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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Time Management

Doing the One Thing that Matters

jenmichel@me.com

"Will I see you on Thursday?" Two days ago, the instructor of the fitness class I normally attend on Tuesdays asked me this. While I'm reliably at the gym on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, I can't be counted on to show up other days. Sometimes I make a Thursday. Sometimes I squeeze in a Friday morning workout.

"I'm not sure," I said hesitatingly. "It's hard, you know, with work and kids. It's sort of unpredictable for me."

"Well, the important thing is that you get here when you can!" And I'm sure he walked away thinking that I was lousy at excuses.

The truth is that though I want to exercise more regularly (and am getting to the gym fairly predictably these days), bootcamp isn't always my highest priority. Sometimes I trade my time in the gym for lunch with a friend or for chaperoning a field trip. Last week, I skipped class and cleaned my house.

So maybe my "work and kids" answer wasn't an excuse after all. Maybe it just meant I had limitations.

Essentialism-300x210

It's already mid-January, which may mean that most of us us have already run out of resolution steam. But in the event that you are still reflecting on your goals for 2015, I want to recommend Greg McKeown's great book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In this book intended for a more corporate kind of reader, McKeown isn't necessarily saying something new. In fact, his message is pretty straightforward: if you want to do the things that are most important, you have to eliminate what isn't. That's obvious, maybe - but the courage required for living "essentially" isn't. I suppose if there is one take-away for me personally from McKeown's book, it's this idea of emotional courage. It takes courage to admit to yourself that you can't do it all. It takes courage to bear the pending disappointments of the trade-offs we must make to live essentially. It takes courage to say 'no' to other people.

It takes courage to live into your limitations.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will" (10).

"We simply cannot have it all. An Essentalist makes trade-offs deliberately [and asks] 'Which problem do I want?'" (55).

"Courage is key to the process of elimination . . . Anyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most, but to see people who dare to live it is rare" (132, 133).

"Saying no is its own leadership capability" (143).

"What's important now?" (220).

Again, none of this is rocket science, but the simplicity of the advice is actually what's best about the book. Figure out what's important. Define your priorities. Start courageously saying no to everything else.

I am a complete coward when it comes to saying no. But I'm trying to get better at it, and I think it's its own kind of spiritual discipline. If you're interested in the ways I'm applying some of these "essentialist" ideas to my life, I hope you'll click the links to some of these pieces below.

First, I wrote a piece for Christianity Today's her.meneutics blog entitled, "You're Not Too Busy for the Bible." Here's a little peek inside:

"Research commissioned by the American Bible Society shows that more than half of Americans want to read the Bible more often. Only 15 percent read our Bibles daily. (The oldest Americans and those living in the South are doing better than most.) While more than 60 percent aspire to greater diligence, we all cite the same reason for our laxity: we're too busy.

There may be good reasons for reconsidering the resolution to read the entire Bible this year, but citing "busyness" as the reason for not attempting any daily Bible reading is, in vernacular of my twelve-year old son, "a dumb old" excuse. So why aren't we reading? And how can we make a more enduring resolution to read the Bible in 2015?"

Second, I wrote a guest post for Charity Singleton Craig's blog. She features a regular series called, In Your Own Words. My piece was about leaving things undone:

"Setting priorities and living faithfully by them is never easy. There's no breeze in life that carries us effortlessly to the shore of the meaningful life. Rather, what will be required for new ambitions is the muscular motion of rowing into the wind: of other people's expectations, of self-imposed obligation, of inner demons like fear, apathy, and laziness. Priorities require both the strong yes as well as the brave no. Priorities depend on resistance as much as thrust, pull as much as push. To set a priority is to decide what will be prior-first; in this way, it requires leaving something undone."

I hope you'll pop over to Charity's site and find the rest here.

Courage, friends - for faithfully living into your God-given call and commission.

The Risks and Responsibilities of Desire

jenmichel@me.com

Risk for your desires. And then, carry their responsibilities.

These are the two words that seem to resonate with me when I think about desire in the context of faith.

Risk. Responsibility.

In the past two years, I risked on my desire to write a book. And God has been so good to me and what has been, in all reality, my great cowardice. He nourished my small mustard seed and grew it into something like 60,000 words. In every way, he has proven worthy of the risk—and faithful to the desire I didn’t fully know was from him and felt deeply afraid to own.

“With the mighty deeds of the LORD God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.” Psalm 71:16

I am past the risk of writing the book (although fully poised on the fear of people reading it). But this seems exactly right to me: for now it’s time to move into the responsibilities of desire.

So many people tell us to dream big for Jesus. They are eager for the thrill of the risk.

But how many are calling us, not simply into the risks of desire, but its responsibilities?

Because if you are risking for God, truly risking on the desire to love him and love your neighbor, you will find that desire moves you into obligations.

Those obligations will upset your convenient life, the one you protect and safeguard.

Those obligations will move you, inconveniently, beyond the measure of your self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

They will even arrive in the form of people.

Obligations are hard work. Desire is hard work. How often do we hear that?

I’m in the midst of a very busy month of desire’s hard work. Today, my husband is home for the morning from work so that I can finish one of a string of deadlines (this blog post NOT included).

I look at my calendar and wonder drearily when it will all be over, when life will resume something of its normalcy, when I won’t constantly have to puzzle over my week and wonder how to make time to call a friend. I lament the urgency of the deadlines, the bulk of words I’m required to put to a page.

But the busyness of this month, isn’t it due to the responsibilities for the desire that was given me by God: to understand desire and help it be better understood?

Risk for your desires.

And then, carry your responsibilities.

My Take on Time Management: Newest post at her.meneutics

jenmichel@me.com

I need a time management conversation today. Today - when the morning has me jittery, working to find my way through the piles of work (and laundry) that have mounded up since Ryan and I left the country last Friday. We're home. I'm jet-lagged. And tomorrow I'm running a large meeting for our children's ministry volunteers. All of this has me in a state of physical tremors, where I feel the voltage of anxiety surging through my hands while I type.

Today, I need a time management conversation. And I need it in the way that Matt Perman has framed it in his new book, What's Best Next.

What's best next

If we try managing our time only in terms of efficiency (How can I get the most done?), we miss the better question: what is really worth doing? And that's what is really powerful and provocative in Perman's book. The first half is dedicated to constructing a theology of productivity and answering the most important question first:

What's Best Next?

You can read my take on Perman's book and time management at her.meneutics today.

When you're too busy: Richard Foster's "Freedom of Simplicity"

Ben Goshow

I am so tired of chirping about my busyness. We all do this, accepting the perpetual drain of our energy and the greed of the calendar as the implacable reality of modern life. We are busy, and there is nothing to be done about it, no matter our will for it to be otherwise. I am reminded that busyness is a particular malady of the city. I can’t help but feel that the most recent years, the years we’ve been in Toronto, have been unusually frantic. Whether this is technology constantly increasing the speed at which we live or whether it’s the reigning ethos of all cities, I only know that life grows more and more crowded and that somehow, I feel less human in the clamor and compunction.

Even this – this writing to which I set my intention more than two years ago now (yes, remember when you woke up to a new blog post every day?) is difficult to do. There are writers groups’ in which I now participate. These new writer friends write wonderful essays, which I now feel a certain obligation to read and reflect upon. The book I’ve written is to be marketed, and a week has been swallowed in the administrative details of asking people to read and review it, scratching down their addresses, completing the marketing questionnaire whose questions I meet with a troubling perplexity: “What is the central these of your book?” I find myself busied by the periphery of the writing life – and writing less than I want.

I had wondered at the beginning of this year what should be my writing goals. There was an internal goading – set goals! – and the fear that without them, I would be adrift. But I could never commit to anything. When could I get that new book proposal finished? How many articles could I reasonably finish a month? What books did I want to read this year? How was I actually going to get better at this craft?

But I’m back to the page this morning, having no more answers than I did at the new year’s arrival. I don’t know from day to day what a “realistic” and “reasonable” writing life actually looks like. I only know that my actual life – the one I live away from my desk – requires my flexibility and presence. Not to mention I’m up to my elbows in laundry.

How do we find coherence in all the disparate parts of our lives – our various selves and our competing obligations? This is a question that Richard Foster tackles in a beautiful chapter in his book, Freedom of Simplicity. He describes a particularly fragmented season of his own life where he was busied with good—and alienated from God.

Freedom of Simplicity

He had been reading from Thomas Kelly’s, Testament of Devotion. “We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.” “Yes,” writes Richard Foster, “I had to confess that I was in all those words.”

Kelly again: “We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! [And] we have seen and know some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.”

“Quietly,” Foster concludes,” I asked God to give me the ability to say No when it was right and good. . . I was deeply committed (to God), but I was not integrated or unified.

Yes. This is exactly the state in which I usually find myself. Splintered between many goods, all for which I feel some degree of responsibility, and inwardly anxious about their demands. This is not peace. But what to do about it?

Which may be the most fearful question of our lives: what do we do about the sins we recognize in ourselves as the oldest and most chronic, the sins by which we’ve actually built our lives and made it, in some way, habitable? The sins, were we to be most honest, that we cherish? What to do about those sins that are now us?

I’ve written a book about desire, so of course, I want to affirm that repentance begins with desire. Do I really want to be done with this? Do I really want to walk in newness of life? Or is my sin consoling for its familiarity? Am I afraid of the disorientation of giving it up?

Yes, desire is a necessary and important beginning. But Richard Foster also writes this:

“The inner integration I have described in the longing of many. We weary of competing commitments and exhausting schedules. We desire to be obedient to God in all things, and have a growing knowledge that this frantic scramble is not his will. We yearn to enter the deep silences that give unity and force to our service.

Desire, however, is not enough. If we expect to enter the inward simplicity for which we were created, we will need to order our lives in specific ways. The things we do will not give us simplicity of heart, but they will put us in the place where we can receive it.

I think he’s talking about intention, commitment, courage, habit, discipline, and practice. Repentance will not only produce renewed and holy desire. It will not only produce a change of heart. It will catalyze obedience.

What is this obedience for me? I’m not yet sure about this, but Foster has an interesting exercise for those of us who feel busied to near-death. I’ll admit, I do NOT want to do it.

Keep record of your activities for a month, rank what you’ve done according to the following (1. Absolutely essential 2. Important by not essential 3. Helpful but not necessary 4. Trivial), and “ruthlessly eliminate all of the last two categories and 20% of the first two.”

“We are too busy only because we want to be too busy.”

Maybe this is word for all of us feeling hurried and hustled by life, driven away from the Center who is Christ.

 

 

 

 

Your Strong No

Ben Goshow

This is a godforsaken place, and I've now spent four hours here. I'm speaking of the waiting room at the place where we get our car serviced. It smells of stale coffee, and the television is on blare. I've asked them to put on my snow tires, and you would think I had asked them to make snow. I need nothing cosmic. Just put on my snow tires.

The consolation is my laptop, my iPad and my iPhone, which I need to generate internet juice, and this will make me sound like a sorry 21st-century sack, who can't survive five minutes without connectivity. But I assure you that what I can't survive is this colossal waste of time. My self-importance gnaws, grows greedy and impatient. There will never be enough time for the all-powerful I and her feats.

Dear LORD, deliver me from this greed for more time, this inability to say no, which is why I must have more time for the overindulged yeses. It's on this day that I NEED the words I read from Emily Freeman in A Million Little Ways.

A million little ways

“People may love you, respect you, look up to you, want to be with you, but they will not say no for you. They will let you work and volunteer as long as you are willing. They will let you lead and be strong and move ahead if you want to. Don’t get mad at them for letting you continue to say yes. Only know your boundaries. If you don’t, might I encourage you to find them out? Because yes can be brave, but it can also be bossy. It can become an addiction. Before you realize it, all your yeses are to obligation and duty. And because of those obligated yeses, you are forced to look passion and intention and desire in the eye and say, ‘No, I don’t have time for you. Weight the cost your yes will have on your spirit, your soul and your body. You may have to search for your brave yes, but you will have to fight for your strong no.

I had been praying for discernment for a particular yes I've been weighing. I'm thinking I have it.

NO to the self-importance that drives the YES.

No to the greed for more time.

No to the anger and irritability that everyone refuses to say what I must: NO.

 

Rhythms: When life races . . and when it slows

Ben Goshow

We’ve having tacos for dinner tonight. It is the easiest of all meals to assemble, and my children will love me. Win, win.

And that I’ve made it to the butcher in the middle of the day to buy ground beef signals that I’ve emerged from the cocoon of book writing. Surprise, the sun is shining, and you can buy ground beef at 11 am. These are my newest discoveries, and they are good, serving to remind me of the unordinary beauty of the everyday. I do not have to write a book to feel alive. I can buy ground beef.

And another wonderful non-event of the morning: my trip to Target to buy a digital camera for Camille’s school project. I will confess: we have a knack around here for buying and promptly misplacing digital cameras. Perhaps I can defend what feels defenseless by saying that at the very least, our children are living into our invitation to create, rather than consume. (I find this a particularly helpful distinction with technology use, especially when children would wish the wasting of their lives in front of a screen.) And so we buy digital cameras. And then we lose them. But in between the buying and the losing is the creating, and I hope that makes it worth it – at least a little.

The email came last week that Camille would need a digital camera for a project in art on digital photography. But the buying and the losing had presently left us with only one large (and expensive) camera, which Ryan uses (and Audrey uses for her beautiful blog) and a many-years-old iPhone, which takes no manner of spectacular pictures. Camille wanted to take neither to school. I can’t blame her.

So I had emailed Ryan to ask him to buy one. He did not. And when the morning’s panic began (“I neeeed a digital camera,”) you can imagine I felt a little silly to say, Well, I emailed your father about it.

Camille took the iPhone – and the charger. She didn’t complain, and that made me proud. Then I got to thinking this morning, after having loaded up my car with the 84 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes our church had collected, that I might just run into Target, buy a digital camera and drop it by school as a surprise. She wouldn’t expect it. Me.

I got there ten minutes into art class. I caught Camille’s eyes, and she ran out of class. She was lit up. “You’re just in time!”

I hugged her tight. And then looked into that incandescence and said, “I got it just this morning. Because I needed you to know how much I love you.”

I grant that this is not a heroic act. Many of my friends do this kind of thing every day. But for me, it felt like an extraordinary gesture. Our kids are used to the constant reminders that they are one of five and can’t expect that Mom will run forgotten lunchboxes, gym bags and permission slips back to school. As one of five, they must each own for themselves a great deal of responsibility. For the most part, it’s one of the most beautiful and formative parts of their lives. They are one of five, and it’s good to grow up with the idea that others must never be expected to orbit around you.

But it is also good – really good – to see your mom show up at your classroom door and know she’d taken part of her morning to run to Target, to buy you a digital camera for your school project. Now you won’t be the only one without one. We all grow incandescent when we are loved like that.

I want to love like this.

And . . . I also want to write more books. Which means that I have to learn to live with the rhythms of my life and accept the limits they often force upon me. Sometimes I will race. Deadlines, unfortunately, don’t leave much time for puttering. They don't usually allow for ground beef and digital cameras before noon. But when they are behind, life can stretch its limbs and slow a little.

And slow means time to unpack the suitcases (I've been in Chicago and New York), rehang clothes according to color (because I like this kind of small indulgence), fight with your husband (because there's some accumulated debris from the last months of hurry), and read Brothers Grimm with your children (because this is one thing I took away from Q).

And, on Wednesdays, you'll find time to make tacos for dinner.

 

Time in proper perspective: What the Bible says about the past

jenmichel@me.com

Getting time into proper perspective is one way to live life well.  “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” prays Moses in Psalm 90:12. Modern society is hustled by time: we feel the burden of it in ways that generations before us haven’t. And despite all our priorities for “saving time,” we are oriented in all the wrong ways toward it: we may save our minutes, but is this any guarantee that we aren’t wasting our years? What does the Bible have to say about time, and what does this mean for a New Year? Today, I’ll consider what the Bible has to say about the past.

In Biblical time, the past only matters as a record of God’s faithfulness. We aren’t meant to live tethered to our yesterdays, especially when they become for us a source of self-accusation.

The long list of our past failures – the record of the moral debt that we all owe to God and to neighbor – is, if we are in Christ, nailed to the cross from which He hung. This is immensely good news. 2012 is under our feet, and if we want to look back, it should not be to rehearse our sins and tear open the wounds of guilt, which the Scriptures teach Someone has died to heal:

“[Jesus Christ] wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.

By his stripes we are healed.”

Because of Christ, God’s memory is deliberately short when it comes to keeping record of what it is we owe Him (Psalm 103:11, 12). And if God chooses to erase yesterday’s record, why would we insist upon rewriting it?

No, the only real reason to look back is to rehearse the acts of grace. God has been faithful, active, and present in the past. And this is always true, whether we believe it or not, feel it or not.

2012 may have carried with it some unwelcome news, a host of disappointments, even deep and profound sadness. It may seem like the biggest leap of faith to proclaim the presence of God in a year of barren darkness.

But it is always by faith that we proclaim God’s redemptive work.

And if 2012 has inaugurated a season of joy, if the past year has ushered in accomplishments, answered prayers, new friendships and more blessed change, may we each with gratitude receive the good gifts, which to us from Above have fallen.

Because whether life has been good to us or not in the past year, it is by faith that we embrace and proclaim the goodness of God.

“You are good, and what you do is good,” (Psalm 119:68).

This is the theological certainty we need for all dimensions of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Welfare to Work: How to get your kids to do chores

jenmichel@me.com

There’s nothing like blogging to out all your ridiculousness. When school began this fall, I admitted to having created a spreadsheet in order to evaluate the time I would have for writing this year. I tallied the time it would take for laundry, grocery shopping, dinner prep – down to the quarter hour, no less. In my defense, that exercise was worthwhile for taming my expectations. Everyday life is always busier than I expect.

On the other hand, it may have caused you to wonder what medicine the doctor was prescribing for my condition.

One friend texted me after the post, asking if we could meet for coffee. Or, had I, she needed to ask, used up my 1.5 statistical friendship hours?

Yeah. Ridiculousness.

The fact remains, though: I want to spend my time wisely and purposefully.

Which is why I'm writing about the new Welfare-to-Work program we’re instituting around here. It's a program, which I’m hoping will not only keep our house cleaner, teach our kids greater responsibility, but also free up a bit more of my time to do this: write.

For years, we’ve been doling out allowance as a kind of proverbial share of the family’s resources. We didn’t necessarily equate the money the kids earned with the chores they were doing around the house, although pitching in has always been required. Our kids have been folding their own laundry and helping with meals for years now.

Ryan has technically always worked for the allowance bank, although since moving to Canada, allowance accounts have gone into arrears. The kids ask for allowance, and Ryan shrugs ambivalently. This scenario happens most Saturdays: same question, same noncommittal look. It’s become a more serious problem as Audrey (who is saving for a wooden clarinet) has expressed growing concern that Dad isn’t ever going to pay.

“Will you talk to him?”

In Ryan’s defense, I shared his growing ambivalence about allowance.

Was it really meeting our broader parenting goals, or were we just shelling out cash for more legos?

We wanted the kids to learn money management (giving, saving, spending), and we wanted them making real-life decisions.

We also wanted them to contribute in more meaningful ways towards household responsibilities.

I think the biggest challenge in whatever chore/allowance system is insuring accountability and making it a real-life exercise. It takes no little parental oversight to keep the whole thing humming. I’ll admit that’s where the proverbial wheels have always fallen off the cart for us.

If you’re like me, you need a chore/allowance system that requires less from you and more from your children. Or, in other words, you need another paper chore chart and sticker pack like you need another girl scout showing up at your door selling you three more boxes of thin mints.

I am happy to say I think we’ve found a solution, and I wanted to share it with you.

MyJobChart.com is worth a try: it’s an online chore system, and we’re finding it’s working here for us. You can input your children’s chores (according to day, a.m./p.m.), assign a point value to each chore (or no points, if you choose), and let them do all the work from there. They manage the list, checking off what’s done. When they finish their list, the computer sounds a chorus of applause and sends you an email indicating what’s been done. The site also allows you to divide earned points according to your spend/share/save goals. It keeps track of everything.

Can it be this easy?

Of course not. The task is still yours and mine to make sure that no points are awarded for shoddy jobs. Yes, we still need to enforce measures of quality assurance. But the other parts (keeping track of who’s done what and what they’ve earned) is managed by the computer.

I’m hoping we’ll stick to our new system, not simply because I would more time to write (which I would), but most importantly, because I want our children growing into responsible, capable adults.

* * * * *

If you find you’re ambivalent about allowance, read this essay by Elizabeth Kohlbert from The New Yorker. It’s entitled, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?” It will shock, even infuriate you, and light a fire in your parenting belly. Your kids will be doing chores today.

If you’re unsure about what jobs to assign your children, check out this great book by Christine Fields: Life Skills For Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World. It outlines what work even a young toddler and preschooler is capable of accomplishing around the house.

And if you simply want to talk about Biblical principles as a foundation for “welfare to work” programs as well as general attitudes/practices of money management, you can read and discuss these passages with your children:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Matthew 25:14-30

 

 

 

 

 

 

How-to Friday: Meet a deadline

jenmichel@me.com

I've spent the last month in the pages of Leviticus, finishing the May issue for Today in the Word. As is always true when I'm close to a deadline, I consider entering the witness protection program and throwing my computer to the bottom of a deep lake. (I'd probably have to head south for that.) The approaching deadline makes me a master of the avoidance. Compulsively checking facebook. Making coffee. Reheating it thirteen times. Emptying my inbox. This time, I'd also summarily started (and finished) a new television series. (First season of Downton Abbey, uh-huh.) A brilliant plan for someone who doesn't even watch t.v.

Ok, really. The truth is, I'm being diligent, writing a little bit every day, sticking to the schedule I'd mapped out months ago. But it doesn't mean I like it.

Whoever it was that said writers don't in fact like writing, only having written, must be living in my basement.

Here are my (feeble) suggestions for mounting the courage to meet a deadline. They do not, however, include starting and finishing Downton Abbey or any other television series for that matter.

1. Make your plan for meeting your deadline. Schedule your work incrementally, but give yourself more time than you think you'll need. Pad, pad, pad. Think of life's emergencies. Expect to catch strep throat or plan an unexpected visit from your in-laws. (They'll be staying only a week.)  Whatever you do, DO NOT leave your work till the last minute. Procrastination will make you even meaner. And the blood will be on your head.

2. Look forward to doing something amazing after you meet your deadline. Think carrot. Book a trip to Hawaii. Go to Starbucks with a novel, for goodness' sake. Best of all, plan to sleep in. And for at least three consecutive days after your deadline, order take-out.

3. Do a little bit every day. This will feel like building a house with a Fisher Price hammer. Your progress will be excruciatingly slow. But fight the urge to want it DONE yesterday. Rome wasn't built in a day. Or so they say.

4. Ignore all the housework that you can. Walk past your back porch littered with shoes and snow boots. Do nothing about the potted plant that you should have disposed of months ago. Don't bother sweeping up your hair in the bathroom. And keep up with the laundry only to the extent that everything is washed and dried. Do not attempt to actually fold or put away.

5. If a deadline weren't looming, I'd think of five suggestions, not four. But alas, funny and clever are more than I can muster today.

 

How-to Friday: Organize your tasks

jenmichel@me.com

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!

How-to Friday: Rethink your time management

jenmichel@me.com

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.