The Only Time Management Principle You Need

We simply don’t have enough time. No doubt most people will agree with that statement, but here’s the shocker: it’s a false statement. In actuality it is a statement grounded in arrogance. The gift of time came from the Lord, the one who gives all good and perfect things (James 1:17-18). To say that the amount of time available to us is anything less than perfect is to say not only that God created something imperfect, but is to indicate that we know better than God about how creation should be maintained.
Certainly there will be a day in which we will give a detailed accounting of the time we used in the course of our lifetime. If that moment were to happen now, what would your response be? The answer to that question is not a mere reflection of what you did with your time, but indicates much more:
  • It is an accurate reflection of your view of self (and what you value).
  • It is an accurate reflection of your view of others (and what they value).
  • It is an accurate reflection of your view of God. (and what He values).
Let’s take it further though. That answer to that question tells me something about our time management. It’s not that we don’t have enough time. It’s not that we merely mismanaged our time. It’s that we haven’t been trained the value of time.
For most of us, the constraints of time make it a burden. We are trained to look at a clock for the sake of fulfilling obligations and deadlines. It doesn’t have to be that way though.
Time is not a burden it is a gift. More specifically it is a gift from God. It is one of the graces given to our Christian life meant to assist us in shifting our attention to be more intentional in what we do, how we do it, when we do it, and why we do it.
The burden of time is also made worse by our misconceptions of productivity. One’s productivity is often defined by the number of things you can get done on any given day. It looks for tangible evidence of accomplishment, but the most productive and most meaningful accomplishments are not necessarily tangible (and may never even be realized). That coffee break you took with a co-worker who was struggling. Those 15 minutes spent to mail a card of thanks to someone special. There is no measurement that captures just how much more productive those few minutes may have been compared to several hours of paperwork, because the impact is simply unmeasurable.
I am learning that productivity can be defined much more by who rather than what. I am a very task-oriented person. I love to get things done, but the cost of that is a neglect of people. It can (and does) result in the neglect of my family, of my friends, and even total strangers that God has brought into my life for ministry. Yet on display throughout Scripture is the development of relationships. Time for Jesus Christ, time for Paul, time for Peter and so on was spent on the development of relationships with people in order that they may develop relationships with God.
In fact, in light of a right understanding of both time and productivity I would say that to be more productive you don’t need to do more, but you need to do less. Do less tasks in order to do more with people. This means the following:
  • Do less looking at your watch. Focus on the people around you. I’m not saying don’t be on time, but I am saying that if you look at your watch too often, people know you aren’t really invested in them.
  • Do less busy work. In our effort to show how much we got done, we put together a bunch of tasks that accomplish nothing. It is simply busy work to show that we are doing something. Do less of it.
  • Do less work. Truth is, most of us are simply over committed. Use the gifts God gave you to focus on what you can do well for the Lord. This means saying no to some important things, but saying yes to the best things.
In following with the teaching of God and the examples of God’s people, I am convinced that we must invest more time being people-oriented and less time being task-oriented.
We recognize that time is limited. Therefore, decisions must be made about how to spend that time and while I have given you several tips that is but one principle that I suggest to be the golden rule of time management. I know you are turning this over in your minds and some of you are thinking, “I know what he is going to say. He’s going to tell me I need to be more efficient with my time.” That would be wrong. One of the grandest principles I learned is this: when dealing with people, you can’t always be efficient with your time, because people are inefficient (thank you Kevin DeYoung and his book, Crazy Busy). When possible, I would say yes, be efficient, but also understand that people are inefficient. To help them and be part of their lives requires being part of lives that are interrupted by life. I wish I had learned this much earlier in life.
So while efficiency is important when it’s up to you, it is not the guiding principle for time management. The guiding principle is this: Work to bring the greatest good to God’s people and the greatest glory to God. Believers will often refer to Romans 8:18-39 to indicate that God is always at work for the good of his people and the glory of himself. If this indeed is a principle of the Lord, why would we not use it to guide our own work?
If our focus is to do the greatest good for His people and to bring glory to God, the projects we take on, the investment we place in people’s lives, and the decisions we make are reigned in. No longer do we need to be overextended because now we are rightly focused. It is a simple principle that works masterfully. Next time you are faced with a decision of where to place your time, the simple question, “Which one of these will do the greatest good for God’s people and the greatest impact for God’s glory?” can help decide. Such a principle takes into account the tools, the skills, and the opportunities that God has given in such a way that you can make the best use of it all.
Let this be your challenge: Look at every way that you have spent your time over the last week and then evaluate with the question, “Is this doing benefit for God’s glory and God’s people?” It will open a floodgate of ways to pare down your life.