Every day we fill our lives with things to do that weigh nothing on the scales of eternity. These discretionary burdens will be conspicuously absent on our deathbed. We say, “I have to wax the car, wet mop the garage floor, get a pedicure, watch Dancing with the Stars, renew Postcard Collector Magazine, fix the scratch on the front door, deworm the dog, and trim the bushes.” Actually, we don’t. These are purely discretionary. In 1850, no one thought of spending time on any of these. Each discretionary burden represents a tiny assault on our balance. But when taken together over a lifetime, they become a sledgehammer to the cerebellum. (Dr. Richard Swenson, In Search of Balance).
If everything is a top priority, it is inevitable that all of our relationships, vocations, callings, and purpose will quickly erode into one chaotic and confusing mess. In the book of Psalms, we hear Moses pray these words: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).
My wife and I are entering into a new season of life, a new school year for our kids, adding a new child to our family, the ever-changing realities of being deeply involved in the life and ministry of our church, the constant demands of work, family, friendships, and it can all become… overwhelming! The amazing thing is, we see the blessing and the provision and the goodness of God in all of these things, but we often lack the wisdom to prioritize our lives. Our calendars quickly become over-booked, our energy resources become depleted, and our love and impact for the people that matter the most to us becomes diluted. Moses’ prayer is full of gracious wisdom for hectic and over-crowded lives.
I recently read a wonderful book by a business leader and thinker, Greg McKeown, called Essentialism. The big idea is this: Almost everything in our lives, in our businesses, in our endless realm of opportunities and possibilities is utterly unimportant! We need wisdom, discipline, and decisiveness to chart a better course and path. We need the resolve and the tenacity to say “no” to all of the things that are crowding out the important things that require, demand, and deserve our complete focus.
For must of us, this requires two things: Courage and Clarity.
We need the courage to say a confident “NO” to many things – almost always “good” things. We need the clarity to help us out of the fog of “everything” so that we can stay focused on only what is important.
Here is a practical action plan that McKeown offered in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review (I have edited for our purposes).
Each day, create a clear and simple action list.
1. Before you go to bed, write down your top six priorities for tomorrow on a Post-it note.
2. Cross off the bottom five.
3. Write down your top priority on a Post-it note and put it on your mirror, coffee-pot, or refrigerator.
4. Schedule a generous amount of time the next day to work on your top priority — preferably the first thing of the day.
5. Every time you are about to check email, Facebook, Twitter etc., STOP if your top priority has not been completed.
Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.