We only have a brief amount of time on this earth and a brief amount of time in the roles in which we are serving. All of us are interim leaders. We steward our responsibilities only for a brief and fleeting season. One day someone else will lead the teams we are leading. One day someone else will steward the ministries we are stewarding. About our limited time, Job declared:
[A] man’s days are determined and the number of his months depends on You…You have set limits he cannot pass” (Job 14:5).
Because our days are determined and brief, living wisely includes making the most of the time (Ephesians 5:15). Here are four imperatives for wise stewardship of time.
1. Get up
Some waste time simply because they are lazy. It is foolish to be lazy because it is an absolute squandering of time. It is similar to burning money. There is a connection between wisdom and work ethic. For example, the wisdom writer encourages us to learn from the ant’s work ethic to become wise.
Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest. How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? (Proverbs 6:6-9)
Wise stewardship of time includes getting out of bed and off the couch.
Socrates warned, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Often our days are too busy because we are doing things that should not be done at all. Jim Collins has encouraged leaders to have a “stop doing list,” to routinely evaluate and stop doing things that are not effective. Churches and leaders could benefit from stopping some things to focus more energy on the most important things.
Some things need to be stopped and less important things need to drop lower on the priority list. Stephen Covey has famously used “the big rock, little rock” illustration to teach on the importance of prioritization. In the illustration, there is a large container, big rocks, and small rocks. If you put the smaller rocks in first, there is no room for the big rocks. However, if you put the big rocks in the container first, the smaller rocks can fit. The illustration is clear—the most important items in one’s life, work, job, or ministry should be attacked first. The most important should receive the best thinking, most energy, and most time.
Harvard professor Atul Gawande says that problems can be divided into three types: simple (making a sandwich), complicated (launching a rocket), and complex (raising kids). Because complicated problems are really multiple simple problems combined together, solutions for both simple and complicated problems can be systemized. To steward time well, develop systems so that energy is expended on execution and not continually discussing and deciding how to execute the same tasks. Save your best time and thinking for the complex and systemize the simple and the complicated.
Three warning signs that you are wasting time are: doing that which should not be done, treating the least important as the most important, and rethinking repeatable actions over and over. Simplify to avoid doing which should not be done. Prioritize to give the best time to the most important, and systemize to stop rethinking some of the repeatable actions over and over. But first we have to get up. We first have to reject slothfulness.