Tuesday, July 28, 2015

on Contentment and Taming Time

Time management isn’t just a stuffy priority for driven Wall street executives and CEOs with killer deadlines.  My moments on the homefront, hours in the kitchen, my days here are the very stuff that I’ll stand responsible for before my Maker one day.  I long to live in such a way as to give to the Lord the best offering that I can from all the time He’s given me.

Months ago I began thinking of time and tasks differently.  I wrote out my pondering and I talked with friends, and one mentioned to me the book What’s Best Next, by Matthew Perman.  This book really got me going.  It’s gold for Christians who want to “make the most of every opportunity” and “redeem the time because the days are evil.”  

Now that I’ve read Perman’s book and let these ideas sink in and simmer in my mind and in my own planning for half a year, I feel gratefully and quite radically transformed with a new goal and approach to planning my days.  It’s not an app. (You definitely should be laughing.  Of course I will not be coming up with an app, though I was curious about the possibilty for a few too many weeks this past winter!)  But I feel like I’ve been learning a few things that are helping me to distinguish and Focus on the most important things and Rejoice and be content in the good work that the Lord has given me (rather than being depressed that I didn’t get more less-important things crossed off my idol-list in a day.)

Until late last fall, I planned my days with a straightforward to-do list.  My husband, who grew up blessed with a heritage of Franklin Covey planning strategy  taught me to prioritize my list with A, B, and C.  But I was still pretty stuck on needing to get my whole list done every day.  Perman, who praises much of the time management plan of David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, said that though Allen means for his list-keeping plan to make your mind “like water,”  Perman found it made his brain rush “like a tsunami.”   Not desirable!

I lived with that tsunami too. I was far too easily tuned in to my to-do list rather than into the relationships or the everyday responsibilities that I have because of who I am.  There was pressure and it could get ugly if I was pressed up against the end of my time and not yet the end of my list.  What was on my list?  I don’t even know now… but it was long and it all felt terribly urgent and it drove me most every hour, every single day.  

Then I started challenging this pressure plan and began thinking of “Role Planning,” or what Perman calls “Time Mapping.”   It’s just the idea that instead of trying to do everything, all the time, that I can mark out what roles I need to attend to at what times every day, and at those times, work on only the tasks associated with that role.  Perman helped this idea sink in with his write up on the example of George Washington… how his days were quite set with what responsibilities he attended to at what times.  “People operate best from routine, not a set of lists,”  urges Perman.  

For example, school mornings at 8:30AM, I homeschool our big kids.  In that time, I need to fully attend to teaching, giving my attention to our kids, and the lessons before us together.  I don’t need to be busy with any tasks beyond being a good teacher. I will be investing my time best if I give myself wholly to lead and teach and serve and love my kids well as their teacher in our homeschool time together.   

None of the bills to pay, floors to mop, or emails I need to write matter in those homeschool hours.  There’s a slice of time devoted to admin later in the day, and I can do that then.  And what doesn’t get done in my admin time, can be moved to the next chunk of admin time because though there are a few truly urgent things, not everything is urgent all of the time!

Another fun and helpful slot in our days at home is chores.  We do chores together right after breakfast, right after lunch.  I grew up with chores checked on once a week.  Maybe that's the thing to blame for learning to procrastinate so very well?  And maybe procrastinating- and it's doable functionality- is to blame for so much stressful pile-up of pressures sometimes?  But chores don't add up with the same intensity when we're doing them all together at the right time every day. 

Focusing on my role rather than just tasks was the first transformation for me and my drive-me-crazy to-do list.  The second change has come without me recognizing it until I’ve been able to look back on it with the clearer vision of hindsight.    I began realizing several months ago that focusing on roles was gradually leading to shorter lists of tasks that I felt were so urgently associated with each role.  I wondered if I was just getting lazy?  

I had thought that I needed a list running of all my responsibilities (I used the free Wunderlist app to keep track of my roles and the tasks needed under each role.) I had lists of all that needed to be done for homeschool prep and lessons and admin jobs I must complete and friends we need to invite over and cleaning to be done.  But I began to see that as I tuned into simply attending to my right-now job, I could get the work of that job done with creativity and focus if I simply gave it my whole heart and attention now, instead of feeling like I needed to fill it with some extra special meaning (extra tasks to do to make it better.) I know how to be a mom, with my kids, caring for our home, making meals, blessing guests.   I know what I’m responsible for and I can do this, by the grace of God, and I will call it good, and take deep joy in the work that’s been given to me.  

All of my roles and relationships-  as worshipper, wife, mom, homeschooler, friend & hostess- are responsibilities that I alone can care for and complete in this world.  What a grace to get to serve in these ways!

Maybe it’s been my heart that’s changed in ways I can’t quite verbalize.  What I do know for sure is that I’m not as task-driven, not as obsessed with more and more to-dos all the time.  I am responsible to serve faithfully today and to “plan noble things” (Isaiah 32:8, as Perman points out) and I don’t need to cram pack my future now.  More and Busy isn’t always better.  (Maybe it isn’t better?)   Somehow, there’s been a sweeter, hopefully humbler heart in learning to be faithful to my responsibilities for today, to take joy in the work given to me to do, in planning for His glory and in trusting the Father to bring things into being in His time. I’m feeling the peaceful grace of a newly gentle friend ~ time~  that Bradley Blakeman spoke of when he said “You tame time through routine.”  

Be content with the roles you’ve been given, Jill.  Receive these gifts and be faithful and diligent to the work that Master has given you.  Attend to your responsibilities- to caring for the relationships you’ve been so generously gifted!- in such a way as to hear Him smilingly say, when He comes, “well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.” 

As I see it, there are two pieces of What’s Best Next that set it wildly apart from other time management books or planning systems I've seen.  First, in his section about “mission statements” and “life calling statements” and why they’re helpful and how to create one, Perman spells out for his readers that writing a Mission Statement is easy.  Other time planning gurus will tell you something like “find the most important thing to you” or as “what is it you want most?” But here, Perman switches from Project Planner to Pastor and tells us that as Christians, our Mission Statement is chosen for us by our King and declared in His Word.  He urges us that our highest goal needs to be something along the lines of “To glorify Christ and make Him known,” or at least, it’s approximately that substance in whatever words sound best to your soul.  

The second part I loved about this book is that Perman zealously urges every reader to consider in their planning weekly, daily, life goals… all of it…  “How Can I Serve Others?”  “How, this week, can I make some contribution to eliminating local needs and sorrows and even global ones?”  How excellent to be pressed toward this in a time management book!  I can’t think of a time when I’ve read anything about time management (outside of the Bible!) that urges me so straightforwardly to not be selfish with my time, to give myself away, to prefer others above myself and serve their needs first, with the best of me….  But could it be a Christian approach to Time Planning, if it didn’t?  Perman zings the bullseye.  What a deep and abiding blessing I believe it is and will be in my life and family and community as I learn to focus on the Best things…

Another example of the wisdom and helpfulness of this book is a section that Perman includes on how much to plan and schedule.  He urges readers to avoid the rush-hour crunch of traffic in their personal planning.  Leave your roads (your schedule) filled to 70% capacity.  If you pack too much in, the roads don’t flow smoothly.  It takes more work and wastes time if you need to rearrange one item and, also critically important, the 30% margin leaves needful, healthy space in a schedule for creative, thorough thinking and finishing up on work.   He firmly believes that planning our time to be about 70% filled, will help people get more done than trying to set tasks and appointments filling our time to the brim.   There’s a lot of peace pressed into planning like that!

Perman wrote his helpful, sharpening wisdom aimed, I think, a bit more at folks working in outside careers.  My few ideas to share here have been very much influenced by his writing but have also been tweaked to best suit freelance-creatives and women blessed to get to labor in and outward from their homes.  

Here’s my little plan:

I have a Grand Planning page which includes 1) my life mission statement, 2) my seasonal calling statement (what is the work of God for me in this season of months or years?) 3) my roles (closely connected to my relationships), 4) values-characteristics-principles (whatever you want to call it!) and 5) normal routine- my role plan.  

To Plan Each Week:  
Pray.  Review your grand planning page to reorient yourself with your priorities and ask for wisdom to see what’s most important to accomplish for the Father’s glory, to be a faithful to the responsibilities He’s given you, to bless and serve others to advance His kingdom.   

Perman talks about having a few lists- not one for every role- but a few that feed into your roles and weekly schedule.  My Lists are:   Needful (urgent and important), Hopeful (important, not urgent), Books to Read , Emails to write, and Posts to write.   With my mind aware of my priorities and these few lists, I can set out to plan each day.  

To Plan Each Day:
My days roll according to roles, not tasks.    The routine I build for my time includes time to worship and read and journal, time to clean up and lead our kids in chores after breakfast and dinner, time for homeschool, meal prep and groceries, language study and visiting with friends .   Some roles are in the same place every day, but some roles are only assigned to specific days...  Think of the old idea of Monday being baking day, Tuesday being wash day...   

For each day I note 1) Needful things (the stuff with a deadline- be honest, not everything is urgent) 2) Role Goals (see below) 3) a verse to pray or character issue to work on in my own heart or prayer request to lift up 4) scheduled events and needful preparation.  On the side of each week's plan, I also note the books to read this week and emails and posts to write for odd moments that may possibly be unfilled.  

Perman also suggests noting what you need to do and what you want to do every day.  For me, it works better to consider what I want to do, in the place of time (in my role plan or "time map") where I can care for myself, which is most often done in time alone with the Lord or with my husband, or occasionally, with friends or to be alone maybe to work creatively on a project or read.  

Each day I aim my heart at what I call Role Goals.  In each main role of the day, what is the most important thing to attend to?  It might be a character issue to pray for or model and train my kids towards.  It might be spending quality time with one of my kids.  My Role Goal is my gold for making it a good day.  I might not even need to write anything down because the best work for me to attend to now may be already known and richly, deeply entrenched as a pattern in my day.  Simply being faithful to the work given to me, is enough for me, that when I'm reviewing in my mind if this was a good day, I can be content, knowing that I have served the best I can for the relationships and the work that was given to me this day.  Extra productivity is not required to sustain or increase my value as a person, or my acceptance to my God.  Faithfulness, excellence, creativity, being wholly present in attending to the work the Lord has prepared for me... this is what matters.    This is what builds my life, the offering of my life that I one day will present as my offering to the Lord.  May it be the best I can possibly make of it... by His grace, for His glory.


We recently hosted a Creative Arts Concert at our house for several precious homeschooling families to join us to celebrate and encourage our kiddos.  There were more than a dozen performances and more outstanding masterpieces displayed in a gallery viewing time.

Here's to celebrating the music lovers among us who are learning to keep time...
There are some fantastic big girls in our community that we're so grateful our girls can enjoy and admire.
their performance, "The Beauty of Ballet" was Marian demonstrating the five positions in ballet and then a minute of free-form dance from both of them... it was creative and beautiful (at least to their own mom and dad!)
he's playing Vivaldi's "Spring"....  love hearing him make such beautiful music!
Our sweet John only displayed his "Peregrine Falcon Lego Flyer" but he was clear that he didn't want to have to stand up besides it and talk about it.  He'll get there.  Sorry, no pics of his creative construction!

“You need to keep your eyes focused on what you are here to contribute, not simply to do.  You need to direct yourself to effectiveness- the right outcomes- not mere activity.  Therefore, don’t ask “what tasks need to be done?”  Ask yourself “what outcomes need to be accomplished?”  Then determine the activities that will get you there.”  
~ Matt Perman, What’s Best Next.


  1. JILL!!!! I was JUST thinking of our conversation that day we went for lunch and you told me about your app and this book and all of that! And I almost emailed you this morning about this exact topic! I need to re-read this post and get this book! I so love it that I read this post this afternoon. I love this. I love you!

  2. This is such a helpful post for me, Jill. So many wonderful things to think on and transform my daily perspective with. Thanks for sharing!!