A to-do list can be a fantastic personal management tool, but for many of us a to-do list is a destructive device serving only to separate us from what is most important.
Most to-do lists are defined by urgency. Unfortunately, little good comes from urgency.
Ongoing urgent and important activity (crises, pressing problems, deadlines) leads to stress, burnout, and continuously putting out fires.
Ongoing urgent, but not important activity (needy children, phone calls, meetings, email) leads to feeling out of control of life, feeling like a victim, and shallow or broken relationships.
And no, the answer is not as simple as throwing away our to-do list. A life filled with random activity that that is neither urgent nor important (busy work, time wasters, pleasant activities) leads to some of the worst outcomes of all – irresponsibility and dependency on others for our basic needs.
I received life changing advice from my Youth Pastor when I was a junior in high school. He gave a message on the importance of ordering our lives around Biblical priorities instead of the priorities of the world. Now I recognize, not everyone who reads this blog will agree that the Bible is what they should choose to center their lives around. That is ok. I encourage you to continue reading, as I believe even so, you can find ways to help prioritize what IS important to you.
One example he shared was how many adults find their identity in and build their lives around their work. Many men (and women) will sacrifice relationship with their spouse and children in order to invest themselves in their job. He talked about how this was not Biblical and how for most adults work should rank no higher than fourth or fifth on our list of priorities.
Even more surprising was his example that activity in the church should not necessarily be high on a Biblical priority list either. God is not honored if we are active in the church choir, the prayer team, or the missions committee if we are neglecting our relationships with our family or friends.
I heeded his advice and for the past twenty-five years I have made an honest attempt to live my life according to Biblical priorities.
These priorities have developed and changed over time. They changed dramatically when I got married. They changed dramatically again when we had children.
It’s not a perfect list. I’m sure many will quibble with what priorities are listed and where they are ranked below. But this list is my best attempt to identify and order what is most important as communicated in God’s Word.
Choose A Format
In 1992 I ordered a Franklin Covey planner after reading the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Twenty years later I am still using a paper and pencil Covey planner to keep my priorities, my time, and my life organized. While I am old school in my methodology you can use whatever format (computer, smart phone, etc.) works best for you.
Spend thirty minutes once a month reflecting on a single priority. First record what you are currently doing to make this priority a reality in your life. Then record what you could be doing to strengthen this priority. Each month focus on a different priority and over the course of a year you will hit nearly every priority. In year two begin the process all over again. Focusing on one priority a month is the minimum, but you can do this as often as you want. My wife and children are priorities I focus on almost weekly while physical health is an area I may only focus on one or two times a year.
Birthday – November 27
Mother’s Day – May
Anniversary – July
Valentine’s Day – February
Create A List For Sub-Priorities As Needed
You may want to create an activities and goals list for important sub-categories as well. For example, under the broad category of Social Health – Immediate Family-Children I created additional lists to keep Amy and myself mindful of the broad responsibilities we share in raising our children. These sub-priorities are listed below.
I’ve shared with Amy on a number of occasions that even if no one else finds this topic as exciting as I do that it doesn’t matter. I am really proud of the content of this post and feel a sense of accomplishment in seeing it through to completion after working on it in short spurts here and there for so long.
If you are wondering why writing this post took so long it is because I set the goal under Priority #17 – Miscellaneous. As much as I wanted to write, and enjoyed the process of writing, it really was last on my priority list. I couldn’t justify spending a great deal of time reflecting and writing when there were so many other areas of my life which were more important places to dedicate my time.
Set A Weekly To-Do List
During the process of reviewing all of your goals select individual goals you plan to work on during the week and record them on a weekly to-do list. Many if not most of your goals will not make it on to this to-do list. Some goals may sit in your priority lists for weeks or months. This is okay. If you review them weekly you will get to the most important ones eventually. It is also okay if a goal makes it into your weekly to-do list and you never get to it. Just put it right back in your to-do list the following week. You will get to it eventually. The goal to write this post made my weekly to-do list for weeks on end. Fifteen minutes this week, ten minutes the next, five minutes the following week, and so on and eventually this post was completed. Yes!
Separate Work From Everything Else
I actually have two Covey planners. The first Covey planner is used exclusively for work. On a daily basis I review work related priorities, set goals, review a calendar of scheduled activities, and create a to-do list. The second Covey planner is used exclusively for my personal life away from work. On a weekly basis I review personal priorities, set goals, review a calendar of scheduled activities, and create a to-do list.
Developing goals for all of the priorities listed above can be a daunting task. Start small by spending a few minutes to begin the process of identifying and ranking your own priorities. Or choose just one priority you consider important and begin setting a few goals in this area. Getting started is far more important than waiting until you have time to complete the entire project perfectly. Over time your priorities will develop and your goals will become clear.
Don’t Define Priorities In Terms Of Time
My relationship with my wife is more important than my work, but it doesn’t mean I will spend more time with her than I will at work. There will be periods in everyone’s life when our work, our children, our family, or our friends will demand exceptional amounts of our time. The purpose of focused priorities is to keep us grounded during these times. For example, my commitment to Amy will ensure I create slivers of time to connect with her during an eighty hour work week. This commitment will also ensure I don’t become unnecessarily consumed with work over a long period of time at the expense of her and our girls.
An Activity May Fall In Multiple Categories
Being involved in a small group Bible study is an activity that may fall under several priorities including spiritual health, emotional health, mental health, your spouse, having a mentor, being a mentor, close friends, religious activity, etc.
Some Items May Stay On A Priority List
Friday is Family Night at our house and has been for years. I grab fast food and some snacks for the family and we sit around the television and watch our favorite shows while we eat. During the summer we rent movies. Scheduling a weekly Family Night is a permanent fixture on my Social Health-Children priority list and is listed nearly every single week on the to-do list I create on Sunday night for the upcoming week.
Priorities May Change
As mentioned earlier in this post, correct priorities for someone who is single are different than for someone who chooses to get married and/or have children. Choosing to get married means your life is no longer your own. You become responsible for another person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and social well-being. The same responsibilities are multiplied with each child we choose to bring into this world.
The primary benefit of living life around correct priorities is a life filled with purpose.
My life may not be as fun as the lives of others. But my life is rich, and full, and meaningful. It is a life filled with peace even in the midst of tragedy and pain. It is a balanced life filled with caring relationships. It is a disciplined life filled with meaning. It is a life of stability and able to manage crisis without creating crisis unnecessarily.
I’m far from perfect. I daily make mistakes and often stray from the life God would desire me to live. And I experience the negative consequences of selfish actions and decisions. But to the degree I pursue God’s will for my life instead of my own I also experience His blessing.
Outline Of All Purposeful Living Posts
Purposeful Living Outline