iStockphoto.com/Jos Luis Gutirrez
One of the most persistent myths in our success culture may be that managing our time is the key to our productivity. I think the idea is a secular sucker punch.
Each of us can test the idea with our own experience. Think about those days when you have concluded the day feeling deeply satisfied – like the day was filled with meaning and purpose. Are those the days that you most carefully planned and executed with precision and strategy?In contrast, those days where every moment was scheduled, where you ran from obligation to obligation, (if you are like me) you may have ended the day feeling drained. You may have spent the evening collapsed in mindless time-wasting.
My experience has been that those days that I go to bed feeling peaceful are often the days that were packed with surprises, where very little went according to plan.
For example, I may have planned to write an overdue unit one morning at work. But pestilential email slowed me down first thing in the morning. And then I got an email from a friend telling about life challenges. My first reaction is that I don’t have time to answer. It can wait. Besides, I don’t have anything profound to share.
But something inside me invites me to respond now. So, haltingly, I try to form a response. One idea leads to another. Soon I am swept up in a gust of Truth. I realize that, because I was willing to be a messenger for Heaven, I was entrusted with sacred Truths. The morning is gone but not wasted.
Some time later – maybe that afternoon or maybe the next day – I start the delayed unit and find that it comes quickly and easily.
My experience may be unusual, but I would argue that my productivity relates much more to my willingness to run errands for God than my skill at planning my priorities and scheduling them wisely. It doesn’t even relate to resisting the tyranny of the urgent. It relates to my willingness to do God’s bidding.
So I believe that our effectiveness relates far more to our energy management than our time management. In my view, most of us do not fail because we lack a plan as much as because we don’t have the energy to do what we feel we must do.
So I propose some simple rules of energy management.
- First (and foremost), seek always and follow gladly the will of the Father. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to Him. It is true that we owe our employers an honest day’s work. However, God is the single best productivity expert in the universe. He can point us to the high leverage opportunities to bless those in need while advancing the objectives of our employers.
Rather than begrudge the opportunity to help a colleague (“This is time lost to my tasks!”), we can follow with willingness and gladness knowing that God is able to do His work. Our most chaotic days when we partner with Him will always be more productive than our most regimented days on our own. We are never as productive when we are guided by the arm of flesh as when we depend on God.
- Trusting in God does not mean sitting around waiting for a bush to catch fire or a finger to chisel truth into stone. Much of the time God will expect us to go about doing those things that make sense. We make our lists of tasks and go about them with practical good sense and even strategic thinking. We cheerfully do all we are able (See the gloriously wise counsel in D&C 123:17.). But when God reshuffles our priorities, we don’t tell Him to get in line. We don’t jerk back our lives from His “interference.”
- We can find a sense of purpose in what we do instead of viewing our activities as routine obligations. [i] We can bring our best energy to our required tasks.
Larry Julian [ii] tells the story of Shirley, who was employed as a housekeeper in a 250-bed community hospital. Shirley could have thought of her job as a tedious exercise of cleaning patient rooms and bathrooms. Instead, after 15 years, she was still excited to go to work because she saw herself as extending service to the patients in their beds and as being an integral part of supporting the healing efforts of the doctors and nurses. She found meaning in her work – the cause of contributing to the health and welfare of those who are ill.
If we are linked with Him, the Lord can infuse meaning and purpose into our roles at work, at home and in the Church. Finding that sense of purpose helps us become more passionate and energetic about what we do.
- Negativity is an energy drain. Being mad at co-workers, computers, tools, or management drains energy away from us and our tasks. So does engaging in conversations with co-workers that spiral into frequent complaining about “all that is wrong” with the organization we serve. These things are a waste. We should seek Light.
- Gratitude – acknowledging the hand of God – increases energy. Even now, as your read this sentence, think of three things for which you are grateful right this minute. Do you feel a spike in your energy? If we live in thanksgiving daily, we will be prospered. Gratitude purifies and energizes. We should see the gracious hand of God in all things if we want to be happy and productive.
- For greater energy we can turn from evaluating each other to appreciating each other. I remember a time when I found one of my helpers to be annoying. She was picky, argumentative, and distractible. I found myself collecting and inventorying my complaints.
The Spirit invited me to think differently. So I deliberately set about looking for the way her annoying qualities were a blessing to our work. I tried to treat her the same way I would a favorite co-worker.
I remember one day standing in my office feeling that I was witnessing a miracle. I felt differently about this helper. Because I had sought to appreciate and encourage the best in her, I found myself genuinely enjoying her. I was aware that God had transformed my muddy thoughts into gold. I rejoiced in the miracle. And our team was far more productive than when I led with thinly veiled irritation and accusation.
- Fill the empty spots in our lives with God. During the time when I was assigned as the high councilman to the Glenwood, Arkansas Branch – a two-hour drive from our home – I was also suffering from sciatica and lower back pain. I would try different postures and periodic stretch breaks but the road trip was always painful – unless I filled the travel time with God. I often took along an audio recording of Believing Christ. I could listen to half on the way to Glenwood and half on the way home. Time and again I anointed the backroads of Arkansas with tears of humble gratitude. In fact, when I arrived in Glenwood and arose to speak in their sacrament meeting I could hardly contain all the joy that overfilled my soul.
- Let Him set the priorities. When I was first called to be a bishop I set a goal to visit all the members of the ward. My well-intentioned goal almost got in the way of His work. The Spirit led us to do differently. On the evenings that we were to go visiting, my counselors and I would kneel at the chapel and ask the Lord for guidance. Sometimes we already had some appointments as well as some open time. We would pick the names that stood out to us as we prayed. Then we went visiting. There were times when someone we felt inspired to visit was not at home. We did not second-guess God’s direction. Instead we left a note expressing our love and interest. We enjoyed sacred experiences as time and again we found that His wisdom to be infinitely higher than ours.
I’m sure there are far more laws of energy management – and better expressions of them than I have given. I’m also sure that applying the laws of energy management requires wisdom, sensitivity and patience. The Truths will only yield to patient and earnest study.
I wonder if the laws might be summarized by a paraphrase of Doctrine and Covenants 50:24: “If we receive light and continue in God we will grow brighter and brighter and brighter until that perfect day when God calls us His partners.”
It will be glorious.
[i] Thanks to Barbara Keil for this insight and for her several helpful suggestions.
[ii] Julian, Larry (2001) God is my CEO. Avon, MA: Adams Media.