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Monday, September 12, 2011

When you don’t have time....

There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 720 hours in a 30-day month and 8760 hours in a year. One of the most common complaints is the “lack of time” to do some activities that we desire and need to do. Learning the discipline of managing time is never easy and there are always just enough “curve balls” thrown our way to get us off track to want us to throw up our hands and give up.

Contrast this with how Jesus went about his work. First of all, it was in the “fullness of time” that God sent Jesus into the world. For hundreds of years the prophets had foretold the coming of Messiah, but God waited until the time was right. Jesus, though he understood God’s plan and stayed in the Temple when others had left to go home, returned with Joseph and Mary and was obedient to them. Most likely after Joseph died, Jesus stayed to take his responsibility as the eldest child and care for Mary, and though he knew God had called him to redeem the world. He patiently waited until he was 30 and it was time for him to act. When crowds gathered to be healed, Jesus did not always remain, but pressed on, following God’s time table and plan. Yet, Jesus was interruptible, when the woman with the hemorrhage touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, He stopped, and responded to her needs. When it seemed as if Jesus was too late [the death of Lazarus], His schedule would not be dictated by the cry of the urgent, but by the design of his Father. His own death and resurrection were all completed in the time and way planned before the world was formed. Jesus is Lord of time and eternity.

Though we are not Jesus, we can learn from how he lived and worked to help us with our use of time. We are called on many times to do more than we really can, and many times when we should decline such requests, we go ahead and accept, perhaps with some faint hope “that somehow it will all get done.” Work and ministry seem to always demand more time than allotted, seem to always expect more than what may be reasonable or even feasible. The needs are great and the cry to meet the needs become louder than our reasons for refusing. Learning to maintain healthy boundaries is generally made more difficult when those who design our the responsibilities fail to have healthy boundaries themselves. Unfortunately, accomplishing the task becomes more important than the person involved in doing the task and results in casualties and the needless sacrifice of personnel in the name of achieving a goal. There are matters of life and death, but not everything we do needs be classified in that manner. How do you distinguish between what is important (priority) and what is basically for the preference of the person requesting our help? There are no simple answers. Here are some considerations:

1. Determine what is important and what is most important. Just listing out what needs to be done can be revealing, and sometimes overwhelming. But, after we have listed the tasks, label them in some way that ranks them in order of importance: whether by numbers, letters, or some other way you devise, but label them. After they are labeled, reorganized, so that the most important is at the top of the list.

2. Start working on the most important first. There are many priority and time management helps available and this is not to substitute for them. Take some initiative and check some out and do them. You will always learn something. It sounds simple, but staying focused on a job is not. It is easy to be focused on a particular job and a phone call (or some other distraction), can push us to drop what we are doing and to start another task that is less important, but “should only take a short time.” [famous last words...] Even if it really does only take a short time, it has become more important than the critical issue at hand, because we allowed it to be so. To make your Priority check list more sustainable, try building into your schedule time for “short projects,” when it really is possible to do them in a short period.

3. Avoid the “little foxes that spoil the vines”. We all have things we like to do before we tie into a project: check email, or look at a favorite website, catch up on the headlines online, etc., but many times these little things become time wasters. We get involved in one link that leads to another and another, until the crucial time we had is gone. Set a timer if you have to, but force yourself to jump in and begin. As it has been said, even the longest journey begins with the first step.

— What about interruptions? Many of our interruptions are from colleagues or unplanned visits or calls that must be handled in some way, so how do you respond and not be unchristlike? These might help: When someone asks you if you have a minute and you are obviously working on something, welcome the person, listen to their concerns, jot down some notes, and explain that you are in the middle of a project and will address it as soon as you finish, or at a specific time. Most people will understand and appreciate the transparency and the fact that you took notes and will trust that you will do what you said you would. If you are not at a point that you can stop, be honest enough to let them know, but set a time to hear them later. Again, most people will accept that and if it really was important will want to get back with you, or realize that it wasn’t that critical and can check with someone else. Some people will barge right in and never ask if it is an ok, or if you have a minute for a question. These people have little understanding or sensitivity to others and you might have to be a little more candid and tell them that you really can’t talk right now, and if you can, try to be as polite as possible.

What about interruptions from someone in authority over you? When the person interrupting is in a position over you, it is generally not a wise thing to tell them to leave you alone and let you work. Their priorities are also yours, at least to a lesser extent. If they already have you on an important project, take notes on the new task and then ask them in a non-threatening tone of voice, “I am in the middle of _____ project that you requested, which of these do you want completed first? You are showing your willingness to do the work and allowing him or her to tell you which is more important, rather than you trying to figure it out on your own. If you have two or more people above you asking for some thing, go to your supervisor or someone and explain that you are willing to do these projects, but are just not sure which should come first. Obviously, dealing with these issues is very complex, but I trust these suggestions can help.


  1. About that last one...I am not gonna be able to get all those annotated bibliographies done. You assigned them in the middle of my Facebook research. ;)

    Great post!!


  2. Understood. I think it will work out once we clarify the topic.