5 Things I Do to Manage My Life

Oct 22, 2015 | 0 comments

Time getting away

I don’t have enough time to do everything that everyone needs me to. That simple truth is the cause of most of my stress. I don’t want to feel like I am letting people down BUT…something has to give. The LEAD team has been keeping time-trackers for over a year now so we can see where our time is going. After reviewing mine month after month, here are the five disciplines I’ve found that work for me personally. How does this compare to yours?

  1. Timing is everything. I can write, study, strategize, and vision better in the morning so I don’t schedule meetings before noon unless I have to. When I can routinely do this at least two or three days a week, my productivity, creativity, and capacity noticeably improve. Working on these same activities at night means I am slower and generally less creative. In fact I often wake up the next morning, reread what I wrote the night before and end up deleting the whole thing to start over!
  2. Keeping all my notes in one place is a game changer. I use one diary at a time to capture both my to-do list and my notes from meetings by reversing the book. No little pieces of paper. The only lists I keep in my phone are lists of books, music, and movies people recommend; the sizes of the people I regularly shop for; my medications; and a priority list for the day and week.
    1. The front of the Journal: The front of the journal includes my notes with the date and the name of the person or meeting related to the information at the top of the page. I take notes by hand because over the years I have learned that if I do this, I seldom need to refer to them – I actually remember what I wrote better if I do it by hand. (It turns out there are studies that support my experience.) But just in case, I save my diaries for two years – if I haven’t referred to them by then, I figure I won’t need them! I know many people have great success with digital tools – I’m just sharing my personal experience.
    2. The back of the Journal: I flip the book upside down and work on my to-do list from the back. Yes, this means I am using the diary upside down, so I try to buy ones that work both right side up and upside down. I am always thinking of things I forgot to do and keeping my diary allows me to easily capture them in one place. What this doesn’t do is order my work – it just gathers it together on a few pages.
    3. To order my work, I set priorities by grouping things onto an A list, B list and C list. Big projects get broken down into tasks and scheduled on my calendar. During my morning focus time I drill down into the A list, one item at a time, leaving the simple tasks for the afternoon.
    4. When the notes and the to-do list meet in the middle, I get a new journal. As the dates are in the front and back it makes it easy to pull off them off my shelf later if I need to refer look back to them. How do I find what I’m looking for? My calendar is the key! It allows me to remember what meeting I had when. This works – I’ve done it for over 10 years!
    5. Team work: LEAD’s work requires the team to constantly manage our to-do lists together. We find that it helps to assign a number value to each item on our lists:

#1 is ASAP

#2 is this week if at all possible

#3 is this month

Given our different roles, our #1s and #2s are not typically the same. In order to operate well as a team, we meet weekly to raise up our #1s and identify where we need help from others to meet those goals; monthly for deeper conversations; and quarterly to do strategic planning and budgeting in retreat (more like a lock-in) to focus our efforts.

  1. Managing my calendar is my personal responsibility. A lot of people may want to set my agenda for me but in the end I am the only one who can say yes or no. I operate with an 18 month calendar (digital), working on three month blocks at a time. Over the years I have found a few rules guide my calendar:
    1. Mark my personal time off on the calendar 6 – 18 months in advance. If I choose to give away time I had blocked out, I add it back in someplace else. If my Monday off becomes a work day, I look for another day within two weeks that I can take off. This is a must.
    2. My husband and I review our calendars monthly. Weekly would be better but I’m being honest here. We sit down and walk through the next 18 months, in less detail as we get farther away. Although my husband’s work life is more predictable than mine so he doesn’t need to keep his own calendar as far out as I do, he appreciates having an understanding of my work life as we set aside time to spend together, to see our children, grandchildren, etc.
    3. *When I was raising children this was a mandatory once a week task so we could navigate carpools, clean baseball uniforms, snacks for the right child at the right place and time, etc. I found keeping ONE calendar for my work life and parenting life was the only way I could manage this. (My worst mistake was the time I thought each child, none of whom were driving at the time, should have their own calendar! What was I thinking?)
    4. I apply my values to know when to say no. Saying no to something I really want to do is still one of the hardest things I face. These days, before I agree to anything, I always ask: “Will this further the vision of LEAD?” What is the question you ask yourself?
  1. Engaging in these disciplines is life giving for me. These little things are bigger than they seem. In random order:
    1. Walk every day. Preferably 2-3 miles.
    2. Make my bed, return the grocery cart to the bin, pick up after myself – these little things are indicators of self-discipline and just by doing them I feel better.
    3. Use Dropbox for all my files so I can access them on any device.
    4. Read email and Facebook twice a day unless I am standing in line or waiting someplace.
    5. Triage emails into quick and important. The quick get answered immediately. The important get answered when I am able to focus, often at the beginning of the day as I get my brain moving or at the end of the day as I clear off my list.
    6. Read at least two or three chapters of something every day. Right now my reading is almost totally focused on the Apostle Paul and leadership.
    7. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Nothing increases productivity like a good night’s sleep.
  1. Committing to personal faith formation. I do this by:
    1. Praying all day, with intentional time spent praying with others at meals.
    2. Practicing Centering Prayer once a day. Usually in the morning on my walk.
    3. Studying scripture and reading about scripture almost every day and in a small group at least two times a month.
    4. Worshiping weekly.
    5. Traveling annually on faith pilgrimages.
    6. Praying with my husband every night. Even on the phone if I am traveling.

What are your top 5 ways of managing your time?

A few books I have found helpful on this topic include:

Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker

Time! 105 Ways to Get More Done every Workday by David Cottrell

Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

A few websites I have found helpful on this topic include:


Work Smarter, Not Harder



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