Archive for the ‘Priorities’ Category

balloonsSometimes it isn’t until a little time passes before we realize we have learned something.  In this case, I realized today that my vacation last week has taught me something I needed to learn (again).  It isn’t a new lesson.  it isn’t profound.  But to a task-oriented person like myself, it is a much needed lesson that I have to learn over and over again because I eventually forget it and return to my old ways.

The lesson is the title of the post – You have to let some things go.

The immediate context for the lesson is in the amount of time I had been spending on Twitter in the evenings for many months.  I couldn’t stand to not scan every tweet daily from the hundreds of people I follow, so I would find myself spending up to two hours at home at night reviewing my Twitter stream, following links to articles, retweeting what I found interesting, etc.

Then came last week’s vacation when I intentionally limited my time on Twitter to maybe 30 minutes on average while doing something else like watching a newscast.  That only was enough time to review a few hours of tweets, meaning that I missed tweets from the other 20-22 hours per day.  That was hard.  I soak up information and enjoy doing so.  To voluntarily turn off the spigot when more was there for the taking was difficult.  Yet, I enjoyed the freedom last week from having more time for other things.

This week I have continued the practice and so far it’s working out for me.  I’ve had time to get other things done in the evening, or even go to bed a little earlier.  The world has carried on and has not to my knowledge ended because I missed reading several hundred tweets daily.

The larger lesson for me isn’t about Twitter at all, of course, but about being disciplined enough to prioritize my life and what I want to get done, being the one in charge of that list rather than feeling like I am being controlled by a merciless task list that demands too much from me.  That is tough for those of us with a strong task-oriented approach to life.  That’s why I have to keep learning the same lesson over and over.

So it was a pleasant surprise when midway through my week after vacation I realized that I did not plan and did not miss spending large chunks on time on Twitter the last few days.  I visited the site off and on as desired.  I even participated in a couple of weekly tweet chats, but then I walked away.  It felt pretty good to turn the spigot off.

Are there self-imposed demands in your life that really don’t need to be there?  Are you placing more items on your personal to-do list than anyone else expects, and than you ought to expect from yourself?  Are such demands serving as stressors and roadblocks to accomplishing other goals instead of serving as helpful additions to your life?  If so, maybe it’s time to let some of them go.

What do you think?

For Such A Time As ThisAt my company, we have many discussions and activities related to the subject of well-being.  Most of these are related to the health dimension of well-being, but we still acknowledge and work toward improving well-being in other areas as well, such as security, belonging, and purpose.  This post addresses a little about the purpose dimension of well-being.

If someone asks you “What is your purpose in life?”, how will you respond?  Will the answer today be different than a few years ago?  Does one’s purpose remain relatively constant throughout adult life, or do you think it’s subject to periodic change?

For a few decades, when I have heard the question, I have immediately thought of the first part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism created in 1647:

“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”

I’m not telling anyone else what their purpose should be by posting the above – just stating that such a clear, concise understanding has helped guide me for many years and continues to do so.  But what does that mean?  It’s a rather broad statement and certainly open to interpretation at the level of implementation detail.  For me, the overall purpose remains constant, but how that fleshes out from one year to the next or even one day to the next is up for grabs.  I certainly have some consistent beliefs, practices and commitments related to that purpose, but there is flexibility that can make what I do today a little different that what I did yesterday, and there’s even a little wiggle room in some peripheral beliefs.  A sense of purpose may provide wide guidelines and boundaries within which we operate, while still being open to momentary, unexpected events that tie to the purpose, yet could never be planned in advance.

I believe each of us is uniquely positioned in this world to do something and to be someone unlike any other.  Nobody else has the exact experiences, motivations, passions, trials, and opportunities as you.  Nobody.  So it seems that each of us has the opportunity to live out our purpose in a wonderfully unique way that has not existed before and will not be repeated again, even if we share the same overall purpose.  It is as though we are actors in a tremendous drama where we get to write part of the script as we go, making the most of each moment.

This unique fleshing out of one’s purpose recalls to mind an insightful thought from one of the main characters in the grand story from the Old Testament book of Esther in the 5th century B.C.  As scenes change from one queen losing favor with the king, and a young Jewish Esther becoming queen, evil Haman plots to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire.  Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, in discussing her risky option of approaching the king to help save the Jews, tells her “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  Being in that place at that time for those actions was central to Esther’s purpose in life.  I wonder how many little things along the way not recorded in the book contributed to the unfolding of events as they played out.  She, and only she, was in a unique position to make a difference in that situation for all time.

Decisions may be seemingly small, random and passing (such as to help that needy person on the street), or large and obviously consequential (e.g., career choices, relationship decisions, and leaps of faith).  It’s possible that coincidence is involved in the timing of some things, but it is just as likely (more so in my opinion) that there is more at work than mere coincidence, even in the daily unexpected moments that bring meaning to our days and that relate to our purpose.

My takeaways from thinking about this: Know the broad overarching purpose that gives your life meaning and significance.  Plan your days and work hard, but always be open to unexpected opportunities uniquely presented just to you at just that moment.  You will respond to them either in accordance with or contrary to your perceived purpose.

Who knows whether you have come for such a time as this?

image from carrotsncake.com

image from carrotsncake.com

This morning as I walked across the parking lot at my church, I saw a car pull up near the main entrance.  An old man got out and opened the trunk, then pulled out a walker for his wife.  He took it around to her door, helped her out, got her situated safely with the walker, then he headed back to the driver’s side to go park the car while the woman slowly made her way from the pull-in to the outside elevator entrance.  It was a sunny morning, but very cold.  The lady’s steps were short, slow, and deliberate.  It would take her a few minutes to inch her way across that relatively short distance from the car to the elevator – a distance I could sprint in about two seconds.

As I made my way to where I was going, I couldn’t help but admire the determination of the couple to do what they believed to be important at that time on Sunday morning – be at church.  I wondered how many others would stay home today because it was too cold, or because they were too tired from staying up or out late last night, or because it just isn’t important to them.  I wondered how many others – even church members – would think up some excuse for staying in bed or staying inside where it was warm and cozy because they didn’t want the discomfort or inconvenience or time spent doing something else.

I have believed and taught for many years that Sunday morning is not the time for you to decide whether you will be in church that day or not.  That is a decision made when you make your faith commitment, choosing to be a part of a body of believers from that point on, only excusing yourself from participation in the larger community in case of illness or very unusual, temporary circumstances.  I suspect this older couple shares that sentiment.

The takeaway lesson for me from watching the couple was that we find a way to do what is important to us.  I know that many of us have more things on our plate than should be there, and we have to occasionally let some things go in order to do others of greater importance.  Still, when it comes down to deciding what gets done and what doesn’t, we find a way to do what is really important.

If spending time with family isn’t important, we fill our days with other things.  If taking care of our home, car or other personal belongings isn’t important, we let them deteriorate.  If taking care of our bodies doesn’t matter to us, then we abuse them in all kinds of ways without really showing concern for the eventual consequences.  If living for the moment is more important than providing for the future, then we throw caution to the wind and think about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.  If we care mostly or solely about ourselves, then we never take the time to focus on and do what is in the best interests of others.

You want to know how you can find out what is important to me?  Look two places: at my schedule and my bank account.  How do I spend my time and how do I spend my money?  Those two windows into my life will tell you what is really important to me, regardless of what I say is important.  I pray that the view from those windows tells the same story as my words.

What is important to you, and does your schedule and your bank account reflect that?

Don't Lose SightTwo months ago I wrote down the three words that serve as this post’s title: Don’t Lose Sight.  I do things like that occasionally when a random thought comes to mind that might serve as the basis for a future blog post.  Then I let it simmer for as long as necessary until it’s fully cooked in my mind and it’s time to pull it out of the oven.  This one has simmered long enough.

Unless you are in the most simple and casual of environments and lifestyles, chances are fairly good that you have many things clamoring for your attention.  Between work, family, other relationships, basic survival, education, entertainment, hopes, volunteerism, taking care of material possessions, discovering and living out one’s perceived purpose in life, and who knows what else, most of us do not lack for ways to invest the 24 hours we are given daily.  In fact, many are challenged to decide what doesn’t get done on a long to-do list.  What are the mandatory tasks versus items that will have to remain on the wish list?

When so many competing tasks vie for our attention, it is frighteningly easy to get distracted and off course.  It is simple to lose sight of the goal, of those things which are most important, and to wander off in some other attractive direction until we look up one day and realize we are no longer remotely close to heading in the direction we set out to follow.

When I consider the competing opportunities for involvement in my life, I am on one hand blessed to have so many interests and opportunities and ways that bring joy and gladness.  On the other hand, there are more of those available than time and physical limitations allow, so I must constantly prioritize and say “no” to some things that I’d really like to do.

The biggest single consumer of my time is my work, understandably, and that won’t change.  Still, I strive to limit it to the 50+ hours per week I average, even though there is always much more to do.  I set ambitious goals at the start of the year about reading and blogging and exercise and living out my faith – goals that at a high level exist to strike a healthy balance between body, mind and spirit.  Here at the mid-February point, I’m a little behind in some of those goals, so the challenge is not to stress about them, but to bite off daily what is reasonable and carry on without such goals becoming a burden that weighs me down and has the opposite effect from what is intended.  At least I know the answer should someone ask me to take on more right now: the answer is a resounding “no” until something else comes off my calendar.

Being busy does not guarantee that one is doing things that are meaningful and worthwhile.  Being busy may impress some onlookers, but it probably doesn’t impress the family member who feels neglected, the coworkers who aren’t seeing the results needed for the team, the neighbors or friends or passersby who feel invisible due to your lack of acknowledgement and attention, those in your community of faith who see you burning a candle at both ends but who don’t see much lasting light and warmth from your efforts, or the God who gave us life and is waiting for the time, worship and attention He deserves.

Being busy is tiring.  It is wrong to equate busyness with fulfillment or effectiveness.  It is better to do a few things really well than to do a mediocre job on many tasks.  It takes discipline and guts and wisdom to learn to say “no” to some things so that you can say “yes” to the most important ones, and do them well.  That is an ongoing learning experience for me that I don’t expect to master once and for all this side of heaven.

So what do I need to do?  I need to think daily about what is most important – not just what appears to be urgent.  I need to remind myself of my core values and principles and act accordingly.  I need to take positive action daily to live out those priorities and be willing to say “no” to opportunities that would be a distraction, be they pleasant and desirable or not.  I need to keep focused on the primary goal, on the prize.  Perhaps the same is true for you as well.

Don’t lose sight.

This past weekend was killer.  That’s why I’m now a couple of days behind on these posts.  There was simply more to be done than ought to be planned for a weekend, but not all of it was within my control.

When Sunday rolled around and I had several things still to get done, it was vital to take them in order of importance.  It is easy to get sucked into doing things you enjoy the most and never get around to other tasks that are essential.

That meant I had to first prep for a class I was teaching later Sunday morning.  While some prep had been done prior to Sunday, the rest had to be done from about 2:30 a.m. until 7:00.  It isn’t normal for me to wait until Sunday to do that, but I had few alternatives this week.

Once I was home again after lunch, it was time to tackle priority number two – studying for and completing a final quiz to wrap up a five-week course I recently completed as part of my professional development plan for the year at work.  Fortunately, that didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it might and was complete in about three hours.

Then I needed to attend a quarterly meeting at my church that normally only goes about two hours max.  This one lasted three.  Ouch – wasn’t planning on that.

Finally, I had to do my part in carving/decorating some pumpkins that were due in the office Monday.  That took a few hours as well.  The world would not have ended if I didn’t do that, but I can’t stand not following through on my commitments, and the rest of the team had already done their part.  So my bee-themed pumpkins finally were complete a little after midnight.

There were other things to do along the way, of course, and I took momentary breaks for social media check-ins and other quick diversions.  The only way to get it all done, though, was to approach the list by doing the most important thing first, then moving on to the next until it was all complete.

Leap year lesson #293 is Do things in order of their importance.