Time management. Of all the people I know who ever focus on this concept, only a small handful are confident that they’re doing it well. Most of us feel out of control. We feel that our specialty is time mis-management. Why is this so?
I believe it’s because we fail to see the bigger picture. Time management isn’t enough. It’s one small piece. Typically, when we think about managing time, we’re visualizing our to-do list, as if everything on it occupies an equal priority in our lives. When we can’t get it all done, we assume we’ve managed our time poorly.
The problem is, not everything we think we should be doing should actually be done. Some things should actually go undone on purpose. But that’s not the primary reason we can’t manage our time well. The biggest reason we struggle here is that we keep thinking of time in a merely logical way. We see every hour as equal in value to all the rest and there are never enough of them in a week.
There are actually at least four dimensions to managing time well, and we need to understand all four if we’re going to feel any better about how we’re investing the time we have.
Time Management Has a Logical Component
That is to say, managing time is a little bit mathematical. We have 168 hours in a week and 45 to 50 of those should be spent unconscious. With the remaining 115-ish, we have to divide our time among our various priorities such as family, work, friendship, rest and entertainment, etc.
This is the side of time management most of us are familiar with. Doing it well will require a calendar, a to do list, and some basic organization. But that’s not all there is to it.
Time Management Has an Emotional Component
We totally underestimate the weight that emotions have in relationship to our time. I can get more work done if I sacrifice family time, but that drains me emotionally, as it probably should. Every new task I take on brings with it a certain amount of pressure from whomever is expecting us to complete the task.
It isn’t just a question of how much can I do or will this fit into my schedule? It’s also a question of how much emotional pressure comes with this opportunity? If you really want to manage your time better, you’re going to have to become more self-aware of your own emotions as you spend your time doing whatever it is you’ve committed to doing.
For a Christian, Time Management Has a Spiritual Component
Another layer we often overlook is the spiritual element of time management. That is, my relationship with God is affected by how I spend my time. In traditional time management, we might spend the first hour of our day knocking out email, but for a Christian, that first hour (or half hour or however much you and God agree on) is crucial for praying, listening, and journaling about what God is saying to my heart.
Furthermore, as a Christian I want my time to be invested, not just spent. Anyone can spend time, and everyone does. In fact, we often blow through time like a kid with a wad of cash at a toy store. But I want to invest my time into things that matter for the Kingdom’s sake.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they should “redeem the time” (5:16), which literally meant to squeeze every drop of usefulness out of every opportunity, knowing that time is limited and the clock God started, he will eventually stop. That doesn’t mean trying to work at an unsustainable pace. It means knowing what matters the most and the longest and investing our time in those things.
Time Management Has a Relational Component
One of the most profound lessons I remember learning was from Dr. B. Gray Allison, who served as President of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He was speaking to a group of Pastors, of whom I was a part, and said, “Gentlemen, there are only two things on earth that will last forever – the Word of God and the souls of men. Give the rest of your life to these two things.”
To tweak what Dr. Allison was getting across, I would say that the single most important thing I can focus my life, my time, and my energy on would be relationships.
My relationship with God requires time spent in reading, praying, studying, writing, and listening.
My relationship with my wife requires time talking, holding hands, praying together, and enjoying each other.
My relationship with my kids requires time playing, chasing, being caught, and sharing deep truth.
My relationship with my church family requires gathering on the weekend and scattering in small groups during the week, pouring into staff members and other leaders, and studying to share life-impacting truth.
My relationship with myself matters too – not from the selfish perspective of “I need to be happy first…” but rather from the perspective of “I need to know and understand myself.” This requires time for introspection and personal growth.
Time isn’t just mathematical. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s relational. It needs to be invested, not just spent. And at the end of the day, my time is way more valuable than my money or my talent.