The truth about time management

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.

Sometimes 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 the budget for next year-what does it mean for our ministry, not to mention my salary.” So I procrastinate preparing for the finance meeting or calling the treasurer for an update.

We’re not always this 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? First, we can pray about it. Trust me, the practice of meditative prayer can help with emotion 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–often, 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 a in 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 task is to bring our attention back.

This task, right in front of me.

This person I’m talking to.

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

So 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 spiritual leaders, let’s go deeper.

How do you bring a spiritual awareness to your work day by day? Comment below and let me know.



2 replies on “The truth about time management

  • Joanne

    I have used a daily practice to ground me each morning for years. It helps me ground. I look forward to adding an added intention to my practice.

    • Joanne

      Would have made sense to proofread my comment before sending. Some redundancies. Please excuse.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *