You are not “running late.” You are rude. You are inconsiderate. You need to change. Greg Savage’s frustration with other people’s tardiness boiled over into an amusing rant that he posted online, and that was subsequently read by hundreds of thousands.
"10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted – while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?"
"And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying ‘I am five minutes away’ which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration."
Like most epic and enjoyable rants, we can all identify with the heart of the issue. Most of us feel some of his angst, because most of us have been kept waiting by someone who pulls in late too often and who apologizes too seldom. Somehow lateness has become culturally acceptable, excused away by busyness or traffic or the other trappings of our frantic lives. Savage says, “I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count amongst my real friends.” In his view it is that important.
In many ways I am inclined to agree with Savage. I can very easily see a link between promptness and character, where people of mature character tend to be the ones who show up on time, or even a few minutes early. Here in North America we could probably lobby to make it the missing fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, promptness, kindness, gentleness… But there is always one nagging little thought in the back of my mind: Jesus was late. Or was he just on time? He certainly looked late. In John 11 he is summoned to rush to the side of his friend Lazarus. But he dawdled and arrived not 20 minutes late, but 2 whole days late. By that time Lazarus was not only in the grave, but getting pretty ripe in there. His friends were disappointed in him, assuming that he didn’t properly understand the situation, or that he didn’t properly prioritize it. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But Jesus had been waylaid for the best of reasons—he was deeply in touch with God’s will and knew that God had something he meant to do and something he meant to prove in this situation. Where a human perspective made Jesus look like a failure, from a divine perspective he was the greatest success. We can see the same in the Psalms where David seems to assume that God is late or too busy with other things, too busy or too distracted to reply to David in his agony. We can see it in the cries of God’s people under oppression, as God seems so slow to turn his face toward them. Sometimes even the Divine looks late when we look at Him from our so-human and so-limited perspective.
And this is just my fear when we demand promptness and assume that tardiness indicates a character flaw. There is so much we don’t see. There are many people who love to do good to others, and they allow that doing good to others to take precedence over their schedules. My temptation is just the opposite, to refuse to do good because I don’t want to be late. In fact, just last night I dreamed about witnessing an accident but driving away so I wouldn’t be late for an elders’ meeting.
This issue has been an important one in my church. Toronto is the most culturally diverse city in the world, which makes the churches multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-everything else. I would say that nearly half of our church is from a West African or South American background, and both continents regard time differently from the way we do. I might be tempted to regard this only as weakness, but there are strengths as well. While I arrive on time but alone, my African friends might arrive thirty minutes late, but in a socially-engaged crowd. While I might be tempted to rush right back out of church to get home, to get lunch, to get a nap, to get geared up for the evening service, my African friends might dawdle at the church and socialize for hours until the next service begins. The issue that may frustrate us also masks genuine strengths. Will those strengths diminish as promptness increases? Is it worth the cost? Some of the most thoughtful people I know, are also the most consistently late people I know. They show their thoughtfulness in other ways—ways that sometimes make them late.
I do not mean to defend lateness. I still believe promptness is an application of Jesus’ simple command that we are to let our yes be yes and our no be no. If you say you will arrive at 10, arrive at 10, not 11. Like Savage, I believe the deeper issue is with people who plan to be late, who think so highly of themselves that they don’t even attempt to get there on time anymore, and who don’t care a bit for how this inconveniences others.
So by all means, let’s plan to be on time, and let’s live orderly lives. But let’s be slow to stand in judgment of those who show up at a time we deem inappropriate. If nothing else, let’s know people for their many strengths and not only that one weakeness that most frustrates us.
The battle for self-control has been the greatest challenge of my life. The faces of the issues I have sought to gain control over may have changed over the years, but the roots have remained and the struggle has never subsided. Looking back, my deepest regrets have come from losing control in one way or another. And my greatest frustrations have come from believing that I’d finally conquered certain sins, only to find my self-control failing as I messed up once again.
Perhaps you can identify. Perhaps you have a history of blowing up in anger, or drinking to excess, or being unable and unwilling to look up from your mobile phone, or dedicating so much time and attention to online pornography. The specifics may change, but the heart of it is the same: a lack of self-control. Says Hankey, “I want to tell you that building a life of lasting self-control is possible, though it is a challenge that requires honesty, sweat, tears, humility and faith. I’m praying that the gospel truths in this book would change your life as you read it as much as they have changed mine as I’ve written it.”
A Man’s Greatest Challenge uses an extended metaphor to instruct the reader about self-control. The author looks to the Old Testament and the many kings who were instructed by God to build walls around their cities. These walls functioned like self-control functions in our lives, keeping the enemy at bay. When the walls fell or when the walls were untended, the enemy was quick to take advantage. King Solomon himself said, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov 25:28).
This metaphor extends through the book, and Hankey invests a great deal of effort in properly equipping the reader to understand self-control. There are no quick-fixes here. While the book is practical and provides clear and specific guidance on self-control, it first takes long looks at building a plan of action, understand the consequences of past sin, rightly putting sin to death, and laying a proper foundation through identifying with Christ. With these building blocks in place, he is finally able to instruct the reader in putting on the great virtue of self-control.
Written with winsome honesty and refreshing candor, this is a book that will benefit any man who chooses to read it.
Sometimes it is good to have a bit of assistance in praying. Prone to Wander is a wonderful new collection of prayers inspired by The Valley of Vision. Last week I shared a prayer from that book that called upon God to Help Us Pray. Today I want to share a second prayer that calls upon the triune God to help us see his purposes in our trials. Here it is:
Forgive us for our lack of faith. As you called Abraham out of his country into unknown circumstances, so you often call us to walk through frightening, lonely, or unstable times. In response to trials of various kinds, we have certainly not counted them as joy. Like sheep, we are prone to wander at these times; we have turned—everyone one of us—to our own way. In moments of suffering, we have looked for wisdom from this world, comforting ourselves with man-made schemes to deal with our suffering or escaping into addictive patterns of numbing behavior. Our vision for what you are doing in our lives in the midst of suffering is blindingly clouded by fear and anger, and we have consistenly settled for our own limited, self-centered vision as the final word of truth.
Yet in your immeasurable grace, the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for his selfish, wandering sheep. Holy Jesus, thank you for the life of doubtless faith that you lived on our behalf. You came from heaven to take on human flesh and live perfectly in the place of your children. In the midst of every kind of trial and temptation, you responded with utmost truth and faith in your Father’s will. Even as your Father turned his face away as you were crucified for our sin of unbelief, you remained faithful to your final breath, declaring your atoning work as finished. What vast, free, abounding grace!
Spirit of God, bind our wandering hearts to you as we walk through the paths that you have ordained for us. When we suffer, be our vision by teaching us to count this cost as joy and strengthening our belief that you always have redemptive purposes in the suffering of your children, as we see so clearly in the cross of Christ. Enable us to cry out for wisdom when we lack it, and humble us to see that we lack wisdom often. Grow our faith in the promise that you will not leave us as we pass through troubled waters, that we will not be burned when we are called to walk through fire, and that we do not need to fear, for you have called us by name; we are yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.
As I continue this series on getting things done, I want to remind you of our definition of productivity:
Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.
I would like to briefly address that “good to others and glory to God” because I know it can be a little bit abstract.
Let me confess: Doing good to others and bringing glory to God is not something I think about every moment. When I sit down to do paperwork for the church I don’t think, “How can I glorify God in this?” When I take my son out for breakfast I don’t think, “How can I do him good and glorify God over the next hour?” Perhaps I should, and I probably have a lot of room for growth here. But what I ensure I do is reserve moments of deliberate thoughtfulness and in these times consider and plan how I can do good to others and in that way glorify God. I structure my life and live within a system so that day-by-day and week-by-week I am executing plans and projects that reflect the time I spent considering how to do those good things that bring glory to Him.
Today I want to turn to the very practical subject of task management tools because they represent the heart of an effective productivity system. The task management tool is tool you use to store and organize your tasks or actions. While each of the four tools is important, none is more crucial to the functioning of the system than this one. There is a real sense in which all of the other tools are supplemental to it, because this is the one that will determine and propel your actions each day.
I use OmniFocus as my task management tool. I appreciate its rich feature set, its attractive design, its excellent desktop and iPhone apps, and the way it comfortably complements the way I like to get things done. However, most of the principles I am about to lay out will also work with ToDoist or similar packages.
Let’s talk about how to get your life into a task management system, and how to structure a basic workflow.
No two people use OmniFocus exactly the same way, and most people don’t use it exactly the same way for very long. That’s just fine. I will tell you how I use it in the hope that you can use that as a starting point and adapt it to fit your life and your responsibilities.
If you went through the previous article, I trust you have already installed your task management tool and begun the basic setup. I organize OmniFocus according to my 5 areas of responsibility: Personal, Family, Social, GFC [church], and Business. Each area of responsibility contains what OmniFocus calls projects and these projects represent my roles, duties and projects. Within each of these OmniFocus projects I have one or more tasks. Here are some examples of this hierarchy of area of responsibility → project → task.
Area of Responsibility: Family
- Open: New Savings Account
- Update: Budget
- Research: New Insurance Policy
- Project: Home
- Register: Keurig
- Complete: Kitchen Paint
- Buy: New Fire Extinguisher
Area of Responsibility: Business
Project: G3 Conference
- Decide: Text to Preach
- Prepare: Sermon
- Book: Flights
- Project: Free Stuff Fridays
- Verify: This Week’s Sponsor
- Launch: This Week’s Giveaway
- Choose: This Week’s Winners
- Send: Winners to Sponsor
Area of Responsibility: Church
Project: Young Adults’ Ministry
- Set: Next Meeting Date
- Decide: Next Meeting Topic
- Project: Members’ Meeting
- Create: Members’ Meeting Agenda
- Discuss: Agenda with Elders
- Send: Agenda to Members
ADDING TASKSWhenever I think of something I must do, or may want to do, I immediately add it into my OmniFocus inbox. The inbox is a place to hold unfiltered and unsorted tasks, so I add tasks to it indiscriminately. Because OmniFocus is on my laptop, desktop, and iPhone, I have it with me just about anywhere I go, and this allows me to enter items the moment I think of them.
I always begin tasks with a verb followed by a colon and then a brief description. I do this primarily to ensure that I am adding only tasks that require action (and not, for example, information that would be better stored in Evernote). OmniFocus is the place for life’s verbs while Evernote (or another information system) is the place for life’s nouns. I keep tasks as short as possible, but with enough information that I will remember what I need to accomplish. (See the examples above.)
At least once a day I process everything in my OmniFocus inbox, ensuring that I reach inbox 0 (See “Daily Review” below). For an item to leave my inbox and find its way to its proper home it must have at least two pieces of information: a project and a context. Each task can be assigned to only one project and one context. Remember: A home for everything, and like goes with like.
- Project. A project is a task (or role or duty) that requires multiple actions. The way I use projects they can either be short-term (Summer Vacation) or permanent (Family Finance). This means some projects will be completed (Summer Vacation, Close Bank Account) while others never will (Family Finance, Spiritual Care).
- Context. A context is a location you need to be, tool you need to have available, person you need to be with, or scheduled time you need to be in, in order to complete that task. Contexts are perhaps the most abstract and debated feature of OmniFocus, but they are tremendously helpful if you commit to using them. However, if your task management software does not support contexts, don’t despair—you will be fine with only projects.
There is some other optional information I may add besides the project and the context.
- Due Date. This is a date I must have the task completed.
- Defer date. This is a date that will “activate” the task; if I set a defer date, the task will remain grayed out until it reaches that date. For example, I want to remember to order concert tickets, but they do not go on sale until December 1, so I defer the task until December 1 since I cannot take action on it before then.
- Repeat. This indicates if and how often a task or project will repeat. A repeated task can be completed, but then re-appear on a pre-determined schedule. For example, every Wednesday I need to remember to send a list of quotes to Kate so she can create graphics for them, so a new version of that tasks appears each Wednesday morning.
Action: Go ahead and begin adding some tasks. Start with a few simple ones and try to add a few repeating tasks in there as well.
DAILY REVIEW (CORAM DEO)
To manage your time well you need to know what the possible tasks are for any given day, and you need to know what time is available to you. Once you have that information before you, you can begin to fit tasks into your day like pieces in a puzzle. For that reason, the system is absolutely dependent upon regular reviews—short reviews that are daily and tactical, and weekly reviews that are lengthier and strategic. Let me tell you about my daily review; we will cover the weekly review at another time.
Every morning, before I do much else, I open OmniFocus and perform a daily review that I refer to as my coram deo (learn more). I do this after I complete my personal devotions, but before I begin my work day and before I look at my email. The purpose of this review is to consider all of my projects, duties, and appointments, and to prayerfully choose the tasks that will receive my attention that day.
The daily review is tactical, meaning that I am looking primarily at the short-term. I am not strategizing or taking a broad view of life, but simply thinking about how to best use the 10 or 12 hours directly ahead of me.
The daily review consists of these 6 actions:
- [Get Focused] Pray
- [Get Clear] Bring: OmniFocus Inbox to 0
- [Get Current] Check: Calendar & Alerts
- [Get Current] Check: Waiting Context
- [Get Current] Check: Forecast for Next 7 Days
- [Get Going] Flag: Today’s Top Tasks
Let me tell you a little bit about each of them.
[Get Focused] Pray. I pause to pray, giving the day to the Lord and asking him to help me use it to his glory. I ask for wisdom to know what I ought to do, and for grace to do it well. In the note for this task I also copied and pasted a line fromR.C. Sproul: “To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.” I want to structure my day to do that very thing.
[Get Clear] Bring: OmniFocus Inbox to 0. I go to my OmniFocus inbox and tidy it up by assigning a project and context to any items there. When possible I also assign a due and defer date. This assures that I have not overlooked any tasks that might need my attention in the day ahead.
[Get Current] Check: Calendar & Alerts. I open my calendar and look for any meetings or appointments that are happening today or tomorrow. I check each of them to ensure that I have set appropriate alerts. This step tells me how much time I have available to complete tasks.
[Get Current] Check: Waiting Context. The waiting context is to-do items whose next action is dependent upon another person (I will tell you more about that in the future). I review this context on a daily basis to see if any of these tasks were completed or otherwise moved forward so that I can now take action on them again.
[Get Current] Check: Forecast for Next 7 Days. I open the forecast perspective in OmniFocus and take a brief look at all of my tasks through the next 7 days, looking for any approaching deadlines.
[Get Going] Flag: Today’s Top Tasks. As I look at the waiting context and the forecast, I am beginning to determine which tasks I will attempt to accomplish today. Now I go through tasks and set the flag on anything I am committing to do today. Typically this is items due today, but it may also be items due days or even weeks ahead, depending on the time I have available. I may also adjust due dates for items that can wait for another day.
This review takes only 5 or 6 minutes. By the end of it, I have looked at all the things I could do in the day ahead and have selected the ones I actually will do—or plan to do, at least. It is 4 or 5 minutes well invested.
And then it comes down to actually getting things done.
There are two screens in OmniFocus that get most of my attention. All throughout the day I am looking at OmniFocus’ Today perspective which displays all of my flagged tasks grouped by context. Then, throughout the day I find myself in different contexts, and this is where the OmniFocus’ context perspective is so helpful.
I often begin my day with time I have blocked off for creative work. I can look at my OmniFocus GFC: Creative context, see my flagged tasks, and work on those ones. This may be preparing the sermon for next Sunday, or preparing the content for the next young adults’ meeting. If I complete them all, I can move to some of the unflagged tasks. Then I will have an elders’ meeting, and I can look at my GFC: Elders’ Meetings context and bring any of those items to the attention of the other elders. When I return home I may have some unexpected downtime at my desk, so I can look at myBusiness: Administration context and see if there is someone waiting to hear back from me about a conference.
All the while I am accomplishing tasks, marking them as complete and moving to the next thing. Few things are more satisfying then clicking the “complete” circle and watching that task disappear.
Let me conclude with this: Do you see how the system begins to keep itself going? There is an up-front investment in learning the tools and configuring them. There is a small amount of maintenance. But once the system is in place, it is very powerful, and begins to propel action. All you need to do is commit to it!