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How To Get Things Done: Time, Energy & Mission

I have been writing a series on getting things done and, because I don’t know how else to do it, giving you a glimpse into my world to show how I get things done. To this point I have shared what I mean by productivity, showing how it extends to all of life (not just the world of business) and that the heart of productivity is glorifying God by doing good works [Part 1]. Last time I showed how I have divided my life into areas of responsibility that encompass everything I do, and I showed how I map out my specific roles within each of those areas [Part 2]. And now we are ready to move forward.

In a moment we will talk about getting on mission and staying on mission, but first I want to give you something to ponder over the next couple of days.

Time & Energy

I believe we tend to focus too much on time management and too little on energy management. Yet in many vocations and in many places in life it is energy, not time, that is the more valuable commodity. Like time, energy is limited and needs to used strategically. You can give massive amounts of time to certain areas of life, but if you only give those times in which your energy is at its lowest point, your productivity will still be low.

There is a call here to know yourself. So over the next couple of days ask yourself these questions: At what times of day am I at my mental peak? At what times of day am I least-effective? Am I a morning person, a night-owl, or a mid-afternoon warrior?

These questions are important because before long we will start to look at your use of time and, to some degree at least, manage your time around the ebb and flow of energy. You will want to plan to use your high-energy times to do your most important tasks and your tasks that depend upon creativity. You will want to plan to schedule your proactive and creative work when energy is high, and your reactive and administrative work when energy is low. So start thinking about that now, and we will return to this topic soon.

Getting On Mission

Once you have defined your areas of responsibility, it only makes sense that you would define your mission for each of them. I don’t know how else you could know what to emphasize, what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to. So I want to encourage you to work on a brief and simple mission statement for each of your areas of responsibility. Even if it is not a lengthy statement, come up with something that will guide you and define what God calls you to in each of them.

Now, there are two ways that I differ from many of the productivity gurus out there.

First, I do not believe that you need to have a big-picture mission statement that encompasses all of life and all of your areas of responsibility. If that works for you and you want a mission statement for all of life, go ahead and prepare it. But I think there is more value, at least for now, in preparing individual mission statements limited to each of your areas of responsibility.

Second, I do not believe that your mission statements for each of those areas has to be fixed and unchanging. I see the purpose of these statements as guiding you week-by-week as you schedule your time and as you attempt to make decisions about where to expend your effort. So while you shouldn’t change them haphazardly, you can change them in small ways as your mission comes into focus and as it changes through life. The value of seeing these as “living” statements is that it frees you from having to think about it too hard right now. Come up with something that works, and refine it over a period of weeks or months.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by mission statements. Here are my statements for three of my areas of responsibility: my work at the church, my ministry to the wider church (primarily through the blog and books), and personal life:

  • GFC: Teach, train, and execute [administer] so the people of the church will mature and multiply.
    • Explanation: I believe that if the people of our church are living as Christians, they will mature in the faith and they will multiply by sharing the gospel with others. My role in the church primarily involves teaching, training and administration; I want to do those things in such a way that it directs the people of the church to mature and multiply.
  • Business: Use the opportunities God provides to help others think and live like mature Christians.
    • Explanation: Over the years my core mission as a writer and public speaker has come into focus, and what I love to do is help people to think and live like mature Christians. This is the focus of my blog, my books, and my speaking opportunities.
  • Personal: Delight in God to the glory of God for the good of all people.
    • Explanation: I believe that if I am delighting in God, my delight brings glory to God and overflows into doing good for other people. I am a better father, a better husband, a better pastor, and a better neighbor when I am finding my delight in the Lord.

Each of these statements serves as a measure or standard so that each week I can look back and ask, Did I do these things? And I can look at the week ahead and ask, How will I do these things? When someone asks me, “Can you speak at our conference?” or “Can you meet with me to talk about this topic?” I attempt to make decisions according to my mission. If it fits my mission, I will give it time and energy and enthusiasm. If it does not fit my mission, I will not prioritize it in the same way.

FlagAction: Write a mission statement for each area of responsibility. Give it your best shot for now, and prepare to keep refining them as time goes on.

Are You On Mission?

You may have noticed that to this point I have only asked you “What are the things you are doing?” and “What are the things you are responsible for?”. Before I move any farther, I want you to take a good look at those roles, tasks, and projects under each of your areas of responsibility to ask whether those are the things you ought to do. Do the things you do actually fit your mission? If not, either you need to adjust your mission or adjust your roles.

Here’s the thing: Over time you inevitably collect roles and projects that do not fit your mission. Sometimes you take things on out of necessity—there is no one else to do it. Sometimes you take things on out of mismanagement—the boss dumped it on you. Sometimes you take things on out of plain old fear of man—you did not want to say “no” or you wanted to impress others with your willingness to do it all.

So keeping your mission in mind, you need to return to that list of roles and projects and ask questions like these:

  • Are these the right and best things for me to be doing?
  • Do these things fit my mission?
  • Are there things I can do in each area that no one else can do?
  • Where am I especially gifted or talented?

As a pastor I know that I am constantly tempted to take on tasks or projects that would be better done by a deacon or an office administrator. Yet having these things done by a person better called, skilled or equipped, will free me to focus on my core mission. As someone who just loves the approval of others, I am tempted to take on speaking engagements that have little to do with my core mission. In the end, they only end up being a great distraction from what matters most. Greg McKeown says it well in his book Essentialism: “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’” The better we know our mission, the better we can make such decisions.

FlagAction: Prayerfully examine the roles and projects under each area of responsibility to see if they meet your core mission.

So, what do you do with items that don’t fit your mission? You have several options.

  • You can delegate them to someone who can do them better. Maybe you have been managing the family’s budget, but you realize that your spouse can probably do it better. Ask if he or she is willing to take on that task.
  • You can drop them. In many cases things are being done for no good reason at all. Many churches have ministries that made good sense ten years ago, but since then no one has ever stopped to ask, Should we still be doing this? If it doesn’t serve a clear purpose today, perhaps that time and energy would be better directed elsewhere.
  • You can do them. Before you dump everything that doesn’t perfectly fit your core mission in each of your areas of responsibility, remember that you are in the business of expressing love to others—doing good deeds that will benefit them. This is where Christian productivity varies so much from what most people teach, where they encourage you to be as selfish as you want, to get rid of anything that doesn’t excite you. As a Christian you can do things that do not perfectly fit your mission, but still do them out of love for God and with a desire to glorify him. God may call you to do things simply because they need to be done, and he may even spiritually gift you to do them with excellence. This is why you need to prayerfully examine your roles and projects.

To this point our pursuit of productivity has been on a very broad level–we have been looking at life from a wide angle kind of perspective. If you have followed through all three articles, you know that God is calling you to do good for others in all of life, you have divided your life into various areas of responsibility, and you defined both your mission and your tasks for each of those areas. You are now in a great place to start looking at tools that can help you in life. That will be the subject of our next article.

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