an essay probably isn’t a good idea, that doesn’t mean that I should never check my email. All it means is that in that moment, that’s not something I should be doing. However, there may be a moment later in that day where that is okay.
Finally, notice that procrastination is an act. It’s something you are doing. It’s a choice. That means you can choose not to do it. So, if you are someone who really struggles with procrastination, let that encourage you. You aren’t “locked in.” You can choose not to procrastinate. And as always, you can pray to God and ask him to help you to manage your time well and stay away from time wasters!
#4 Managing Your Time Well Means Prioritizing
No matter how well we plan our schedules, there are still things that can happen that get in the way of our to-do lists or take up more time then we originally planned. That’s why it is so important to prioritize! If you are not going to get everything done in one day that you would like to, at least get done the most important things. This is something I’ve been trying to do myself, especially in regards to school. After I see everything I need to get done on a particular day, I will make a note of what things are the most important. Then, I’ll make sure to get those things done first. That way, if something does come up that throws off my schedule, at least I’ll know I’ve already gotten to the important things. Especially if you are someone who has chronic illness like I do, you know that your day can be very unpredictable. Often, I go to bed and get up at a different time everyday, and when my sleep schedule gets wonky my meals get thrown off, and when my meals get thrown off, it’s near impossible for me to have any consistent daily plan. So instead, I try to go about my day by priority, not by schedule.
Well, I hope these four things were at least somewhat helpful! Before I close, I want to leave you with how I began this post. At the end of the day, everything we do as Christians, including managing our time, should be to the glory of God. I think that is something that can get lost sometimes when we are discussing things like productivity and schedules. It can become all about us and the things that we want to accomplish and “being productive.” The ironic thing is, however, that the whole goal of being productive (or at least, what the goal should be) is to glorify God! As you try to manage your days and complete your responsibilities, then, remember that there is a purpose to all that we do. God has called us to manage our schedules and complete our responsibilities for His glory.
Don’t let the means take precedent over the end. Don’t let time management become more important to you than God’s glory.
So, what about you? What are some things that have helped you manage your time well?