I have been alive for 13,063 days. Through them all, one thing has remained constant.
There have been exactly 24 hours in every single one of them. 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. Every day. Every time. Time does not bend or yield to our to-do list. Yet the constant battle between the things we have to get done and how much time we have to do them is an unrelenting source of anxiety and stress for many.
So what do we do when the amount of things we want to get done is incompatible with the number of hours we have in a day?
Set Your Priorities
I cannot stress enough the importance of setting priorities for your life. Many people don’t do the best things because they let tasks that are of low priority steal time from what is most important. If you are knocking out the smaller, easier, but less important tasks but fail to have time to do the things that drive you toward the kind of person you want to be, the days will always seem too short and you will constantly feel behind.
Good time management starts with this principle: Figure out the things most important for making you the kind of person you want to be and then make sure those things get top priority on your schedule.
Set a Weekly Schedule
Before the week begins (I do this on Sunday evenings), set out a map of what you need to do and what day and time you plan to do them. Keep in mind, you aren’t the President of the United States–you don’t have to have your days planned down to 10 minute intervals. But look at the major tasks you have to do, and try to plan what each 30 minutes in the day will look like in order to accomplish your priorities for that week.
A note: Only fill your schedule to about 75% capacity. Everything takes longer than you think it will. Everything. Leave space that will help you make up time when tasks take longer than you anticipated or things will crowd together and you will start to feel rushed and overwhelmed again. Life is busy and feeling overwhelmed is often inevitable, but you don’t want to feel this way all the time. Having a plan for the week with breathing room is an immense help.
Learn to Say “No”
If you do the first two things, it is likely that you’re thinking, “I can’t get done all that is on my list this way!” That means that something on your list has to go.
This is where setting priorities is crucial to good time management. There are a lot of good things I want to do. Important things. But I can’t do them all.
Our time and priorities will look different depending on our season of life. I’m a husband and father of four young children, the pastor of a church that is steadily growing, and a Ph.d student. There are so many things that I would love to do in all three of those categories. Good things. Beneficial things. But in this season, I simply can’t do them all.
When my kids are older and more self-sufficient, when our church grows to the point of adding a staff member, when this dissertation is finished, there are many things I’ll be able to do to which, for right now, I have to say no.
We need to determine what the most faithful use of our time is at this season of our lives and commit to putting only the highest priorities on our schedules. Good things will be pushed out. We’ll have to say no to things we would love to do. But we’ll get the best things done.
Don’t Do It Alone
One final note: Every discipline is best done with the encouragement, support, and accountability of relationships. Find someone else to do this with you and then pray for and check on one another. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if one falls down, his friend can help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
Do what’s best and say no to the rest!