“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” — Colossians 4:5
This week my month-long series on managing our capacity continues. Last week we looked at what capacity is, and the importance of knowing (and being realistic about) your own capacity — i.e., the size of your plate.
This week we’re getting into the nitty gritty of actually figuring out how to manage your capacity, or maybe more accurately, how to manage your time within the limits of your capacity.
Our key verse from Colossians suggests that being good stewards of our time is part of walking in wisdom toward outsiders. In other words, managing our days well serves as a good witness to unbelievers. Of course we don’t want to present a fake, smiley brand of Christianity where we force cheerfulness and go around pretending that everything’s always great. That sort of thing doesn’t serve anybody.
Remember that I’m preaching to myself here, y’all.
We don’t have to have it all together or even appear to have it all together all the time. But as believers empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit, our lives should look like that actually makes a difference, even if it’s just in our attitudes.
And that’s what this concept of managing our capacity for usefulness vs. managing our time is all about: giving ourselves a whole lot of grace as we acknowledge and even embrace our limitations and proceed to do the very best we can with what we’re given, relying on God to strengthen and sustain us and help us do what needs to be done.
Before we get into the steps of how I manage my capacity, I want to make clear that this is just that: how I manage my capacity. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some of this might work for you. Some of it might need a little tweaking in order to work. Some of it might not work for you at all. This stuff took me a lot of trial and error to figure out and I’m still working on it, tweaking it as necessary.
I should also point out that my husband and I are both work-at-home freelancers with no kids, and I realize that makes some of this easier for us than it might be for you. Just know that as you’re envying my ability to move slowly through my day and have plenty of margin that there’s not a lot I wouldn’t give to be chasing around after kids all day.
Okay. Now I’ve broken this down into steps, but these aren’t really steps that need to be followed in any particular order, one after another.
Step One: Decide What Matters
I talked about this in a previous post (which links to a Lazy Genius post expanding on the topic that you should definitely read). But before you can begin effectively managing your days, you have to have your priorities nailed down; otherwise you end up wasting your capacity and time on things that don’t matter.
The thing to remember here is that your priorities are YOUR priorities. It’s not about what’s important to your mom or your mother-in-law or people on Pinterest or Instagram or the mean boss in your head. This isn’t about “should” or “ought to.” Just go ahead and eliminate those phrases from your vocabulary.
This isn’t purely about being productive and useful every waking hour of the day. This is about designing your days so that you flourish, and feel good about life, and don’t get burned out or depressed because you’re overwhelmed and stuck in hustle mode.
So if it’s important to you to have time at some point each day to read a book or scroll Pinterest or color in your coloring Bible or work out or go outside or bake cookies or watch a show or whatever helps to recharge you and make you feel like a person and not a machine, that’s fine. It’s important and it matters, and it’s fine to make it a priority.
Step Two: Eliminate What Doesn’t Matter (or Pare it Way Down)
I’ve been reading up a lot lately on minimalism and simple living. There’s another concept along the same lines called essentialism, which is about figuring out what really matters in your life, and eliminating the things that stand in the way of that. Where minimalism seems to be more focused on only having what you need to live and be content, I feel like essentialism offers more margin for you to decide what you need in order for your soul to thrive–things that might have no place in a truly minimalist home or lifestyle.
Either way, the point is that it’s helpful to figure out what’s using up your time and capacity and getting in the way of what matters. If you’re spending an hour dusting and organizing your house every day then you probably need to get rid of some stuff (or maybe even get a smaller house). If it’s important to you to make time to read books but it doesn’t happen because you can’t tear yourself away from scrolling Facebook and getting stressed out over political memes then maybe you should delete your Facebook app. If you’re doing laundry all the time then maybe your family has too many clothes, or needs to learn how to wear stuff more than once before watching as long as it’s not smelly or stained. If you really want to write a book (or blog) but just can’t find the time then maybe stop watching TV during the week and save your can’t-miss shows for weekend binging (this is how I make time to write).
Step Three: Decide What’s Needed Today
Step One is about deciding what your priorities are in general. This is about deciding what actually needs to get done today. I do this by praying before I open up my bullet journal and asking God to show me what’s on His agenda for me for today. I ask Him to show me where I’m being too Martha by piling too much stuff on my plate that’s not actually needed, and instead to help me be more Mary and focus on what really matters.
The thing about Martha, bless her heart, is that she wanted to be impressive. I’m sure a lot of it was about wanting to impress the Lord while she was hosting Him in her living room, but she probably tended to try to be impressive in her hostess and homemaking duties in general.
But we don’t need to impress anybody, and most certainly not the Lord, who just wants our faithful obedience. So a good question to ask as you make your To Do list is, “Does this really need to get done, or am I just doing it to be impressive?”
Step Four: Establish Rhythms Instead of Schedules
I don’t know about you, friend, but for me figuring this out was a big deal. Things just really clicked into place for me once I stopped assigning set times to my tasks and started figuring out where they fit into the rhythms of my day instead.
For example, I have ADD, but there are certain times of day when I’m naturally more able to focus on tasks that require a lot of concentration. For me it’s the late morning, after I’ve had all my coffee and am fully awake, and about two to four in the afternoon. So this is when I do all my writing. I work on my novels and blog posts in the late morning hours leading up to lunch, and in the afternoon I work on freelance assignments. During the times when I’m less focused I do tasks that require less mental energy, like housework or exercise or marketing my books and blogs on social media.
I also try to punctuate my days with breaks to just sit quietly and stare out the window. Sometimes I pray, sometimes I just practice being still in God’s presence, and sometimes I just let my mind wander and dream. To a lot of people this looks like wasting time, but I’ve learned that this time is necessary to help me recharge and re-focus, and it also helps me be more creative.
Of course, there will still be appointments and things that have set times that you can’t get away from. I just do my best to work my rhythms around them. It’s not always easy. A 2:00 doctor’s appointment, for instance, means that I’m not getting any freelance writing done that day — or if I have to because there’s a deadline, then I skip novel writing and do my freelancing in the late morning instead. The thing about rhythms is that they’re flexible and fluid in a way that schedules are not.
Step Five: Nurture Your Capacity
This post is already really long so I’ll try to keep this part short. The main thing is that, as I said in last week’s post, capacity has a way of expanding and shrinking. You can expand your capacity by doing things like eating healthy, getting regular exercise and getting plenty of sleep. You can also expand it, or help keep it expanded, by leaving enough margin on your plate for self-care. By that I mean doing things that fill you up and give you energy instead of depleting you.
My staring-out-the-window breaks are part of this for me. So is starting my day out with time in prayer and in the Word. So is taking ten minutes to go outside with my husband and dog to just stand in the sunshine soaking up vitamin D while we shoot the breeze, or squeezing in a few minutes of knitting, or taking five to color or doodle in my journaling Bible. So figure out what does that for you and then allow yourself the space to do it throughout the day without any guilt. It might not feel useful or productive but it’s absolutely necessary.
Bonus Step: Start a Bullet Journal
You don’t have to keep a bullet journal, and it might not be a good fit for you. But a bullet journal is flexible and adaptable and works with rhythms in a way that a planner with its neatly laid out time grids just can’t.
My favorite part about the bullet journal is how easy it is to “migrate” a task to the next day if it doesn’t get done. You still get to put a mark by that task–an arrow instead of a check mark–to indicate that it got moved, rather than just having this unmarked task staring at you accusing you of failure. It’s such a simple little mind trick that for me is huge. It’s not, “I’m a failure because I didn’t manage to fit this task in today.” Instead it’s, “I didn’t get to this today but that’s okay because it really can wait till tomorrow and it’s not a big deal.”
So there you have it — everything I’ve figured out so far about managing my capacity to be productive in order to make the most of my time. And good grief, this thing is long. I’m so sorry, but I hope that at least some of you find it helpful.
If you do, or if you have any insights of your own to add, let me know in the comments!
And be sure to come back next week, when I’ll illustrate how all of the above works in my own life with a Day in the Life post. Unless you hate those, in which case now you’ll know to skip it. 😉
PS: Find more encouragement for your soul at these linkups:
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