The wise stewardship of our time is a very spiritual matter. The Lord has graciously given us a predetermined amount of time, and we are responsible to utilize it with wisdom. As Oswald Sanders points out in his classic work Spiritual Leadership, each of us has the same amount of time each day as the president of the United States. How can we maximize the time that has been given? How can we rid ourselves of some of the wasted time?
While this list is not inerrant or exhaustive, here are five practices I have learned thus far on stewarding time.
1 – Plan ahead
Instead of rolling into your day with no plan, know the most important projects, conversations, decisions, and actions that need to happen as you begin your day. Otherwise you can easily wander into the day, do some less-value-adding work, and kind of just exist.
For me, I look at each upcoming day the night before the new day begins. I make a list, sometimes mental, sometimes on paper, of the most important things that must happen the next day. Doing so helps me begin my day with a plan. Not doing so would put me in a reactive posture. I could still be busy, but I would quite possibly be busy doing the wrong things.
2 – Attack the day
There is a difference in beginning the day with an offensive posture and beginning the day with a defensive posture. With a defensive posture, you will likely invest more time on the less important and less time on the most important. If you don’t attack the day with a commitment to throw your best energy into the most important, the inbox or voicemail can grab your best energy. You will likely spend more time than you need to on less important items, issues, etc. With an attack mentality, the items in the inbox and the voicemail still get your attention, but they get the appropriate attention.
3 – Redeem dead times
Having a plan for the day with an attack mentality inevitably leads to a desire to redeem dead times. Dead times are often the spaces between events that can either be squandered or utilized. Drive times and wait times are most common:
Drive times: Instead of constantly clicking “scan” on the radio button, use your drive time for learning or connecting. Zig Ziglar coined the phrase “automobile university” to describe how much learning can be accomplished while driving. Likewise the drive time is great to knock out several phone calls.
Wait times: I will use Ben and Scott to illustrate. They are on the same flight from Atlanta to Miami. Since the flight is roughly 90 minutes and there is probably only 40 minutes where you cannot use your laptop, Ben decides to thumb through the Sky magazine in front of him. After all, he does not want to pay 5.99 to be on the Internet for 40 minutes. Scott, however, comes to the airport with a plan. After checking in, he begins reading the book he has been studying. Once seated, he continues reading until the passengers are cleared to use their computers. Over the next 40 minutes, he types up several emails in a Word doc so he can simply copy and paste them later. When the time comes to shut the computer down, Scott trades his computer for the book and continues reading. A very different use of 90 minutes.
Be wise about the above. When you are on a date with your wife, don’t view the time between the appetizer and the main course as a “wait time to be redeemed.” Wait times are big chunks of time that would otherwise be squandered. When you are with people, be present. Don’t put projects above people.
4 – Create space for the big projects
I find that major projects, plans, messages, leadership lessons, etc. need large chunks of time to prepare effectively. Four hours of preparation in one chunk is massively more fruitful than eight 30-minute blocks of time. For this reason, I keep 3-4 big items on my desktop and block off several big chunks of time a week. It is much more effective to use the 30-minute blocks of time for emails and quick meetings.
5 – Close the day: zero out your inbox
As the day ends, I find it very helpful to answer my emails and plan for the next day. If there is an email that will require further follow-up, I move it to a follow-up folder. It is a small move, but it gives me the sense that I am beginning the new day with a fresh perspective.