How To Tame Your To-Do List and Take Back Your Time

Family Photo copyIt stares at me. From its place on my side table, my to-do list takes on a life of its own and demands I do this and do that, go here and go there as it whips me into a frenetic pace that drains me. Until I decide who’s really in charge, it becomes a relentless dictator that drives my life and my choices. And unfortunately even my joy.

Whether or not you make a written to-do list or carry one in your head, I’m sure you have days or weeks that it gets out of control and begins dictating your time instead of the other way around.

In itself, my to-do list can be liberating. But when I fail to rule what goes on it, it becomes a taskmaster that demands too much, rewards little, and keeps me chained to the insignificant. I find myself racing from one thing to another instead of doing what I truly love and making an impact in what matters most to me. 

The Word says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10).

Life is short. If we establish our priorities as we talked about in 3 Steps to Putting First Things First, then we must also ensure that the snatch of time we have each day lines up with those priorities. If we do, one day we will look back on these moments with satisfaction instead of longing for what could have been.

So how can we tame our to-do list and experience the joy of doing what we love and pursuing what we were created for?

1—Protect the important things by putting them on the calendar first. Is it a date with your husband? A game night with the kids? Time to exercise, or work on that book you have inside you? If it’s really a priority, then your calendar should reflect it and your to-do list should include it.

2—Eliminate everything that doesn’t line up with your priorities. Is a birthday party of a friend’s friend really something you should allot time for simply because you ran into her at the mall and she extended the invitation? Will that really move you closer to where you want to be or will it rob you of time you could be spending more wisely?

3—Keep it short and be realistic. We all have a million things to do, but we can’t do a million things. Effective people know they can do perhaps 5 things and they can do those 5 things well.

There are days I actually believe I can enthusiastically homeschool my children, pay the bills, organize my closets, finally sift through my emails, make business calls for my husband, whip up a gourmet dinner, get 4 loads of laundry finished, and still have the energy to be the perky little wife my husband would love me to be by lights out.

Instead, the fact is, I impatiently hurry the kids through lessons, pay the wrong amount to the electric company (really!), throw a few things out of my closet and plan to get back to it later, press “Delete All” on my emails (except yours of course 🙂 ), get annoyed with the customer who asks me the same question 4 different ways, order pizza, wash some underwear, and collapse into bed unshowered. Busy, yes, but hardly the outcome I wanted.

4—Give yourself permission to say, “No.” If this is hard for you, then practice saying, “Can I let you know tomorrow?” Then consider if the request is really something that lines up with your priorities. If not, craft a kind response and move on. I usually say, “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer, but I have to honor the commitments I’ve already made.” You cannot make everyone happy, and you are not responsible for trying.

5—Have grace. You’ll get off track. You’ll get irritated at the unsuspecting cable guy who showed up 30 minutes late (and they always do) because your day is now behind schedule, you’ll glare at your husband when he asks if he has clean jeans and say, “Why doesn’t ANYONE else EVER do ANYTHING around here?!” (Of course that’s hypothetical since I’ve never done that). It’s okay. Claim a do-over, a pray-over, and then start over.

So, when you find yourself feeling like there’s no way to get everything done, you’re probably right. It’s a good way to know you need to dial back the insanity of busyness and be more intentional. So, take a deep breath, determine what is really important–what you hope your children will remember about you in 20 years, tame your to-do list and take back your time.

What would taming your to-do list leave you time for today? I’d love for you to leave me a comment telling me what your perfect day looks like.

 

 

 

Modern Day Idols

The Bible is not short on stories of worshipping false idols and gods, but it seems so foreign to us. We do not erect golden calves in our yards or worship little “g” gods, so it is seemingly easy for us to escape disobeying the first of commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We proclaim, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It appears to be a piece of cake to uphold commandment number one, well, until you look up the word god with a lowercase “g” and it means idol.

Idol [ahyd-l] noun:

  1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
  2. Bible. an image of a deity other than God or the deity itself.
  3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion:
  4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
  5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.
  6. a false conception or notion; fallacy.

If we read the first two definitions, we would usually still be innocent of idolatry, but there are four more definitions. This is where I get tripped up.

Recently a friend shared a testimony of the healing and restoration God has done in her family. Her testimony started with her earliest childhood memories of abuse and her desire for a family. It reminded me of my own lifelong desire for family. I had not thought about that in a long time since I now have a husband and five children. It helped me hear that someone else from an abusive family had the same desire, it made it seem more normal. I am sure we are not the only ones either.  Have you realized how the enemy always wants us to think “we are the only one who (fill in the blank)?”

I did not think much more about it until the next day after I dropped off the last of the five kids for school on Monday morning.  I was driving home and as I thought about always wanting a family, the Lord, as only He can do, gently spoke to my heart, “You have made it an idol.”  Ouch!  He was right since childhood I had an idea of the family I wanted and it was the opposite of the family I had, which is not a good basis to define family. I was not wholeheartedly seeking Him and His desire for my family I was building my own, thank you very much!  You know what I was not doing such a good job.  Anytime we try to do it our way instead of His, well, it just does not go well.

Do not misunderstand, I was a believer, I went to church and took my kids to church. They went to Christian school, we prayed at home and listened to Christian radio. I did not totally turn my back on Him, I just did not seek Him fully for His vision or ideal of family. I inserted some bible verses in “my” plan, but that still did not make it His. Even the Christian parenting books I read did not dethrone my idolatry. It was so subtle I missed it until He gently convicted me.

Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love. Jonah 2:8

I went home and began bible journaling while listening to worship music. I was quickly drawn away by a song and knew what I needed to do.  Repent!  So, on my knees, I repented for erecting “family” as an idol, for putting my desire for family above my desire for Him. I gave Him permission to build and keep my family as He saw fit. I would love to tell you that the angels were singing and I felt differently, but I did not.  Although, I did feel a weight lifted. This is going to be a process. Watching God transform what is now His to do what He saw from the beginning. My ways, plans, ideas and dreams will have to die and I will have to seek His heart for His. It is like giving God permission to release the wrecking ball.

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Image courtesy of Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I made my castle tall
I built up every wall
This is my kingdom and it needs to fall
Colton Dixon, More of You

There was no value in idolizing family, my version of family actually became my own worst enemy.  It is not enough or even biblical to do the opposite of what was done in our childhood.  It sets us up for judgement, idolatry, disappointment and lots of spinning our wheels.  

“If a daughter swings to the other end of the continuum and acts the opposite of her mother, she stands a good chance of creating the same dynamics that she’s trying so hard to avoid.  The key lies in finding a middle ground on which you can stand as a loving parent with your own values.”
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Karyl McBride, Ph.D. page 125

We must seek Him for our family. He has things to say about abusive families, but He does not say do the opposite. He always gives it a more positive spin.  

He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress,and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. Isaiah 32:18

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Image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1

Is there something in your life or heart that is held just a little higher than the place the Father holds? Would you be willing to give it to Him and let Him be your only God?  Would you be willing to trust Him with the results? He already knows if there is, but still wants us to humbly come and confess.

Father, thank You that You are a jealous God and You will not share us with our carefully erected and protected idols. You gently and lovingly guide us back to Your will and plan for us.  We can take You at Your word and trust You to perform it.  Amen.

3 Steps to Putting First Things First

(This article is part 2 of a series. To read part part 1, see Is Your Plate Too Full?)

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”


GodI read that illustration many years ago by leadership expert Stephen Covey and I go back to it when my life seems too full of urgent things leaving no room for the important things.

It reminds me to do the big things first before my “jar” gets filled up by all the little things that won’t mean much in 20 years.

When I find myself frustrated by my lack of time for those most important things, here’s how I get back on track to Putting First Things First:

  1. Decide it! I determine my “big rocks”. We can’t prioritize our time if we aren’t clear on what is most important to us. For me, my list includes :
    • Pursuit of God
    • Good Health
    • Pursuit of a strong marriage
    • Pursuit of a healthy family
    • Personal growth
    • Projects
  2. Write it! I keep a journal of my “big rocks” and revisit and change them periodically. Within each category, I list specifics. Under a healthy family, I write, “have a weekly game night”. Under personal growth, I list books I want to read and classes I want to take. Once I know my priorities, my calendar comes out and I take off things that don’t line up with them to make room for things that do. Then I tackle my to-do list and make it more manageable.
  3. Guard it! I learn to let non-essential things go. The phone will always ring, the emails will always beckon. The closets will never quite be as organized as I may like. I carve out some time for these, but then don’t let them bleed over into more important areas.

 

So this is where I am, putting first things first. My next step is taming my to-do list to make room for my priorities on my daily schedule.

How about you? What are your “big rocks”? Do you need to make room for some of them today? I hope you’ll scroll down and leave me a comment.

 

 

 

Love Wins!

New Year’s Eve 2015 greeted me with anxiety and dread.  The fear of repeating the events of the past year was overwhelming. Would I let the anxiety catapult me into a year similar to the one I was bidding farewell, or would I open my heart to my Father to transform the upcoming one?  That in itself was a scary proposition.

The temptation to give in to fear came from years of practice, but this time I made a different choice.  In the face of fear I surrendered and asked my Father for a plan (James 1:5). Afterall, doing things over and over again expecting different results is insanity and I had had enough of that (2 Timothy 1:7).  He illuminated the fact that we had no goals in place individually or as a family, so I set two:

  1. A craft project for the family
  2. The Love Dare for Parents, a goal for me personally

During our New Year’s Eve dinner I asked everyone to think of a word that expressed something they wanted to work on in the upcoming year.  Their responses left me awestruck. It was as if they had just been waiting for someone to ask.  I realized I do not need to keep telling them what they need to work on, they already know.  They just need to be encouraged, so they will feel free to overcome.

The physical result :

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The emotional and spiritual results are still developing.  It is freeing to be able to ask my children in the midst of a struggle are you being (fill in the blank with their word)?  We have checked in a couple of times as a family to hear how everyone is doing.  I also encourage them when I see their words displayed in their behavior or actions, which is helping me practice “nurturing” them.

My personal goal although a seemingly clear and simple one has proved to be much more challenging.   It exposed things in my own heart that need to be healed and pruned.  Day 1 of The Love Dare is “Love Blooms” and instantly I was challenged, which is how my word became so clear to me, “NURTURE.”  For some it may be the simplest of dares, but as I read it, my own woundedness and imperfections were obvious.  I was grieved with how difficult it was, but was determined to complete it.    I think my children were startled by the spontaneity of affection, but began to soften under the words, “I love you.”

What if God never expressed His great love for us?  What if we did not have His Word to remind us daily of that great love?  How would we know He loved us if we were not in constant communication with Him and Him with us?  It is the same with my children, it is not enough to just “know” mom loves me, they need to hear it – verbally and often.

Can you easily let “I love you” escape your lips or do you struggle with it?  What has helped you overcome?  Do you have another area of nurturing your children that is more difficult for you?  I would love to hear your heart and pray for you.  We are not in this journey alone.

Father, may we be so rooted and established in LOVE that it will overflow into everything we do.  Replace the fear in our hearts with Your perfect LOVE.  Thank you that Your LOVE won on the cross and wins eternally.  Amen.

Is Your Plate Too Full?

It was only Monday morning. I woke up an hour before the alarm, and my brain was already racing through my mental to-do list. Going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen, so I slipped out of bed and began to tackle the day.

hand-565588_1920By the time the kids got up, I was already in high gear and wondering how I’d ever get it all done. A quick assessment allowed me to cross a few things off and move a few others to another day. But those days were already crammed and I was afraid I’d end up not getting to it altogether, so worry began to press in. There are bills to pay, appointments to make, lessons to teach, calls to make, and…

The intrusive voice: “Mommy! Did you hear me?…”

Really? Can’t they see how busy I am? “WHAT?” I snap.

“I just didn’t know if you wanted me to make you eggs,” came the convicting sweetness of my 11-year-old.

UGH!!! Guilt is now heaped on top of busy-ness and worry, and I feel like poop. So I soften outwardly and crumble inwardly. “No thank you Honey.”

I grab the phone to make what should be a 3 minute call that turns into 30 and by the time I’m off my heart is racing, my brain is full, and my emotions are about to leap off the sanity edge.

And it’s only 8:30. I grab another cup of coffee and plunge further toward disaster.

Have you played out this same scenario with different characters? If so, then let me tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. These moments are our little reminders to reassess our priorities, re-evaluate our schedules, and re-tweak (or as in my case—overhaul) our to-do list.1

I wish I could say I did all that on Monday, but Tuesday and Wednesday were near repeats before the ah-ha moment kicked in. By then, I was in panic-mode. I went to bed exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, and irritated with everything and everyone.

So I had a desperate, late night cry session with the Lord over my too long to-do list. I was plagued by my inconsistent involvement in the girls’ schooling and by my not being “in the moment” with my family. I asked God how in the world to accomplish it all. After all, there is just one of me.

Can’t anyone understand that? I can’t do it all!

And there it was: Truth in five words.

I can’t do it all.

And thankfully I don’t have to.

And in that moment of clarity was the scripture, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36) My children are intricately linked to my soul and I knew the Lord was telling me I was tending too heavily to the wrong areas while neglecting the one I know is to be my focus–my family.

What the Lord convicted me of is this: I can work tirelessly in many arenas and even achieve “success” through them, but unless it is what He has purposed, it will have little value and come at a cost.

You see, when you gorge yourself from a plate that is too full, you lose the ability to truly taste anything and you have two choices. You can stuff yourself until you’re too bloated to enjoy any of it (and likely end up vomiting a big mess). Or you can choose a few things to savor more fully.

So, if awareness is the first step, what’s next? For me, it’s getting a clearer picture of my priorities. I haven’t done that yet, but I hope you’ll check out 3 Steps To Putting First Things First and together we’ll learn how to take a few good items off our plates to fully enjoy the best.

I’d love to hear about how you manage all that’s on your plate. Please comment below some strategies you use or if, like me, you struggle to reign in your to-do list.

Hugs,

Rita