The start of a new year is when we think about how our lives could be different. That is a good exercise even if most New Year’s Resolutions never make it to Valentine’s Day. In this blog, I want to help you think through how you are stewarding the most valuable resource you have… the resource which makes every priority possible… time.
Time may be the only commodity for which there is universal fairness. We all get 24 hours per day, 168 hours per week, and 365 days per year. This is what we each receive to steward for the glory of God, the blessing of others, resulting in our personal enjoyment (in that God-prescribed order; Matthew: 22:37-40).
As we get started on our 2017 audit, I want to make two points and draw one contrast to prevent this blog from becoming a guilt trip (which, be honest, is what we all fear).
- God’s will fits in God’s provision. God is fair and does not expect more of you, your talents, your money, or your time than he has provided. If, like me, you have at least 200 hours worth of stuff you would like to get done every week, you can rest in the reality that at least 32 hours of those plans are outside the will of God; not because the plans are bad, but because God is fair. Your calling is simply to steward what God has provided.
- God is more honoring of our finitude than we are. Within that 168 hour week, God make one of his top ten commandments that we honor the Sabbath (taking a day of rest). When we feel run-ragged, we can rest assured (pun intended) that the cause is in our expectations, not God’s. God has not made burnout the noble “Purple Heart” of ministry. Said another way, if you’re not sleeping at least 50 hours a week, you’re probably violating the will of God for your life.
As for the contrast, we will make a distinction between the concepts of “generosity” and “sacrifice.” Usually we treat these words as synonyms, but when it comes to auditing our time and priorities it can be helpful to make a distinction.
- Generosity – a sustainable way of life that takes more joy in blessing others with our time, energy, and resources than if we utilized them for our own preferences. We help cultivate generosity in those around us by being generous ourselves and by putting on display through our joy that it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35).
- Sacrifice – a short-term, unsustainable foregoing of time, energy, or resources to meet an urgent need. When we transition from generosity to sacrifice, we should consult with those who would be effected by our sacrifices (e.g., family) for at least three reasons: (a) guidance on the wisdom of our choice, (b) prevent resentment for how our choice impacts them, and (c) accountability not to persist in this unsustainable deficit for a time period that jeopardizes higher priorities.
A parallel to this generosity-sacrifice contrast in our physical health would be: generosity is like eating more vegetables and getting more exercise while sacrifice is like the spiritual discipline of fasting.
A Good Plan
With that said, let’s get to the actual audit. You need a plan. You will not budget your time well unless: (a) you know where your time is currently going, (b) you assess what priorities your current “time expenditures” reveal, and (c) you define what time allotments represent your desired priorities. Here is a four step process:
Step 1: Get used to using this tool by writing in the changes you would suggest to this friend if they came to you asking for advice on how to live within a realistic schedule (i.e., getting them under 168 hours per week of anticipated activity). As you do this, you will realize afresh that living within a realistic schedule means cutting some “good” things. Starting with a generic example should help you get ready to do this with your personal life.
Step 2: Complete a time budget based upon the time commitments that you are currently trying to fulfill. It may take three to four weeks of observing yourself before you are confident you have an accurate representation of what you’re trying to accomplish. But start by getting your best guess on paper and then revise it as you observe yourself through the next couple of weeks.
Step 3: Makes notes about where changes are needed and begin discussing them with family and friends who will be affected. If you try to make changes in your personal life without talking with those whose lives will be influenced, then you are setting up conflict.
Step 4: Put your revised and realistic time budget on paper. This is not a for-all-time document. If it lasts for six months, you will be fortunate. But having a working copy of where you are now will allow you to make effective changes as life evolves without having to use a formal process like this again.
More guidance on this time budgeting resource and avoiding burnout can be found at bradhambrick.com/burnout.
There is a danger to making a financial or time budget – it can stifle flexibility and generosity. Once we prayerfully make what we believe to be a “God honoring plan,” it is easy to believe that any deviation from that plan is, by definition, “not God honoring.” This takes us back into the trap of legalism – thinking we can please God by following rules.
A time budget gives us a starting place; it tells us what a “normal week” (whatever that is) should look like. However, a time budget cannot account for the unique opportunities that come into our lives on a regular basis. But, a time budget can keep us from shipwrecking our life chasing every unique opportunity that comes along.
What we need, along with our time audit, is a priority audit. What are those things that merit deviating from our “normal plan” in order to love God or love others in unanticipated ways?
Often this idea is thought of as “making margin.” But that concept can easily become too compartmentalized – “I will set aside two hours every Thursday evening to love God by serving others.” Then we wait for God to send a need our way that exists from 6 to 8pm on Thursdays.
A better approach would be to articulate and evaluate the priorities by which you choose to deviate from intended plans.
- If I looked at when I changed my plans over the last month, what priorities would these points of flexibility reveal?
- List each example of scheduling changes you can remember and the priority(s) it reveals.
- If I look at my missed opportunities (i.e., regrets) over the last months, what priorities are revealed?
- List examples of unwillingness to change your schedule and the priority(s) these decisions revealed.
- What are the ways that I would like to see God use me (future tense) in the coming year?
- List unexpected forms that these opportunities could come in; don’t get blinded to God’s plan by your narrow expectation of what it’s going to look like.
- What are my favorite examples of how God used me (past tense) in unexpected ways?
- List the fears or excuses that almost cost you these opportunities and the lessons you learned from embracing these opportunities.
- Who are the people that know how I desired to be used by God and regularly ask me about these opportunities?
- Hint: This should (at least) be your small group and weekend ministry team.
- Practice: Invite your small group and Christian friends to ask you, “What was the best interruptions God brought into your life this week?” If we regularly get asked the question, we’ll start to consistently look for the answers.
One final point, don’t dread the result of this audit. God made you for a unique purpose (Ephesians 2:10). God designed you to fulfill this purpose (Psalm 139:14-16). You are going to feel most alive and fulfilled when you are doing the things God made and designed you to do.