My last post discussed the fact that we’re all getting good at something. The only question is, “Are you doing it on purpose?” We get better at whatever we spend our time doing. The problem is most of us spend valuable time in activities that don’t move us any closer to our goals.
So the first step is to recognize that we have time, but we have to be more intentional about how we use it. Do you know what you want to improve in? What knowledge do you want to gain? What skills do you want to acquire?
Once you’ve answered those questions for yourself then it’s time to start rearranging life so you can make progress on fulfilling those aspirations. But as we’ll see in a moment, how you use your time is about much more than simple self-improvement.
Here are a few simple ways to get started spending your time more intentionally.
1. Organize Lists by Context
Most of us fall into time-wasting activities when we can’t quickly think of anything better to do. It’s in those “in-between” times when we lose focus and end up doing whatever is close at hand whether it’s advancing our goals or not. Rather than just scheduling an activity, though, I like what productivity guru, David Allen, recommends. He advises us to organize an action by its context–“either the tool or the location or the person needed to complete it.” I think we can take that basic principle and modify it for spending our time more meaningfully.
For instance, instead of scheduling “read” on your calendar you can make a list called “La-Z-Boy” that has a list of all the books you want to read. Keep the list by the chair so every time you sit there you can glance at the list and pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read. This cuts down on time-wasting simply because you’ll always have something productive to do in that moment.
2. Keep it Brief, Keep it Regular
Twenty minutes a day will be sufficient for developing proficiency in most activities. We lay unnecessary burdens on ourselves when we say we’re going to commit an hour or two to three a day to practice a skill. One of my language teachers says that even spending five minutes a day reading or translating in a foreign language is enough to retain the vocabulary and grammar. A little more time is necessary if you actually want to improve certain skills, but not much more. Practice in 5, 10, 15, or 20 minute intervals and you’ll see marked improvement over time.
3. Make Practicing Easy and Accessible
This might be the most important tip for me. If I can’t get to something quickly and easily I won’t do it. After a full-day of work or hours taking care of a toddler, I don’t have the energy for any activity that requires elaborate set up or lots of time just to get started. If you reduce the obstacles to getting started you’re more likely to do what you intend to do. For example, sometimes my wife sleeps in her workout clothes so she can just roll out of bed in the morning and start exercising.
4. Start with an Easy Win
You need to motivate yourself when you’re learning a new skill. So start with an easy win. If you’re learning how to play the guitar, set a goal to master a single chord. Once your fingers learn to reach the right strings quickly and automatically, you have reason to celebrate. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’ve reached a small milestone than waiting until you’ve mastered an entire discipline.
A Greater Call than “Self-Improvement”
The way we spend our time isn’t simply a matter of self-improvement. The Bible says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). One of the best uses of time for any believer is clearly laid out in the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).
All Christians are swept up in a grand story of how God involves Himself in the course of history to save sinners who couldn’t possibly save themselves. This story climaxes when God Himself takes on human form in the man, Jesus Christ. From birth to death to resurrection, Jesus lived to proclaim the Good News of spiritual forgiveness and eternal joy with the Father by believing in Him. Now everyone who confesses Christ as Savior and Lord has the privilege of sharing this message with others.
Absorbing God’s word compels us to live a life on mission. We have a calling bigger than and beyond ourselves. Like a soldier who is preparing for life-or-death battle or an athlete training for the Olympics, we have no time to waste. By contemplating our magnificent mission we find the motivation to move on from trivial time-wasters and onto activities of everlasting significance.
What great cause compels you? Is it public education reform? Is it adoption for the neediest children? Is it overcoming an illness? There are any number of noble pursuits that we should spend time doing so we can excel at them. But the ultimate cause is the cause of Christ. When we’re carried along by the call the proclaim Him, we find the motivation to eagerly spend more time doing the things that bring God glory. And that is the most worthwhile pursuit of all.