Eight Problem Areas of Time Management

FOCUS: Lack of Goals and Objectives

  •  Know God’s calling for your life —
    If you can find out your life’s mission, then you will be able to know what tasks are important and what tasks aren’t. If you don’t know your mission, then you have no basis for setting priorities in life. Going about life without a mission is like trying to shoot arrows without a target — it’s a lot of busywork, you’re wasting a lot of arrows, and you’re just “going through the motions.”

    There are plenty of good books on this subject. The good ones will advise you to discover your gifts, pray for God’s leading, discuss the matter with other wise Christians, and read relevant Scripture passages. Some good books:
    Sproul, R.C., God’s Will and the Christian, 1984.
    Ogilvie, Lloyd J., Discovering God’s Will In Your Life, 1982.

  •  Set objectives —
    Focusing on purpose is achieved by first deciding on objectives, or the results you think God wants to accomplish through you. Well-clarified objectives meet several criteria: They are specific; measurable; realistic and attainable within a given time period; compatible with one another; have due dates for accomplishment; and finally, they are written so you won’t forget them, and so you can review them often.

    Set long term objectives that span over many years, e.g. getting a college degree, or extending youth group attendance to 500 kids. Break these objectives into short-term ones. Make objectives for the week. Make objectives for each day. The list of short term objectives for the day is often called a “to do” list.

  •  Give a priority number to each objective on your list —
    Doing this will prevent the “tyranny of the urgent” from taking over control of your time. By nature, we are prone to respond first to the urgent demands that seem to fill the day. Rather, you should be doing tasks in the following order of priority (1 is highest).

    1. important and urgent
    2. important but not urgent
    3. not important but urgent
    4. not important and not urgentOne of the first principles for controlling time effectively is to understand that you always have time for the most important things. Just doing more things is not the issue. It’s not how much we do that counts; what counts is the value of what we get done and how well we’ve done it. Therefore, good time managers develop a strong sense of purpose, and then they focus on the activities that will achieve their purpose.

RECORDS: Unaware of How Time is Spent

  •  Do a two-week time study —
    Make 14 copies of this form, one for each day of the two week period. From the time you wake up, jot down what you’re doing, every 15 minutes. Alternately, print a daily calendar at 15 minute increments from a program such as Microsoft Outlook.

    Do not try to fill the form out at the end of the day. You won’t be able to remember all the details. Plus, you may have the tendency to “cheat” a little, in order to make your time profile look better.

    After two weeks, go over your sheets. Make note of any discoveries. Are you spending as much time with your family as you thought? Are you spending more time in front of the TV than you thought? Is paperwork and bill-handling taking up more time than you thought? Are you spending more time on the phone than you really want to? Making such discoveries will help you determine what are the biggest time-wasters in your life.

PLANNING: Failing to Develop a Habit of Planning

  •  Plan weekly and daily —
    Develop the habit of planning your week on the same day of every week. For most people, since Monday marks the beginning of another work week, Monday morning is a good time to plan for the week.

    Also develop the habit of planning your day at the same hour of every day. Most good time managers like planning their day early in the morning. I like to plan my day the night before.

  •  Use two basic tools of planning: a to-do list and a schedule —
    Make the to-do list first. This list will be your goals for the day. Then make a schedule. This will be your action plan, or “recipe” for reaching your goals for that day. Do these two basic steps in your daily planning, your weekly planning, and your long term planning. Note that this two-step process is really the same process as planning to start a ministry (cf. session 3).
  •  Allow enough time for each task, but not too much —
    When you are making out a schedule, remember Parkinson’s Law: Work tends to expand to fill the time available for its accomplishment. This means that you must be careful about building in slack time. If you allow too much time, you will probably use it, whether you need it or not.

    But also don’t be too optimistic about estimating time. By doing a time study, know whether or not you tend to allow too little time to accomplish your tasks.

INTERRUPTIONS: Unable to Control Time-wasters

Unexpected Visitors

  •  Avoid the open-door policy —
    If you need uninterrupted time (e.g. family meals, personal Bible study, creative moments on the job, sleep), you will have to close the open-door. You will have to tell others when not to call you. Don’t tell others, “Just pop on over anytime,” or ” Call me anytime.” Rather, tell them “The best time to reach me is between ____ and _____.”
  •  Time-limit the visit —
    It’s not rude to tell others where you have to go after the visit. If you suspect that the visit may be unnecessarily long, say “Let’s talk for about half an hour. After this, I need to go home.” Say this at the very beginning of the conversation. Don’t say it in the middle, because you would appear to be bored with the other person.
  •  Confer standing up —
    If the conversation with an unexpected visitor must be kept short, stand up. By standing up, most visitors will understand that the talk must be kept brief and to the point.

The Telephone

  •  Buy an answering machine if you don’t have a secretary —
    If you need to protect important times of the day (e.g. family meals), even when you are home, you may need an answering machine. Use it to screen your calls, so that you could answer only the emergency calls, but defer non-urgent calls. If you choose to buy an answering machine, remember to return calls promptly. It will minimize the other party’s frustration with your machine.
  •  Explain the purpose of a call when leaving a message —
    If you get someone else’s answering machine, be sure to mention why you are calling. Because he/she calls back, and gets your own machine, at least you will get an initial response to your question. Furthermore, the other party will appreciate knowing whether or not your call requires an immediate response.
  •  Call during strategic hours —
    For business calls, call during the last half hour of the day. The call will be kept short, because the other party is eager to go home. For church calls, call between 7:00 and 9:00 at night. The other party will be home, they would have finished dinner, and yet they are not ready to go to bed yet. Saturdays between 9:00 and 11:00 in the morning is also a good time to reach people. They are usually home, you’ve given them a chance to sleep in late, and they haven’t yet left the house for afternoon activities.


  • Review the excerpt from The Time Trap to tips on avoiding unproductive meetings.

PAPERWORK: Letting Paperwork Paralyze Our Lives

  •  Read selectively —
    Face it, you can’t read everything! You don’t have time to read the entire newspaper, the entire magazine, every piece of mail, every book, and every chapter. The key is to knowwhich chapter, which article, which piece of mail, and which book to read. Here are three quick rules for selective reading:

    1. Scan the table of contents for a rough picture of the book or magazine before exploring it.
    2. Scan a book quickly–say for an hour or so–to get to know the author and how he talks. You cannot understand what a man means until you’ve listened to him for a while.
    3. Read carefully the sections that look as though they contain information you are interested in.
  •  Throw it away! —
    There’s a Clutter Law: Clutter expands to fill the space available. As the stack grows higher, there’s an increasing sense of frustration. You can’t keep up-to-date. You’re always behind. The solution: handle it once, then throw it away. At least 70% of your paperwork is trashable. If magazine clutter is your problem, learn to scan the magazine as soon as you get it, and tear out those articles that interest you, then throw the rest away. Magazines that are simply shoved aside usually don’t get read. As for junk mail, learn to scan it right away, then throw it away. This is your objective in handling paperwork effectively: handle all your paperwork only once.
  •  Give short, fast replies —
    Are you behind in your letter writing and other written correspondences? Here’s a simple rule: most people appreciate a short, prompt reply rather than an unnecessarily long, delayed reply. Even just returning the original letter with your own notes scribbled on it will suffice for many correspondences.
  •  Learn to use a dictation machine or word-processor for longer letters —
    Unless the letter needs to be written by hand (e.g. a love letter, some personal letters), you save a lot of time by having a secretary type it out using a dictation machine, or by your type the letter out yourself on a word-processor.

TEAMWORK: Avoid Trying to Make Time-management a Solo Project

  •  Don’t waste other people’s time —
    It’s hypocritical if you are striving for better time management at the expense of other people’s time management. Ask others (e.g. your co-workers, family members, other church members) whom you work with how you could save them time. Perhaps you could even ask how you might be wasting their time.
  •  Find a time-management partner —
    Find someone who is willing to check up on your time-management efforts. In turn, you would check up on him/her. Mutually encourage each other, serving each other in Christian love.
  •  Delegate responsibly —
    When you delegate a task to another person, be aware that you might be creating a time management problem for him/her. Therefore, be ready to modify your plans, or delegate the task to someone else.

PROCRASTINATION: An Obsession with Low-priority Tasks

  •  Understand procrastination —
    Procrastination is doing low-priority actions or tasks rather than higher priority ones. Procrastination is straightening your desk when you should be working on that report; calling on the friendly customer who buys very little, instead of preparing presentation for the tough customer who could buy much more; or even postponing activities with your children until they’re half grown and it’s too late. Procrastination is avoiding the Christian brother, rather than telling him his offense right away. It is postponing family activities because you have more “urgent” things to do. Procrastination, to put it mildly, is a problem.
  •  Prioritize your tasks —
    See the suggestions on setting priorities under “Purpose” above. Numbering your tasks according to their priority will help you do what’s most important, rather than what’s enjoyable and easy. Make this a habit.
  •  Set deadlines —
    Deadlines have a way of sparking us into action.

PERSONAL CARE: Neglecting to Plan for Personal Needs

  •  Plan for spiritual nurturing —
    In your planning, don’t forget to allow time for personal devotions, prayer, weekly Bible study, reading of Christian books and annual Christian retreats. Also, find a spiritual mentor, plan meetings with him, and let him care for you!
  •  Get proper rest, diet, and exercise.
  •  Plan for leisure time —
    See “Diligent Hands” in session 1. Most people need a Daily Diversion (one and a half hours a day), a Weekly Withdrawal (at least 1 day), and an Annual Abandonment (at least 3 weeks vacation). This leisure time should be worked into your scheduling and planning. Note: business trips don’t count as leisure time.