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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: time management

Time for What Matters

Time is like a tube of toothpaste. Just when you think you’ve used it all up, you squeeze a little harder, a little longer, and you find just enough to make it past your morning breath. You have time for what matters to you.

I have time for what matters to me.

Writing has mattered to me these last nine months, and I’ve squeezed my toothpaste of time hard, gaining one hour out of my day to write what you’ve been reading here. And because I’ve chosen this as a priority, there are many other things that have mattered less, which I’ve willingly given myself the permission to neglect.

I’m reminded of this choice the morning I return from coffee with a friend at her house, a house she and her husband have newly renovated, and which is, of course, spectacularly. Perfect. Decorator eye candy. A Canadian House and Home future feature. I’d almost hoped I didn’t have to leave after we’d spent the morning sitting in her rattan patio furniture by her pool eating lemon drizzle cake and sipping coffee. But of course we had our day to get on with, and she gently showed me to the door through her (also spectacular!) mudroom. (Who knew mudrooms could be so beautiful?)

I came back home, parked in the garage, and navigated the maze of bikes and scooters, baseball bats and helmets that is our back porch. Throwing open the metal storm door (a vintage piece?), I climbed three stairs and saw the sight of my kitchen counters. The French press in pieces, the compost bin yawning beside the sink, breakfast crumbs underfoot. And stepping further into the small sitting room where I write, I see my desk, heaped with books, pens, school papers, coffee mugs, batteries, someone’s flashlight, a hair clip.

They scream at me, “You’re a mess.”

In less than one hour a day, I could have my house June Cleaver clean. And some days, I wish I did just that. I wish that when the kids were at school, I could just close this laptop and find the missing pieces to our Connect Four game. I’d rather not continue single-handedly funding the Toronto Public Library system because I can’t seem to keep track of books and receipts. And me, too, I’d like to wake up to kitchen counters wiped immaculately clean with every toy neatly sorted back in its place. (Tell me, if you will. How do ping pong paddles end up on top of the microwave, anyways?)

But there is writing and there is parenting. And I am a friend and daughter, and Djokovic is playing in the French Open. I want to watch it with my husband.

I have time for what matters to me.

Not all things. Not for meeting expectations. Not for proving myself. Not for living into all the imaginary (and impossible) standards of general put-togetherness. But I have the time I meet to meet the responsibilities God has given me. I believe in that sufficiency, trust in my good Father that He knows the dust of this frame. I believe that He multiplies fish and loaves, even time committed into His hands. I lean. I trust. I listen. I pray, and I work.

Since the practice of virtue and the observance of the commandments form part of prayer, those who pray as well as work at the tasks they have to do, and combine their prayer with suitable activity, will be “praying always.” This is the only way in which it is possible never to stop praying.

Origen of Alexandria

* * * * *

When you face interruptions today and sense time slipping like sand through your fingers. . .

“Lord, make me sensitive to your interruptions. May I not be rigid in my schedule and inflexible to what you would insert in my time. But please help me to be disciplined to do what is important to do and not to turn easily aside.” Edith Schaeffer, The Life of Prayer

When you simply need more willingness to receive whatever God chooses to give to you today. . .


I am willing to receive what you give,

Release what you take,

Lack what you withhold,

Do what you require,

And be who you desire.”

Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook


How-to Friday: Organize your tasks

Today I'll be telling you about my favorite task manager app. It has a LOT of features that I won't even mention.

But first, the disclaimers:

There is no magic system. I should know. Having tried so many systems for organizing my life, I've learned that it's up to me to stick with a system to actually make it work.

Your current system of keeping your calendar and to-do lists may not need improvement. Maybe the real trouble is that you're neglecting it. So, please, PLEASE, don't get sucked into thinking that the system I use is foolproof. (Just ask Nathan about the day when I forgot to bring snacks for his soccer team. Ooops.)

Third, my system is obviously electronic. It is easily adapted to a paper/pencil system. (That will have to be another blogpost.)

So for the bad news: this app is not inexpensive.

It costs $10 for the iPhone app, $50 for the desktop software (not a must-have, but nice), and $20 if you have an iPad and also want to sync with that. I've been using the app now for over three years. At first, I only bought the app for my phone. That's a great way to start - try it first to see if you like it. After several months, decide if you'd also like to have it on your computer. Since I write, I'm often at my computer and liked having a bigger screen version that was a bit easier to navigate. I don't yet have it for my iPad. In an ideal world, I'd love to, but I just don't think I'm using the iPad enough to warrant needing it there as well (although it's BEAUTiFUL on the iPad, I must say.) And we're a MAC family, so I believe that the desktop software is only available for the MAC.

Enough of the preliminaries. . .drum roll, please.

THINGS by Cultured Code is the system that is currently keeping me sane.

And thanks to my nine-year old, I've learned that you can take photos of the screen of your phone, so I have some pics for you.

This is the first screen you see when you open the app. See all those beautifully  organized categories? Read yesterday's post if you didn't catch how to keep "today," "next" and "someday" lists.

If anything is overdue, a hash mark usually appears in red.

The scheduled category allows you to obviously schedule something time sensitive or schedule repeating tasks. For example, Tuesdays and Fridays are swimming days for the kids at school. I have my lists remind me every Tuesday and Friday to send the kids with their swimming stuff. (This is a HUGE benefit to something electronic!)



This is my list for today. (Note that I had on my list to ask Nathan how to take a screen shot!)

Everything greyed-out are things I've already checked off today. And yes, there are two "budget" items because I've scheduled "budget" as a daily reminder and didn't do it yesterday. (Anything that you don't check off stays on your list for tomorrow.)

At the bottom, if you hit the star, it lets you decide you don't want to do a certain task today. You can move the task to another list because, remember. Keeping today's list UNCLUTTERED is very important.

I love that I can easily move tasks around using this app. No more writing and rewriting.

Also, you can cut and paste from your email or other documents. (That phone number on this list was from an email. P.S., don't try and call her.) No rewriting names, numbers, or other info that's already typed out. Just cut and paste.

Here's my lists of ongoing projects. You can see how many to-dos I have under each project, and the arrow on the right side of the screen gets me to each individual project list. Once inside the project list, you can move any of those items into "today" or "next."








My "someday" list. These are the to-dos I'm not doing anything about anytime soon. You'll see I'm keeping track of good ski hills people have mentioned. I've got addresses to lunch spots I've read reviews for. I've got a book I want to check out on Amazon. This list is long. And again, you can move any of these into your other lists when you're ready to act on them.





Finally, this is your "logbook." You can set your preferences to keep your completed to-dos for as long as you like.

The website has a MUCH better tutorial than I've just given you, so if you're thinking you'd like to buy the app, invest the time and energy to really understand how to use it.

And in case you're overwhelmed with what to do first, try this:

1. First, brain dump on paper (see yesterday's post). Reserve a day, maybe even two for this. But keep a piece of paper with you at all times, and every time you remember something you need to do or someone you need to call, write it down! Capture all those ideas floating in your brain. Don't worry about which list it belongs to. Just get it down!

2. Make sense of your list (which, by now, might have 200+ things on it). This is obviously harder. Do you see patterns emerge? What are your projects (those things that require three or more to-dos)? Which tasks belong on today, next and someday? And are your to-dos "actionable?" That means, do you have, "Be a better mom" on your list when what you really need to commit to is, "Take Audrey out for breakfast,"?

3. Don't overcommit. Put only three or four things on your list for today. You can always add more if you finish them all! The key is reliability and knowing the difference between a calendar and a to-do. Calendars for time-sensitive stuff, to-dos for action lists. If you clutter either of these with things you really don't intend to do, you'll avoid looking at them.

4. Give yourself TIME and GRACE. Learning anything new feels intimidating and awkward.

Phew. This blogpost wasn't even on today's list. Need to take my advice and attend to my list! For the next several Fridays, I'll keep posting on time management. There's more to say!

And I hope I've done this right, but I think I changed the settings for today, allowing you to comment. Would love to hear your questions, hesitations, ideas for further posts!

Getting Things Done

Let's talk lists, but don't for one second go on believing that my house and my life are finely tuned or well-oiled. I told you I read a book years ago by David Allen called Getting Things Done. Great read, highly recommend, and I've giving him credit right up front for most of what's to follow in this post.

He says this: we're stressed because we have too many ideas and to-dos that we haven't "captured." Those vague notions of "should" and "don't forget" float untethered in our brain, and because we haven't bothered to write them down, we're constantly worried that we're forgetting something.

Photo Credit

I see two problems.

Problem 1: System failure.

Problem 2: User failure.

(Note: this blogpost only deals with problem 1.)

You might already be a list maker, but maybe you're like I once was. I wrote and rewrote lists, and the same to-dos kept getting ignored. Or, like my life presently,  your life is getting more and more complicated, and you need a better system for handling A LOT of details. The calendar squares simply don't cut it anymore.

OK. Here's where to start, and I know this sounds overwhelming. But change always feels that way at first, doesn't it?

1. First, don't write ANYTHING on your calendar that isn't time sensitive. Got it? Don't write, "Dry Cleaners" on today's calendar square if you're thinking you might be putting that off till next Monday. Write only the appointments and commitments you have TODAY. What this does is make your calendar RELIABLE, and if your calendar is reliable, you'll trust it. If, however, you clog it up with a bunch of half-hearted, "Maybe I'll try to fit this in today," you'll ignore your calendar altogether and forget the really important stuff. The key is to create for yourself systems that you trust. When you trust your systems, you can give your brain a little time-off.

2. Decide where you're going to "collect" your to-dos. You need lists for all the things you need to do which aren't time-sensitive, and you need to figure out where to keep those lists. Do you like pen and paper? Buy a simple spiral notebook. Are you a smartphone kind of person? I'll show you my MOST FAVORITE APP tomorrow. Or maybe you sit at your computer all day, and can keep a list open on your desktop. Whatever you decide, you need to have it WITH you for the majority of the day. If you like pen and paper (which I do generally), but find you're always forgetting your notebook somewhere, you might need to make a change. I fought going electronic because I really loved having a planner, but I needed something more portable. Now I love having ALL my lists on my iPhone.

The point is, if you don't have your lists with you when you suddenly think, "I need to call Grandma," you'll file that thought away somewhere in your foggy brain, and it's not resurfacing again anytime soon. And you know what happens next. STRESS.

CAPTURE it, and FORGET about it. . .until later. (P.S., that means you need to write it down. Review problem #2 above.)

3. Rethink what a "project" is, and organize your lists according to projects. This is a GTD trick (shorthand for those of us in the David Allen fan club). According to David Allan, anything with three or more to-dos is a "project." I'll show you what I mean. But first, you're going to need a "today" list, a "next" list, and a "someday" list.

First, you need a list for today's projects. And NOTHING goes on this list except the things you're ABSOLUTELY committed to doing. (Don't forget, if you write something down that you're not REALLY committed to, you will find every reason NOT to look at your list. And if you don't look at your list, you probably won't do it. Nothing magical about writing it down, folks. You've also got to LOOK AT THE LIST.)

Second, you need a list for projects that are "next." These are the, don't-have-to-do today kinds of things, but hey, maybe that third cup of coffee kicks in some afternoon, and you're through with your "today" list. That's when you look to your "next" list. Currently on my next list: chore chart for the kids, check out ski hills, church membership form, sew basket liners with Audrey, etc.

You also need a list for projects that are "someday." (Ooo, I love this list. This is where I write down the random vacation spot I've heard about or a restaurant I want to try or a website I want to check out. Not urgent enough even to make it to "next." But I'll be glad to have written it down because someday I'm going to think, "Where was that horseback riding place that Lynne told me about?" and I'm going to look at my "someday" list and see, "Oh yeah, Cedar Creek Ranch!")

Finally, you need a whole assortment of lists for your various ongoing "projects." Remember, a project is anything that is three or more to-dos. Projects are big, small, and in-between. Planning a birthday party? That's a project. Writing a book? Project. Managing your kids' clothes? Project. Projects are fluid, and as soon as you finish them, you can delete the list entirely or tear that page out of your binder. Oh, what accomplishment! The to-dos that show up on your project list are eventually moved to either "today" or "next." Think of your project lists as all the things you currently have going and are responsible for. If you can't really think of what "projects" you have ongoing, start by considering all the different roles you play, all the different hats you wear. That might help.

Here are the project lists I'm currently keeping:

Meals (Dinners I plan to make.)

Blog (Ideas for posts.)

Read (Books I've had recommended to me and want to read)

States (Things I need to do when we're back in the States)

Children's Ministry (Stuff to help with the church here)

Moms' Group (Bible Study I help lead here)

Class Rep (Yep, I overcommitted again.)

House (Elmhurst): (Projects, decorating ideas, repairs)

Gifts (What I've already bought or intend to)

Praying (Requests)

Ryan (Talk to him about . . .)

Waiting for (Emails, phone calls, packages that I'm expecting and need to act on)

Email/Call/Letter (All the people I want to remember to connect with)

Clothing (Things to shop for.)

Now I've got a space for just about every idea that pops into my brain. Any anything that doesn't neatly fit into a "project" list can also go directly into my "today," "next" or "someday" list.

Now, you've got some homework. Go do a big BRAIN dump and figure out what your ongoing projects are. Collect all those squirmy ideas in your brain. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about my favorite app that makes managing my lists SO EASY. (But no, it doesn't solve Problem 2. See above.)

How-to Friday: Rethink your time management

I'm not a list-junky. In college, I picked a book off my roommate's shelf, and it changed my life. It's not the kind of book you expect to do that, but I gave away clothes and bought a calendar.

Out of college, I bought my first Franklin Day planner. It was gluttonous, all that paper and all my scribbling. But oh, the delicious pleasure of feeling like life was pencilled in and managed.

And then dawned the era of the diaper bag. By necessity, I opted for something slimmer and electronic. (And p.s., nothing felt neatly managed anymore.)

Almost eleven years later, managing our calendars, shopping lists, menus and budget demands a fair amount of my time and attention. I like to be practical and efficient, and it's become a sort of a game I play, this managing the primordial details of life and yet creating time and energy for something more.

David Allen wrote a fantastic book, and I'm sure he intended that  executives in cushy, leather chairs read it. But even in this no-income, predictable kind of life I lead, I've found his advice about time management and list-keeping unbelievably helpful.

I want you read the book, but in the event that reading a book on time management sounds about as much fun as having a tooth extracted, I'll preview some of his best ideas.

First, you're stressed because you're plagued by the nagging fear that you're forgetting something. You have an unreliable system for keeping track of your appointments and to-dos. Your brain plays host to a million, untethered ideas, and they're running amok up there. Sound familiar anyone?

Second, you haven't spent the time evaluating what needs to be done when. When do you work best? What tasks need to be prioritized? How much time will they demand from you? I'm chronically failing here. I can write the list.  But looking at it or prioritizing it feels akin to donating my kidney.

Third, you don't build time into your week to reflect on your priorities, to evaluate whether your to-dos are moving you closer to those priorities, and to plan your calendar. Plain and simple, your desk is a mess, you play constant catch-up, and the thought of doing anything about it feels overwhelming.

OK, so I'm no miracle worker. And no one system is right, no one method foolproof. But in the weeks to come (on Fridays) I'll open up my books, so to speak, and give a peek as to how I keep track of life.

Stay tuned.