Time Management, Workplace Skills

Practical Tips for Time Management Part I

I admit that I’m not a big fan of spring cleaning. I appreciate the results (in my case, marginally organized chaos), but I don’t particularly enjoy all of the sorting and decision-making that’s involved. The result is that I often leave questions like: “When was the last time I wore this?”, “Does the sentimental value I’ve assigned to this random block of wood outweigh my need for more closet space?”, and “What exactly is this sticky thing, anyway?” to a two-day whirlwind blitz designed to numb my brain and cause me to forget that the “cleaning” ever took place. (The exhaustion which accompanies this numbness proves quite helpful when I begin to question whether that block of wood really did have sentimental value and begin to contemplate making a dumpster dive in order to retrieve it. Without enough energy to get up off the couch, I can almost always guarantee that the “trash” will stay where it belongs!)

Recently, I found myself forced to undergo a similar “cleaning” procedure with my time. The situation was not entirely unanticipated: a new job, a 16 credit school schedule, and a pressing need to spend more time with my fiancé had backed me into a corner. I was running from well before dawn until long after dusk and the physical effects of my marathon life were taking their toll. Something needed to go.

The question, of course, was, “What?” Being a relatively resourceful human being, I had managed to pack my every waking minute with things which I considered more or less “useful” – tasks which could be justified (at least marginally) as “educational” or “developmental”. These activities ranged from semi-regular exercise and the manufacture of my own beauty products to the “historical research” I did every time I re-watched an episode of “Downton Abbey”. (The latter could clearly go, since its designation as “research” was just a bit contrived.)

A quick assessment of my schedule yielded a few good candidates for the chopping block, but not every decision was as easy as I had hoped. To begin with, I found myself incapable of answering even simple questions about my routine. How long was each task taking? Did I really need just thirty minutes to clean my aquariums? How many hours was I actually awake each day? Truthfully, I didn’t know. And without knowledge, there was no way to make educated decisions.

It was at this point that my mother gifted me with a beautiful red book which organized each day into easy-to-manage fifteen minute increments. Photocopying several pages (the volume is for 2014), I began filling in each blank, color-coding the task “category” with highlighters as I charted my day. The pages quickly filled up with bright orange (for study) and neon pink (for business-related tasks). Bits of yellow (for health-centered activities) and fluorescent green (for housework) dotted the columns. Every now and then a subdued purple would appear, indicating that I’d taken some time for “recreation” and nearly as infrequently, bright blue for “relationship building”. That something was out of balance was evident as was the fact that this lack of balance was limiting my ability to listen to God and hear his responses. The off-center schedule could be fixed, but I would have to begin with cutting the time I wasted on unproductive activities. (To Be Continued…)

Bible Study, Spiritual Disciplines

An Introduction to Bible Study

Most facilities in this day and age have some sort of emergency policy posted where the employees can see it. On a brightly colored map of the store, management has marked out exit routes and outlined how and to where employees are to evacuate the customers if, for example, the soda machine decides to spontaneously combust.

While it may be tempting to overlook this unimposing map and its attached policies, the day may come when they are needed. Can you imagine the chaos which would ensue if every employee, instead of knowing the procedure by heart, suddenly had to dash to the nearest wall chart and figure out what to do next?

Unfortunately, many times as Christians, we take the same attitude towards God’s Word that we do towards that underused emergency policy: we don’t bother with it until there’s a desperate need. The result is total chaos.

Admittedly, the Bible is somewhat larger than that wall chart (by about 1,499 pages depending upon the translation you use). The unfortunate reality is that we frequently become so intimidated by its size that we often give up on reading it before even making a reasonable stab at it. What follows here are some helpful hints which I hope will render the study of Scripture a less than terrifying part of your regular routine:

1. Start easy. While reading through the Bible in a year is an admirable goal (it takes about three and an half chapters a day), if you aren’t already used to devoting that much time to its pages, you can find yourself combating a world of frustration. Instead, commit to a single chapter each day. Even the longest (Psalm 119) shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes and, if it does, just cut it in half. God isn’t as concerned about the number of pages we read as He is about the way we read. Are we truly seeking to know His Will and apply it to our lives?  If we are, then even a few verses a day will win Heaven’s applause.

2. Start easy… really easy. The Bible isn’t actually a single book, but sixty-six shorter ones and, while it may be appealing to read it as a whole, for many people starting in Genesis just isn’t that reasonable. Start with the single chapter books and work your way up to the longer ones. And don’t forget to keep a record of your progress.

3. If you possess a good study Bible, take the time to read both the study hints and the cross references. Yes, this takes a little more time than a straight forward reading of Scripture, but you’ll be surprised at how much light these little footnotes can shed upon the meaning and modern application of an ancient, foreign text!

4. Give yourself a visual cue. Experts say that it takes the average person 14 days to form a habit. In order to make Bible reading a regular part of your life, you need to remember to do it in the first place. For the first 14 days or maybe more, make sure to set your Bible someplace where you will see it regularly. If you want to read in the evening, set it atop your pillow after you make your bed for the day. If you want to read in the morning, set it out beneath your favorite coffee mug. Put it somewhere that you’ll see it and you’ll remember to read it.

5. Don’t get discouraged. Many Christians act as if forgetting a day of study is the equivalent to tumbling back down a mountain that took them forever to climb. I know because I’ve been there; I’ve probably re-read Genesis more times than any woman alive! Try to view Scripture reading as a racecourse rather than a trek up the Himalayas. If you fall down half-way through, you don’t go back to the starting blocks, you just get up and keep going. Remember, the goal isn’t to set a record, but to begin to understand what God says through His Word.

Next week, we’ll take a broader look at the issue of “time management” and explore some ways in which a schedule that really is overbooked can be altered to help us make time to truly listen to God. Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Bible Study, Spiritual Disciplines

Finding Time to Listen: A Lesson in Time Management

Like the big red “X” on a treasure map which indicates that “You Are Here,” the search for genuine satisfaction in the workplace (and everywhere else) begins with God’s written Word.  When we listen carefully and follow the path laid out within its pages, we find the treasure we seek.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, this is where the difficulty truly begins. While we deeply desire the fulfillment which accompanies a relationship with God, finding time to develop that relationship is a struggle. Between school, drama team, basketball, grocery shopping, and our job(s), we barely have time to breathe… let alone actually sit down and read the Bible! It’s not that we lack interest or dedication, but rather that we lack time.

Learning to balance this particularly limited resource can be a challenge for even the most mature of believers. Fortunately, there is nothing in the Scripture that says we have to read lengthy passages in a single sitting or immerse ourselves in an in-depth study of the book of Revelation. God is looking for our attention, not brilliant acts of scholarly prowess. The result is that a commitment of few minutes a day is all that is necessary to form a habit that will benefit you for a lifetime.

If you aren’t sure where to start with this habit, here are a few ideas:

  • Connect with an online reading program like YouVersion or Through the Word to help you remember to read the Bible daily. Select the devotion or reading plan which best fits your busy schedule and join with a community of believers who are also working to develop a more intimate relationship with God.
  • Set aside a specific time to read. To get the most from a regular devotional habit, you need to be able to pray about and carefully consider the text. Choose a time for your study when you won’t be distracted or will, at least, be less distracted than the rest of the time. (Keep in mind that this may not be the same from summer to winter, week to week, or even day to day. You may require a different program for different seasons, but keep in mind that the more varied that program becomes, the more difficult it will be to remember.)
  • Set aside a specific place to read. Pick a location that will allow you to focus on what you’re reading and use it as your “reading refuge”.
  • If you really don’t have time to read (or a good place to read), consider an alternative like audio Bible disks or a daily podcast that can be listened to through headphones. (You’ll find a few of my favorite programs at the following links: Daily Audio Bible, Our Daily Bread, and Early Light.)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few more ideas to help you establish a habit of listening to God through His Word. For now, feel free to share your own time management tips and tricks in the comment box below.

Understanding the Job, Workplace Skills

Obedience and the Art of Hearing

During my early days in retail, I discovered that I had been given a valuable gift: I could look at any workplace situation and, without further instruction, know exactly what needed to be done. Without managerial instruction (or sometimes in spite of it), I could tackle and resolve nearly any problem. My managerial skills were evident and were outweighed only by my ability to take the initiative.

The difficulty, of course, was that what appeared from my perspective to be the obvious course of action was not always the course which my boss had previously plotted. More than once, I found myself redoing a project simply because I had failed to carry out her instructions… or even hear them correctly in the first place. I may have shown great talent, but she was not seeking any special innovation on my part: just the careful attention which leads to obedience.

Sadly, many of us face a similar dilemma when it comes to following God’s instructions; especially when those instructions are designed to govern our conduct in the workplace. Looking at the immediate context of a situation, we make our best guess as to the “right” answer. Unfortunately, that “right” answer isn’t always the Biblical answer and, more often than not, we find ourselves embroiled in conflicts and frustrations which might have been avoided if only we hadn’t been so keen to show off our spiritual “managerial” skills.

As with my manager, God is not impressed with our attempts to follow Him if those attempts are not based upon the clear instruction of His Word.  A perfect example of this may be found in Leviticus 10:1-3, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.” While God’s decision to incinerate the priests may seem a bit extreme, we need to keep in mind that Nadab and Abihu were in direct violation of God’s direct orders. In approaching Him without regard to His commands, they dishonored Him. They thought they were smarter than God. God reminded them that they weren’t.

While God isn’t likely to use any of us as human barbeque (He did it just once to make a point), Scripture still places a great deal of emphasis upon the need to both hear and obey God’s Word. For example, in Luke 6:46-49 we read Jesus’ familiar words, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” And again, in Luke 11:28 we read that, “…blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Our ability to obey both God and our earthy boss is directly linked to our willingness to hear.