4 Ways to Squeeze the Best Out of Life

There’s a quote that has stuck with me for some time now. It’s been floating around the internet via memes, Pinterest boards, and even selfies of people with the words emblazoned across a coffee mug.

It’s quite profound if you ask me:

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Now, stay with me. Maybe you’re not a Beyoncé fan. That’s totally fine. I’m not one, myself. But that’s missing the point.

Take Beyoncé out of the equation, and plug in anyone who inspires you. Now, take another look at the quote: “You have the same amount of hours in a day as ______________.”

Every life on this planet looks different. We are all born into different circumstances, but we do have this in common: God gives us all the same amount of time in a day.

Let me throw in another disclaimer: Not all people have the same amount of free time in a day…or opportunities…or help/support from others.

But no matter what your life looks like, your time is valuable, and you should manage it as such. Think of it as a commodity because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Make the most of your 24 hours.

All too often, the important things get shoved aside by the urgent. Niggling, daily chores gobble up our time, while things that truly matter get postponed until tomorrow…or next week…or next month. We overbook ourselves (and our children), make commitments because we’re afraid to say no, and spend our time running around like sugared-up toddlers in a mall play area.

And on top of all that, we face a challenge that past generations didn’t deal with. Cell phones. Our devices follow us everywhere–to appointments, the grocery store, church, even the bathroom. Email, social media, games, and texting…I’m guilty of it and know all too well how it can leach my precious time.

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We are constantly bombarded by the urgent, at the expense of the important. Sure, I need to spend some more time in God’s Word, but right now, I have a million errands to run. Yes, I’ve been meaning to check in on the sweet, elderly lady down the street, but right now, I need to alphabetize/label/color code something. (Okay, maybe that last one just applies to me…kidding, by the way…kind of.)

So, in this chaotic world that clamors for our attention from every direction, how are we supposed to find time for the important?

Pray first thing in the morning.

I’ve mentioned before how organization and a little planning can actually save time in the long run. (Remember that old carpenter adage “Measure twice, cut once?”)

The first secret to effective time management is proper planning via a morning prayer. Before your feet even hit the floor, take a moment to consult the ultimate time manager. Ask God to help you prioritize; ask Him to show you pockets of untapped time in your day; let Him guide you in how to best spend your waking hours.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” -Proverbs 16:9, ESV

Charles E. Hummel speaks to this practice in his convicting essay “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” (I highly recommend you read it). Hummel writes about how Jesus always made time for others and was sometimes exhausted (remember how Jesus slept through that storm while on a boat?). But the pace of Christ’s life was never feverish. How did He manage this?

Hummel writes, “Here is the secret of Jesus’ life and work for God: He prayerfully waited for His Father’s instructions and for the strength to follow them. Jesus had no divinely-drawn blueprint; He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. By this means He warded off the urgent and accomplished the important.”

Wow…seriously, you should go read the rest of “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” I’ll wait. You won’t be disappointed.

Sometimes saying “no” is better than “yes.”

The second secret to effective time management…learn to say no! When we commit to Every. Last. Thing., we spread ourselves too thin. Nothing receives our best…then we get discouraged and eventually burn out. (Ever see those mall play area toddlers after a dozen rounds of tag? Passed out cold in their strollers.)

Before taking on another commitment, prayerfully consider the request. Even if it is good, even if it is church-related, even if it benefits a worthy cause…”Yes” isn’t always the right answer.

God doesn’t call us to do everything; He calls us to do what He’s equipped us for. Focus on a few passion projects and leave any guilt at the Cross.

Give yourself permission to let a few things slide.

The third secret…Not everything has to receive your best. This might seem to stand in direct opposition to my last point, so let me explain.

As a perfectionist, my first instinct is to focus on every last detail. No matter how unimportant. Who cares if no one ever sees that stain on the carpet beneath the couch? I know it’s there, and I will think about it every time I sit down to watch Netflix. Therefore, I must spend the next twenty minutes scrubbing it out. (Seriously, this is my thought process at times.)

So clearly, I often have to step back and ask myself, “Is this activity worthy of so much time? Could my time and effort be better spent elsewhere?”

Ask God to reveal areas in your life that you could let go a bit. Even certain “good” things aren’t always the wisest focus of your time and energy.

For example, I used to spend way too much time and money creating handmade valentines for my kids’ classmates. This past February, I put down the scissors and glitter and headed to Target. And you know what? My kids loved their Stars Wars and Shopkins valentines just as much as my craft glue masterpieces. And for me–no more scissor-induced carpal tunnel and/or sobs into a pile of scrapbook paper and baker’s twine, plus extra time to devote to something else. A win-win-win! (Seriously, I do enjoy crafty stuff, but sometimes, I just gotta slap down a few bucks and be done.)

Maybe you spend hours whipping up a delicious dinner every night, only to be too exhausted to enjoy it with your family. Try ordering takeout a couple of evenings or instating “Taco Tuesdays.” Or even delegate some of the cooking to other family members.

Perhaps it’s housework…or social engagements…or gym time…or extracurricular activities. Whatever the case may be, we all have areas that could use a little pruning.

Write everything down!

Maybe I added this last bullet point so I could gush about my love of planners and calendars, but really, these tools are essential for me. As much as I’d like to believe my brain is a steel trap, alas it is not. I need to see things down on paper for them to really stick.

Here’s a look at my simple system that has served me well:

I carry a small planner in my purse to record appointments and dates, on-the-go.

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I plan to do an entire post on planners later (gah, that sounds so nerdy), but this DaySpring Inspirational Weekly Planner meets my three requirements: small enough for my purse, plenty of lined writing space for each day, and an entire week displayed at one glance. Plus, its pages are sprinkled with encouraging Bible verses.

If something comes up while running errands, I always have my planner nearby to jot it down. Follow-up doctor appointments, a friend texts to schedule a playdate, etc.–I can write it down before my brain loses it among the fifteen other thoughts I’m juggling. (Oh, the joys of a female brain.)

When I get home, I transfer everything onto a calendar that hangs from a magnetic hook on my refrigerator:

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This allows my husband to see our schedule, and I can check it each morning to see what to expect over the next few days. Blue Sky wall calendars are my favs.

So, that’s all folks. Sorry for the long post. I really like all things planner-related.

But before I wrap up, one last thought (and I’m speaking mostly to myself here): While effective time management does require some foresight and planning, don’t let your days become so structured that you miss out on spontaneous opportunities. Be flexible enough to rearrange your schedule if something important comes up.

God gave us one life to live, and every hour is precious. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” -Psalm 90:12, ESV

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