The Priority Problem (Prioritizing starts with a Mission Statement)
We've all experienced it. We've been given a back breaking load of projects at work, the house is a wreck, the bills need paying, shirts need ironing and the yard needs mowing. We feel overwhelmed when we have more things to do than we can possibly handle. There's always something to do in today's complicated society. With increased luxury and convenience, comes increased maintenance. And even when we think we've done it all, we could always wash the windows, pull weeds, clean out a closet, or wash the car.
The average American never runs out of things to do. In our many roles in the work place, family, church and community, demands are constantly being made on our precious time. How do we ever have any time for spiritual nurturing, for interaction with friends and for fun? How do families have time to build family bonds? When do we do the things that are really important?
Dr. Stephen Covey recognizes this dilemma in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He suggests using a time management matrix to identify each possible activity as urgent/important, urgent/not important, important/urgent and not important/not urgent.
Dr. Covey suggests that to be really effective in our use of time, we should spend as much time doing important/not urgent things as possible. Time spent on these activities will reduce the number of activities which would ever move into the important/urgent crisis range. As a general rule we should spend time doing activities which are important, but how do we determine what is important?
To determine what is important to us, Dr. Covey suggests that each person develop a personal mission statement, which focuses on what we want our character to be and what we want to accomplish in our lives. Our personal mission statement can be as simple or as complicated as we want, but the point is to set out a purpose and direction for what we want to do and who we want to become. This clarified purpose statement adds meaning to each new day and is a reward in and of itself. However, its greatest benefit is to help us truly determine the activities which are important.
Dr. Covey further suggests that our personal mission statement should be shaped by a set of values or principles which can help guide us in who we become and what we do. This idea of basic guidelines is nothing new. Two thousand years ago Jesus was quoted as having summed up all the principles and laws laid out in the whole Bible in just four, extremely profound, sentences.
In Matthew's account of the life of Christ, Jesus is quoted as saying, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
These words are a working summary of the entire Word of God. In short, if we understand how to love God through our relationship to Jesus and how to allow God's Spirit in us to effect our interaction with others, then we are living the essence of what is being said in countless pages in the Bible. A look at the account of Jesus' life on earth, laid out in the gospels, will show that these were the principles that guided everything he did.
Using our Creator's principles as a guideline for our lives seems to be the only approach that makes sense. Not doing so would be like putting together a swing set without following the directions from the manufacturer. (Any of you dads or moms who have put together a swing set, know what I mean.) It would be like building a building on a crooked corner stone, rather than on a perfectly shaped, smooth starting point. Based on unproven principles our lives will end up as a leaning building subject to collapse by the storms of circumstances. However, based on the proven truths of God, our lives will be firm and secure like a building built on a perfect cornerstone and a solid foundation.
Having understood God's basic outline for our lives, we can fashion a mission statement which personalizes God's guidelines, based on our talents and circumstances. This mission statement will become the purpose and the aim of our lives. With our purpose in mind, we will begin to notice that some of the expected tasks that come our way are out of the realm of real importance. They may be important to other people (maybe even urgent), but in respect to where we are headed, these tasks may be trivial. This may come across as selfish, but if our mission statement is truly based on God's principles, then other people will be a major part of our lives. We are talking about prioritizing a back log of "required" activities which have found themselves in our "to do" queue.
If tasks that come our way are not "important", then we may want to graciously say no. Saying no is not easy, because we feel as if we are letting other people down. However, we must ask ourselves why other people's opinions of us matter so much. If we let ourselves be crippled by what other people think, we will continue to be over loaded and overwhelmed.
As mentioned before, the most efficient use of our time is time spent on important and not urgent activities. These types of activities are the ones that so often get squeezed out by "urgent requirements" and time wasters. Planning, thinking, exercising, nurturing relationships, preventative maintenance, praying, reading, family fun, dates with our mates, and even vacations can all be considered important activities. In most cases, important activities, left undone, will eventually lead to a personal crisis time. Our personal missions statement will help us determine what is important to each of us.
In conclusion, the exercise of prioritizing our tasks based on a defined life's purpose, has dual benefits. Hopefully, we will begin to manage our time more effectively and begin to find increased time for the truly meaningful aspects of our lives. However, perhaps more importantly, we will have defined our life's purpose. We will know where we are headed, not based on popular fads or man-made philosophies, but on the true and tested principles set forth by the one who created us.
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