Recently, one of my readers, Pete, asked me for advice on how to get more done in the same amount of time. For many of us, the next few months are some of the busiest of the year. So, I bet Pete isn’t the only one with this question. If you share Pete’s concern, today’s post and resource guide should help!
“Our normal, everyday activities now are very hard to keep up with,” Pete told me. Then he explained he and his family have activities and opportunities on the horizon that will add even more to an already crowded schedule. “I don’t know how in the world we’re going to manage all of it.” I heard similar thoughts expressed by those who responded to my survey about the challenges you face during the holidays.
I confessed to Pete I would have to answer from the perspective of a fellow struggler. Productivity is still a battle for me, though I’m better now than I used to be.
My strategy for getting more done is actually better expressed as getting the right things done as efficiently as possible. And there is both a philosophical and practical aspect to the strategy.
In addition to the overview given in this post, I’ve also created a free guide with a summary of the key ideas as well as some links to content curated from others who are much better at this than I am. You’ll find links to the books, blog posts, and podcasts I’ve found most helpful. I hope it helps you learn, remember, and apply these ideas to your own life. Click the image or button below to get your cheat sheet emailed to you instantly!
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So, what helps me determine what to get done and how to accomplish it as productively as possible?
Philosophically, a Perspective Change Is Needed
Until a few years ago, I habitually thought in the same terms Pete used when he presented his situation. “There are never enough hours in the day!” That scarcity thinking kept me trapped and overwhelmed.
However, the “there are not enough hours” belief is the root of my problem; and it’s a perspective problem not a sufficiency problem.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” —Genesis 1:31, NIV
God established time and set the boundaries on our days, weeks, seasons, and years. We all get the same number of hours in our day. Each one of us gets 24 hours and 7 days each week. No more, no less. And God designed our bodies, minds and souls to function best within the patterns of time our Creator established.
So, I don’t need more hours, I just need to exercise better stewardship over the ones he has provided me.
There are three key mindset changes you’ll want to make.
1. Focus on What You Can Control
If I focus on something I can’t change (for example, adding more hours to my day), rather than what I can change, (what I do with those hours), I feel helpless and overwhelmed. String together a few days like that and hopelessness sets in as well.
On the other hand, when I focus my energy on the things I can impact, I feel empowered and hopeful.
What’s Within the Realm of My Stewardship?
I can control my attitudes, desires, feelings, and responses. I determine how I will give and receive love. I have dominion over my body and to a certain extent my material possessions. I can control what I believe, value, and think. These are the realm over which God has given me stewardship.
And he holds me accountable for how I manage the blessings he has entrusted to me within the borders of that realm.
Productivity increases when I keep my focus within this realm of stewardship.
2. Get Clear On Your What & Why
If I don’t know my goal (what I’m trying to achieve) and why I’m trying to achieve that goal, I work hard all day but don’t ever seem to accomplish anything.
I’m very “squirrelly”. If you’ve seen the movie Up and remember the squirrel-chasing talking dog, you’ll know what I mean. The least little distraction sends me wandering off the path of productivity.
I’m also a recovering people-pleaser so saying no to the requests of others can be difficult. I’ve worked at developing the boundary-setting skills needed to do this. I now have a “healthy boundaries toolbox” that makes this much easier than it used to be.
3. You’re Guided by Your Why
We can set all the goals we want but our why is what motivates our actions. And our why takes us to the destination naturally associated with it—even if we consciously claim to have a different destination as our goal. I will be ruled by my why. So I better get clear on it!
If you want to know what someone really believes, look at their actions. Those more accurately reveal beliefs than words. They may say they believe in the golden rule, but do they consistently live like they really believe it. (We all mess up from time to time, but that is different from our consistent patterns of behavior.)
It works the same way with goals. Your why determines your actions. So spend some time honestly evaluating why you want to accomplish the goal you set.
Practical Application Tips for Better Productivity
Once you shift your mindset and know your true motivations, the following tips can help you steward your time and blessings more productively.
1. Design A Plan That Reflects Your Priorities
When you float down a river, the current causes you to drift to a particular destination. Likewise, your why produces actions aligned with your why and which lead to a destination or result aligned with your why.
Without a plan, you are basically drifting rather than purposefully fulfilling your calling.
If the why behind one of our goals is weaker than the why of another goal (even if we don’t consciously realize we even have another goal), our actions can become counter-productive. At best, we take a more circuitous route than needed to reach our intended goal. At worst, we end up somewhere we never intended to go.
For example, one of my goals is to lose another 30 pounds. However, the past few weeks have been very busy and overwhelming in terms of our family’s schedule. I didn’t do my meal planning, shopping, and other pro-active planning and follow-through related to my weight-loss goal.
So, even though consciously my goal remains weight-loss, the why behind that goal (better long-term health) has been weaker than my why behind grabbing fast food and ripping open a bag of chips instead of steaming some veggies (convenience and instant gratification). Without a good plan, my actions followed the stronger why and the scale drifted up instead of down.
A plan gives you a rudder and a motor so you reach the desired destination much faster and more efficiently.
A plan that takes into account the relative priority of each of your goals also acts as a map. So, when you reach a fork in the river the decision has already been made as to which way to go and you have the resources to take the necessary actions to move in that direction.
Rank your goals in order of priority. Knowing the relative rank of your goals helps when you have to decide between two good choices.
Recently, I had to choose between saying yes to a dream-come-true speaking invitation and watching my son’s football game. I wrote about that in a previous post. But essentially, it was easy to make the decision to go to the game because I had already clearly established my goals and why each goal was ranked in what priority within my plan.
2. Know (& Live Within) Your Limits
I regularly under-estimate how long tasks will take and over-estimate how much I can realistically and responsibly handle. Thus, I tend to stretch myself too thin and get burned out.
My peace and productivity goes up when I acknowledge and live within my limits and needs. How much sleep do I need? How much time do I need to nurture my relationship with God? My husband? My boys? My friends? And so on…
Michael Hyatt has some fantastic advice when it comes to productivity. In the cheat sheet, I’ve curated some links to his blog posts and podcasts I’ve found most helpful. One thing he says repeatedly is “What gets scheduled, get’s done.” And I’ve noticed that as I’ve become better about spending my time on paper first, I am happier with the results in real life.
3. You CAN’T Do It All Right Now!
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it is healing medicine once you get it down. We are finite beings. We were not made to do it all. And thinking we can or are supposed to do it all is actually a scarcity mindset in disguise.
If we think we should be doing more and more all the time, it reflects an attitude that what we have and are doing is not enough. Recognizing appropriate limits allows us to appreciate the abundance and sufficiency of what we do have and exercise good stewardship over it.
My Scripture Memory Team Verse #21 is Ecclesiastes 3:1 which says,
This may sound like a contradiction to what I just said about not being able to do it all, but it isn’t. It is actually the key to making peace with our limits.
God made seasons as well as hours, days, and weeks. We can’t do it all right now. When you’re in a season in which you are parenting young children or caring for elderly parents (or both), your limits will differ from an empty-nest season.
Embrace the season God has you in right now and live in harmony with it.
Putting It All Together
- Prayerfully discern what God is calling you to do (your goals) and clearly acknowledge and articulate why you want to accomplish each goal.
- Rank your goals in priority order based on the relative importance of the why behind each goal.
- Map out a plan that acknowledges your limits so you can be a good steward of the time and blessings God has given you.
- Say no to things that don’t fit your plan or your particular season of life.
- Work your plan to the glory of God. (see John 15:8 and Colossians 3:17)
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And here are a few of my other blog posts that touch on some aspect of this general topic.