by Jan Johnson
It was a difficult decision. The church board asked me to fill in for our choir director while she recovered from an automobile accident. I relished the few times I had previously directed a choir. I also had some innovative worship ideas I was aching to try. This was my chance!
Still the answer was no. I would have yielded except for this: three years earlier I formed life goals, and backed them up by assigning all my activities an order of importance. I felt confident that God led in this and I would stick by it.
I confess that for years I set my schedule by whatever the church needed for me to do. Those tasks helped me discover my gifts; they taught me about leadership and organization.
But when I turned thirty, I became more serious about God’s purpose for MY life. I grew afraid I would wake up at the end of my life and wonder why I hadn’t accomplished my dreams — or even attempted them. I wanted to live a purposeful life.
It seemed to me that my “good” concerns crowded out my “best” ones. It wasn’t that I couldn’t say “no”, it was that so many projects appealed to me that I didn’t know who or what to say “no” to. Without specific direction in my life, I kept committing myself to projects that left me feeling empty.
Then I attended a workshop on time management. I listened to the instructions (the speaker based them on World Vision’sManaging Your Time Seminar) and revamped them as needed. Here are the steps I took.
1. List life goals. I asked myself: Why did God put me on earth? How could I improve my spiritual life, family, or non- existent career? What are those secret ambitions I want to pursue — someday?
My general goals were simple: time with God, time with my family, time to serve, time for myself. So I refined them. I didn’t just want “fire escape” salvation, I wanted to have a close relationship to God here on earth too. I didn’t just want to avoid divorce, I wanted a growing marriage. I didn’t just want to be a Type A Mom who did all the right things for her children, I wanted to enjoy my kids — and my daily life more.
I also wanted to serve God by teaching the Bible and encouraging other young mothers. I wanted to lose a few pounds and stay at that weight for the rest of my life. I also — and it scared me to put it on paper–harbored a secret desire to write.
2. Prioritize goals. I sorted out my general goals (numbered) into good, better and best; I listed the activities that would help me accomplish those goals (lettered):
1) God a. devotions, b. worship
2) husband a. spending time with him,
3) children a. showing them Christ, b. taking care of them, c. enjoying them
4) self a. exercise routine, b. relaxation–reading & evening siestas on the porch
5) writing a. attend a class, b. write everyday
6) service to Christ a. teaching Sunday school, b. leading mother’s club, c. helping my neighbors
7) friends a. talking to them on the phone, b. getting together
Not everyone would list their goals this way or in this order, but this seemed right for me.
3. List activities you’re already doing — family, job, finances, hobbies, causes, anything or anybody to whom I was committed in some way (lettered above). For a week, I also tallied the time spent on each activity. Others’ lists might include a part-time or full- time job, commuting, window shopping, craft projects, caring for an aged parent, driving people to doctor’s appointments.
4. Compare goals with activities. At the end of the week, I wrote the goal number and letter next to each of my previous week’s activities. For example, preparing to teach my Sunday School class was 6a. Washing diapers fell under 3b. I was surprised by how much time I devoted to watching television, to talking on the phone, to opening and answering mail. It seemed that my priorities were different in theory and practice.
5. Make needed changes. I made up an ideal schedule according to my goals. Here are some of the changes I made:
TIME FOR GOD 1a: I set aside the first twenty minutes of my children’s nap time – -the only quiet time of the day, my “prime time”– for my devotions. Too often my Bible reading and prayer time got crowded out or I had them at times when I couldn’t concentrate. If I didn’t get anything else done, I would do this.
TIME FOR HUSBAND 2a: I blocked out certain moments that would be good times for conversation with my husband. One was after dinner (we talked as I washed dishes) and the other was before bedtime (I would have to set aside whatever I was reading).
TIME WITH CHILDREN 3a: To boost their faith, I looked for one opportunity each day for spontaneous prayer–thanking God for a flower, asking Him to help us find a lost item.
3c: Since we both enjoyed reading, I decided to read to them every day before their naps.
TIME FOR SELF 4a: To reach my goal weight, I began a daily exercise routine, which I did while my husband fed my children breakfast. 4b: I scheduled breaks in my day–a walk with my children midmorning; listening to music as I cooked dinner; that peaceful porch sitting in the evening. Oddly enough, scheduling leisure added to the fun–I knew I had something to look forward to.
These breaks fed my other priorities too. I was more relaxed when my husband came home (2a). I enjoyed my children more (3c). Walking and sitting on the porch helped me get to know my neighbors better (6c).
TIME FOR WRITING 5a: I signed up for a writing class and designated the remainder of my children’s nap time to completing class assignments and working on writing projects.
TIME FOR SERVICE TO CHRIST 6a,b: The hitch occurred here. There was no “prime time” left in my day for studying for or organizing my responsibilities at church. (I can’t concentrate when my children are underfoot.)
Yet I loved teaching that Sunday school class and felt called to do it. I figured out that I could prepare for it each Monday night when my husband attended a meeting. That would mean that I could not read, watch television, or talk on the telephone that night.
I gave up the leadership of the mother’s club–a group I had started. It was difficult to do and even tougher to explain, but I knew it was for the best.
TIME FOR FRIENDS 7b: My best friend and I had little time to get together. Finally, I said, “We take time to eat lunch, right? Why don’t we eat lunch together at one of our houses every Wednesday?” So we did–but we always arrived home in time for our children’s naps and our “prime time.”
This new mindset fostered more efficient habits: listening to the news while I ate lunch (instead of watching the evening news which gobbled up precious evening moments); opening my mail and answering brief requests with postcards as soon as the mail arrived.
Others I know who have rearranged their schedules according to their life goals have started their own businesses, begun daily Bible reading programs and earned master’s degrees.
They’ve had to use their leisure time more constructively. One whittled down the number of magazines to which she subscribes. Another rests for thirty minutes after dinner to fuel her with enough energy for late night talks with her husband–a special moment in their house full of teenagers.
We all miss certain “good” activities. I miss bargains because I grocery shop only once a month. My house is tidy and passable, but not spic and span. If my friend and I need to chat on the telephone, we do it while we’re both preparing dinner. It’s worth it to lose some things to gain this sense of direction.
Does it take the spontaneity out of life? No, because I figured in extra time in each task for last minute interruptions and brainstorms so that I wouldn’t feel cramped. My schedule made impulsive decisions easier to make. If I’ve completed my writing assignments, I can squeeze in a luncheon date. If a doctor’s appointment falls during my writing time later this week, I have to stick to my schedule today.
Now, with my priorities in order, I feel hopeful when I read: “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, . . . . Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of the God.” (Ephes. 5:15-17; Phillips Translation).
1 adapted these from steps given at a seminar by World Vision called Managing Your Time. Nine steps (the original form) appear in the “Strategy for Living ” Notebook, written by Ed Dayton and Ted Engstrom. I have his permission to use this material.
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