Susan and I are thinking along the same track this week. She wrote about time management and I was thinking on the same subject this morning. I’m going to
copy borrow her idea and share a bit of what I have learned along the way.
1. A process, not perfection. With both time management and household organization, it helps to think of it as a process of growth. If I have as my goal to be perfectly organized and scheduled all the time, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. When I fail or find flaws in my system, instead of beating myself up over it, I can use it as an opportunity to try another approach.
2. Adaptability. No one system works all the time for everyone. We all have different personalities, families, responsibilities — and before we can get fully settled, life changes: we move, the kids become teenagers, etc. Our own system needs to be adaptable through the seasons of life – and sometimes through any given day.
3. Gleaning. Some people find a particular book, person, or system and follow it exactly. I tend to be more of a gleaner: I pull different ideas from different sources. Either way is fine: just use whatever approach works for you and your family.
4. Priorities. It helps to sit down and establish your priorities and then come back and revisit them from time to time. For instance, time with God is a must: if I don’t make that a priority, then I can get caught up in other things and neglect it. For me that means spending time in the Bible and prayer as one of the first things of the day. Also, my husband is the head of the family and I’m a help for him, so when he asks me to do something that crowds out what I had planned for the week, I need to remember that those hours when everyone is at work or school are not my own to do as I please. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it and work something out if there is a genuine conflict, but it does mean I should not be selfish with my time or schedule things without regard to the rest of the family.
We see Jesus exercising priorities throughout His earthly life, but one clear place that shows this is Mark 1. After a busy day of healing and casting out demons, “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (verse 35), and then when the disciples found Him and told Him people were looking for Him, instead of going back into town to heal more, He said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth” (verse 38). Healing was one part of His ministry, but the higher priority was preaching the gospel. And spending time with His Father was the first priority of the day.
5. Scheduling. Some years ago I came across a few women online who didn’t believe in scheduling their day: they felt they needed to be open to the leading of the Lord and let Him arrange their time. But being open to the Lord’s leading doesn’t negate planning. James 4:13-17 says, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” That doesn’t say don’t plan anything: it says keep the Lord’s will in mind when you plan.
I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have some kind of plan for the day, I’ll just float along and not accomplish much of anything. Ephesians 5:15-16 says: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” While not talking specifically about time, obviously a diligent person is busy. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” Have you ever had to act in haste because you didn’t plan ahead, and then were impoverished in some way because you forgot something or lost your temper and acted impatiently with your family?
When I was in college, I didn’t know how to plan my time well and ended up rushed, with lower grades because I kept turning things in late. In high school I had stayed up til 1 or 2 a.m. doing homework: that wasn’t an option in a Christian college which required lights out in the dorms at 11 p.m. (and that was probably good for me.) I think it was my junior year that I had a course in time management, and I felt that should have been a freshman course! One exercise the teacher had us do was to try different ways of scheduling. One was a minute-by-minutes schedule: that is probably too tedious for most people, although keeping a journal of how you use all your minutes for a few days will help you see where most of your time is going and help you know what areas you need to improve on. That kind of schedule might be helpful in isolated times, like preparing Thanksgiving dinner, when you need to plan what’s going to be in the oven when and try to have everything ready and hot at the same time, or a program, or a wedding, etc. The next was an hour by hour schedule, and that worked well for college when most of my time obligations were parceled out by the hour. I don’t remember the name for the last one, but it involved broader time frames: morning, afternoon, an evening. That worked well as my children were growing up. My schedule is a bit “looser” in my present season of life.
6. Lists. I couldn’t schedule much of anything beyond the everyday routines without a list of some kind. Lists can be frustrating to some people, but it helps to remember it’s not binding, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t check everything off at the end of the day. It’s a guideline. It helps me prioritize which things have to be done and which I can leave for another day. If I just do things off the top of my head, I may spend quite a bit of time something good but forget something critical.
One of the requirements for each of the schedules I mentioned above was that we keep a list of “5 minute tasks” that we could do if we found a few minutes free here or there, like clipping nails, sorting mail, etc. I’ve expanded that to keep a list of tasks that aren’t urgent but still need to be gotten to some time, and that helps me when I am in a slump and would otherwise gravitate to the computer.
7. Interruptions. Once I started learning the value of scheduling, I would get highly frustrated if something interrupted my day or threw me off course. That’s when I needed to remember the “if the Lord wills…” part of James 4:127, along with, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:8). What helped me the most with this was the realization that Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood right in the middle of going to see Jairus’s daughter. Jairus and Jesus were on their way to Jairus’s home when a woman touched the hem of Jesus’s garment, and Jesus stopped and asked who it was. He was calm and unruffled. Nothing is mentioned about Jairus’s state of mind, but it’s not hard to imagine that he might have been distressed, perhaps even impatient. And then he heard that his daughter died, and he could well have blamed her death on the delay. But Jesus said, “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36). And then He brought her back to life, an even greater miracle than healing. Sometimes God has greater things in mind and will get greater glory by what He has planned rather than what we had planned.
8. Don’t compare. My biggest discouragements about my own housewifery came about when I compared myself to others. “How come she gets so much done and I can’t?” “How come she is so much more organized than I am?” I had a friend in early married days with the same number of young children I had, yet she worked part time, sewed her own clothes and her daughter’s, made her own curtains, her house was always (when I saw it) not only clean but also nicely decorated, and she was active in several ministries at church, while I felt like I could barely keep my head above water between dishes and meals and laundry. She was one I most often compared myself unfavorably to. One time she invited our family to dinner, and I realized for the first time that she rarely sat still for long. She was constantly up and down, getting something, doing something, going, going, going. It was hard as a guest to relax because she didn’t seem relaxed. It dawned on me that it was ok that I had a different style and temperament. My energy level, metabolism, priorities, and best time of day to do certain things will vary from others. I could learn from her and from others, and probably should have asked her for some tips, but I didn’t have to try to be just like her or lament that I wasn’t.
Similarly, another friend who was known to be highly organized said one time that she had one type of soup and sandwich for lunch Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and another type Tuesday and Thursday. That saved time planning for lunch each day, but it sounded totally boring to me. If it takes me a little longer to look into the open refrigerator to decide what to have for lunch, that’s ok with me. She also was on a committee involved with doing projects for missionaries the church supported, and she wanted to do the same exact thing for each missionary family: that way she only had to plan once instead of planning something different each month a different missionary was focused. That would be good except that each missionary didn’t have the same type of ministry: some had children’s programs, some were involved in translation work, some ministered to college students. Sending children’s stories would work for the first one but not the others. That’s when I learned that sometimes there are higher priorities than efficiency.
(This is not to talk down about either of these ladies: it’s just to say it’s okay if we each do things differently.)
9. Know your strengths and limitations. If your sleeping habits are regular, you probably have regular parts of the day when you have more energy, and parts of the day when you don’t. Plan accordingly: don’t plan something that’s going to take a lot of mental or physical energy in the afternoon if you experience a bit of a slump then. Likewise, if having people over on Saturdays leaves you too tired for church on Sundays, see if there is some way to rectify that: maybe have guests another night, or meet earlier in the day, or plan simple meals, or do as much cleaning and cooking as you can ahead of time. Hospitality is important, but some people can handle it more often that others. Some people like to constantly have things going on; some of us like time to regroup at home with only occasional outings or activities.
A part of this is learning when to say “No” to certain activities, even good ones, even ministries. Some people say no too easily, some don’t say it often enough. I used to think that anything anyone at church asked me to do was the Lord’s will. Well, one can quickly get snowed under that way. Over the years as I learned more of what my inclinations, gifts, and aptitudes were, I had more of an idea of which ministries to participate in. Sometimes I said “Yes” to something I didn’t really have a desire for, yet I just didn’t feel the liberty from the Lord to say “No,” and I saw Him stretch me out of my comfort zone and enable me in marvelous ways as I learned to depend on Him. Other times I’ve felt no qualm at all about saying no except for feeling bad for the person who asked me, and then saw God bring someone else along who did a wonderful job, much better than I could have: I would not only have robbed the person of the opportunity but the results would have been poorer if I had done it. Part of that discernment comes with time, but part of it is just walking with the Lord and asking His guidance for what He wants you to do.
10. Prevent problems as much as possible. Prevention is probably my biggest watchword in housekeeping: I’d much rather prevent a mess than clean one up. I used to lay my clothes on a trunk in our bedroom when I changed at night, but then they’d be all wrinkled the next day: if I took a few seconds to hang them up immediately, I could maybe wear them again, or if they needed to go in the hamper, they were taken care of instead of having to sort through them later. Putting something back where it belongs when done with it avoids clutter and avoids losing it. When my family puts dishes in the sink, I ask them to run a little water in them: that makes them easier to rinse when I load the dishwasher later than than if food or drink has dried. If someone pours coffee down the sink, I ask them to rinse the excess off rather than have a coffee stain I’ll have to scrub out later. If I hang up or fold clothes right away after they’ve been dried, I have very, very little ironing to do, plus I am not overwhelmed by a mountain of laundry needing folding. Tossing junk mail away when I first bring the mail in saves having to sort through it all later. Preventing piles of papers by putting them where they need to go immediately is easier than sorting, filing, or discarding them later. Etc., etc. Someone once shared with me the OHIO principle: Only Handle It Once. When it is possible to do that, it prevents much of the need for decluttering.
One thing to remember with all of these is not to get so fanatical about any of them that you drive your family crazy. You have to work not only with your own personality and temperament, but with everyone else’s as well. Gentle requests or reminders are better than nagging, and some things you might have to just let go of or only do yourself rather than insisting on them for everyone. Explaining why you want something done a certain way during a calm moment, not in the heat of a disagreement, might help.
I’ve gone on much longer than I intended to, but I hope some of these things I’ve learned along the way will be helpful for you, too.
What has helped you manage your time?