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The truth about time management

| by Margaret Marcuson

An endless amount has been written about time management. I’ve read a lot of it myself and written a certain amount, too. I’ve been interested in this topic from the beginning of my ministry.

The thing is, there’s a hoax being perpetuated that time management is essentially about technique.

Sometimes this hoax is presented this way: All you need are the right tools: paper planner, online calendar, tools to block addictive websites.

Occasionally, this hoax lies behind needing the “right system,” from Getting Things Done (a complicated system I used to use to great effect) to Steven Covey to InboxZero. All these systems have value when used consistently.

However, none of these are enough. Most of them ignore the emotional and spiritual side of time management. Getting the right systems in place can really help with this, but they are not enough.

So, here’s the truth; and you know this deep down.

Managing time is really managing yourself, especially your emotions.

Everyone has persistent negative thoughts and feelings in the moment that keep us from getting important things done. For example:

  • •“I can’t say no to this person because they will be upset with me.” So I say yes to something I don’t want to do that isn’t in line with my goals.
  • “I’ll never get it all done.” So I feel so overwhelmed I do nothing, or spend hours online.
  • “I’m afraid about our financial future for next quarter, or next year.” So I procrastinate looking at the numbers.

We’re not always conscious of these feelings, but they keep us from engaging with the challenging work we have to do.

So, what can we do about this? We can pray about it. Of course, we can specifically pray about these issues that worry or overwhelm us. However, in addition, the practice of meditative prayer can help with emotional awareness and management. Everyone has lots of thoughts and distractions in meditative prayer, and meditation gives us the opportunity to practice noticing them.

I’ve been spending just a few short minutes in meditation every morning, and it’s astonishing how many thoughts I can have. I come back to a breath prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy.” And then I’m off thinking about what I have to do that day, or what I did yesterday. Or, more likely, what I didn’t do yesterday and should have, and what are the ramifications of that and…and…and…. Then, once again I have to bring myself back to the present moment.

Over time, as we practice bringing our attention back, we learn habits that can help us with those challenging thoughts and emotions that throw us off track. The value of meditation is not simply to help with productivity, of course, but this is an important benefit of regular practice. St. Teresa of Avila talked about being Martha and Mary at the same time: to be busy, yet meditatively aware of God’s presence as we work.

The work is to bring our attention back.

This task, right in front of me, not what might happen this month or this year.

This person I’m talking to, not the next person I need to talk to or the next task.

This email I have to write, not the one that just came in.

I am a big fan of detailed planning for the day and the week ahead. I love tools and techniques. But ultimately, they won’t do enough to get you where you want to go. As faith leaders, let’s go deeper.

How do you bring a spiritual awareness to your work day by day? 

Photo source: istock 

Margaret Marcuson

Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources. Margaret is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and MoneyandYour Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance. She served as a pastor for 15 years.

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