How to…

I am often asked how I get done what I get done.  Let me first say, I honestly don’t think I get more done than most people.  I think it often appears that way because I hold my emotions close, am fairly private and try to maintain my composure.  I fear I sometimes appear “all together” and that is often far from the truth (just ask my family!).  I will admit though, that I have also been a student of time management for as long as I can remember.  I was that child in elementary school who wanted to work my way through every SRA test seeing my name rise on the chart.  I was the high school student who wanted to make good grades, play sports, serve on student council and earn spending money.  I was the college student who had to work her way through college, so I needed to be able to balance studies with work.  I was the young wife who wanted to work, cook fabulous meals, entertain friends and business partners and create a “Southern Living” style home.  And then I became a first time mom to not one, but two beautiful baby girls and I wanted to be present in every way, have our home continue to be a haven and place for gathering, and I desperately wanted my girls to see me serving in the community.

 

I have have learned a lot about managing my time along the way.  Some lessons were learned through painful mistakes, while others were learned as doors opened and new opportunities presented themselves.  I am still learning.  I have revisited many of my favorite tools and books as I have re-entered the workforce after 16 years as a stay-at-home mom.  I have given a lot of thought to what advice I would share with others as I prepare to send my girls to college next year.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:

  1. Choices:  We all have the same amount of time.  We have to make choices.  Anything we choose to do fills our time and requires we say no to something else.
  2. We all need help.  Even the Proverbs 31 woman had help.  She had maidservants.  We cannot keep our homes, do all the shopping and all food preparations, volunteer at our children’s schools and at church, work, serve our friends and maintain our sanity.  We have to allow others to help.  If our budget allows that may mean a hired housekeeper.  If not, it may mean our children have chores and our husband helps. We may need to swap childcare services with a friend.  When I chose to go back to work this year I knew it would require budgeting for a housekeeper and passing off some of the household shopping to my husband and girls.
  3. We need to know our personal rhythm and build our schedule around it.  I am a morning person.  I do my best thinking in the morning.  I have energy in the morning.  As a result I make it a habit of setting my work hours early.  While I would love to be one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30, it doesn’t fit my rhythm. I do much better jumping right into work and then fitting in a workout on the way home late afternoon/early evening, giving myself a time to transition and a little energy boost.  My natural rhythm also means I need to go to bed early.  I am usually in bed by 9:30 and try to have lights out by 10:30.  I have tried many times to adjust my schedule, to be more like someone else, but in the end my natural rhythm is a part of my DNA and there is no fighting it.  I am a better version of me and am able to perform better when i embrace my personal rhythm.
  4. I live by the 15 minute rule.  Any time I feel stuck, am dreading an assignment or find myself with some extra time I employ the 15 minute rule.  You will be amazed at all you can do in 15 minutes.  Giving your undivided attention to something for just 15 minutes can be the difference between never getting a task done, never starting on a project or complete success.  Here is a list of just a few things you can tackle in 15 minutes:
    1. Empty the dishwasher
    2. Clean out your purse or car
    3. Make your bed
    4. Respond to email
    5. Update/sync your calendar
    6. Create a work plan for a project
  5. Always build in white space.  I always add 15 minutes to the front end and back end of appointments.  This allows me some buffer, keeps me from running late, and is often a source of some 15 minute blocks to tackle some of the daily tasks.  I also leave at least two weeknights open.  This means I have seldom joined a book club or a Bunko group.  This means my husband and I say “yes” to very few charitable events.  (we will pay for a ticket and gladly give someone else our seats)  Early on in our parenting my husband and I made a decision to not let hurry and events run our lives.  We have chosen instead a slower paced way of living, making certain we AND our girls were at home as often as possible.  To some this may have meant keeping our girls from opportunities, denying them the chance to be popular, the best at their sport.  All I can tell you is I have well-rounded, happy girls.  They both have activities they love, lots of friends and our home during these years high school years has been the gathering place.  They would tell you they didn’t miss out on a thing.
  6. Use a calendar.  I am a list maker, but that is not why I advocate use of a calendar.  No.  My advocacy for calendars stems from my desire and intent to be aware of where and how I spend my time.  I want to make choices and know what choices I am making.  Life can and will quickly take control if we allow it.  By using a calendar (which for me is still a paper version) I see how our schedule looks, I know what I have planned for the day, week, month.  I become more conscious, more aware.

I do get a lot done.  However, there are also a lot of things I don’t get done, and most of those are by choice.  I try to extend grace to myself.  I try to maintain discipline without being rigid.  The “how to” is a lifelong learning experience and each season brings new challenges, new lessons, new methods.

If you are struggling to get things done, to get our from under the weight of your calendar I hope a few of my tips will help.  Most of all, I pray you will find some time this week to step back from your life, your daily routine and give it some thought.  Take a leap of faith. Say no where you need to.  Make the desires of your heart your priorities.  Reset your schedule and live your life, not someone else’s.

Friday Planning for Monday

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I used to do my weekly planning on Monday.  I was always in a rush on Friday to wrap things up, or had something fun planned as my little reward for getting things done during the week.  As a result I often went into the weekend with all these little tidbits of information and thoughts spinning in my head.  My desk would have at least one good pile of papers sitting on it.  I seldom looked at my calendar until Sunday night family planning time, when my husband and I make an attempt at coordinating schedules and I holler across the house asking my girls what all they have the coming week, what items they need, asking if I have signed all the papers etc…  You know.  The mom drill.  Monday morning would come around and while I would awaken ready to start the new week off with a bang, at least two hours would be consumed with going through the pile of papers, trying to get on paper all those tidbits of information.  I’d be border-line exhausted by the time I had my plan of attack for the week mapped out.

Then, during the course of my much time management related reading, I came across two authors recommending Friday Planning.  David Allen, of “Getting Things Done” highly recommends this practice.  I hate to admit this hit me like a ton of bricks.  What a novel idea.  You see, being the type A, rule following girl that I am, it would never have occurred to me to “change” the ever acclaimed process of Monday planning.  That had been the mantra of most of the authors I had read, with the exception of the few mom authors who acclaimed the Sunday night planning.  After pondering the idea for a bit, and getting over the fact that I had never considered this before, I gave it a try.  I LOVE FRIDAY PLANNING FOR MONDAY.

I attempt to reserve time after lunch for planning.  I block off thirty minutes to one hour.  It’s amazing how quickly I can develop the next week’s plan of action on Friday.  It is also amazing how much I can get done Friday AFTER my planning session.  I sit down with planner and phone.  I use the monthly calendar on my phone for scheduling appointments etc…  I still transfer this information to my paper planner, but I don’t carry my planner with me at all times, so my phone calendar serves as the “master” calendar.  I make certain everything on the phone calendar is written into my monthly paper planner and weekly planning pages.  My next step is to review all of my project lists (remember from my previous post I try not to have more than 4-5 projects at any given time).  If there are new tasks to add I do so, while also marking off completed tasks and transferring to the coming week’s pages any tasks for that week.  I then review the current week, looking to see if there are any items pending or undone.  I either determine to get them done Friday afternoon or I transfer the task to the following week’s list of “to do” items.  Thirdly,” I make a list of anything I am going to need to buy in order to complete the next week’s tasks.  Lastly, I block off time to work on long range goals-those items that are value to me, build my business and my ministry, and are on-going.  This is in fact my weakest area, but I am finding that as I continue to practice Friday planning, I am much more likely to have the time for working on these long-range goals and keep the time appointment with myself.

Why does Friday planning work?  First, most of us are not up to starting new tasks or doing any “heavy” work on Friday afternoons.  Focusing my energies on planning for the following week gives me an opportunity to “wrap up” and bring closure to the week.  The little things left undone are typically items that are simple, require little thinking and can be done in about 15 minutes if I just do them.  Things like getting the filing caught up, sending a thank you note or business letter to a lead, researching hotels for future trip…  Sometimes it is even going back and reading all those articles I pinned or put in my “follow up” folder in e-mail.  Secondly, Friday planning gives me an opportunity to brain dump.  I can go into the weekend knowing that anything I didn’t get accomplished the previous week has been assigned a new date and time, and will not be forgotten.  I read once that a great deal of our mental fatigue is caused by thinking about things we HAVEN”T done.  This practice helps eliminate that.  I can get it off my mind because I know it is written down and taken care of.  Thirdly, I can truly wake up Monday morning and jump right into work.  This usually means I am VERY productive Monday through Wednesday, and then my energies begin to slow.  But hey, that’s ok, because 80 percent of my stuff gets done in 20% of my time.

I challenge you to give it a try.  Friday planning for Monday.  It might just change your weekends and your Mondays.

 

Striving Stress to Relinquishing Rest-Lessons from Mary and Martha

I love organization.  I love having the sense that my life is in order and therefore I am able to serve.  I love having the sense of peace and calm that comes from being in an uncluttered environment.  I love that God is a God of order and even in the creation story we see His deliberate order.  I love order.  I have always loved order.  I have to admit though, that often, and especially in my early days, order was a means of control.  I worked so hard to have order, keep order, because I was striving to please, to be good enough, to succeed.  Those aren’t in and of themselves bad reasons, but they aren’t the best of reasons.  I often hid hurt, sorrow, frustration, disappointment behind my order.  I often let keeping order keep me busy so I didn’t have to participate or deal with some things.  Isn’t it funny how things in our life that can be really good things can become walls, keeping others out and keeping us from living abundantly and freely?!  Striving to do something in an attempt to get something really does nothing more than exhaust us.

There are days when I look back over the course of my adult life and get discouraged, saddened by the course of events, most out of my control.  My parents divorced, an array of hardships resulting from that for all of us.  Financial strains of family members and my husband and I trying to fix those or provide, often beyond our means.  Getting married to have two different family members live with us in the first year and half of marriage.  Paul’s mother being diagnosed with brain cancer and passing on within our fourth year of marriage.  Six years of infertility.  A difficult and complicated pregnancy resulting in the loss of a set of identical twins and the live birth of beautiful fraternal twin girls.  My husband facing the suicide of two good friends.  Mixed in with that the normal ups and downs.  Losing grandparents.  Beginning new businesses.  Having those not so great days in marriage and in parenting.

Sadly through most of it I spent a lot of time striving.  Striving to get through it the way I thought all good Christian girls were supposed to.  Striving to keep myself from falling apart.  Striving to keep others out of our business so as to avoid the inadvertent harsh remarks.  Striving.  This same striving often led to my rushing decisions and trying to work “ahead” of God.  This same striving often caused me to lose focus on what was most important and even caused me to lose my compassion for others.  Striving stress became a way of life.

It is a long story, over the course of about 6 years, but God has shown me that relinquishing rest comes only from Him and comes ONLY when I quit striving.  I can’t rush God’s work.  I can’t fix things for others, and often I can’t even fix them for myself.  My life is intertwined with others and at times their choices, their decisions, their God given direction changes the course of my direction, my life, my plans.  I don’t understand.  At times it seems unfair.  But this I have learned-no amount of striving, attempts at putting everything in order, creating order out of chaos will change anything.  It may serve as a band-aid for a moment or a time, but it will always lead to exhaustion.

I don’t know if it is this way for you or not, but when God has a message for me and I am slow in taking it in, or need the affirmation of hearing it over and over, He does just that.  I find myself daily running into the message, the story, the characters-whatever it may be.  Mary and Martha have been that for me the past 7-8 months.  A common story and one women often read, but seldom really understand.  The scripture isn’t about comparing these two sisters.  It isn’t about making one more right than the other, but gosh do we women love to go there.  This story is about striving stress and relinquishing rest.  This story is about two sisters, who when living life together, embracing one another’s strengths and weaknesses, were able to serve our Lord in their home, trust Him for their brother’s healing/resurrection and accept Him as Lord before most even understood who He was.  Martha was not chastised for her preparations and her organizational skills.  She was gently reminded that there was a time to stop.  There is a time to set aside the “doing” and rest in the moment.  I have no doubt Mary had been helping Martha.  Now, I don’t doubt Mary was the baby sister and didn’t give her housekeeping and organizational work the same effort big sister Martha did, but I still believe she helped her sister.  However, once Jesus arrived, Mary decided that what had been prepared was good enough and it was time to take enjoy her company, to learn from the Master.  Martha couldn’t let go.  She couldn’t quit striving.  I think her motives were pure-she wanted Jesus to have the very best.  She wanted it all to be just perfect.  But that is where the truth lies.  We are not perfect.  We can not strive enough to become perfect.  He knows.  He sees.  He created us.  He wants us in our less than perfect state.  He wants to spend time with us teaching us, encouraging us, growing us, changing us, bringing our image closer to His image. Mary got it.  She knew when to let go and let God.

I love these sisters.  I love that God is using their story to alter the course of my story.  I love that even now, thousands of years later, I can learn from Mary and Martha.  I know I would have been drawn to them.  I know I would have love being in their home.  I am working on my striving.  I’m still in love with order, with organization, but I’m working really hard on doing it for the right reasons.  I want to manage my time, so that God can order my days.  I want to be faithful with that He has placed on my plate today, so I am ready for the task He gives me tomorrow.  I want to relinquish control and use my gifts and talents to draw others to Him.  My home plays a BIG part in that plan.  Letting go plays a BIG part in that plan.  From striving stress to relinquishing rest.