This is the final post in my mini series on how to make plans so that you can join God on his mission. The word “planning” might freak some people out. But don’t be intimidated. Planning is not about being super structured, but rather learning how to be thoughtful and intention in pursuing God’s mission. If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 of this series, I’d encourage you to do so before reading below.
One of the things that makes humans human, besides the whole “made in God’s image” thing, is that we are tool users. If scientists find a chimp that picks up a hammer and hits a nail 1 out of thousand times, they go nuts. But my son Judah, when he was only two years old, knew how to drag a stool over to the pantry, pick up a broom, and reach the highest shelf to knock down his snack bars. Humans are natural tool users. Yet, for some, when it comes to planning we totally forget this. All of a sudden we think we have to keep everything in our heads.
On the other end of the spectrum is the person who uses so many tools to keep themselves organized that they spend all their time being “organized” and don’t actually get anything done. The key here is to have a few simple things that allow you to put your plan into action. I personally use two tools: Google calendar and a project based to-list.
A. Google calendar
If you want to work out a plan then it is crucial that you don’t just know what, but also when. Not much of significance can be done apart from being scheduled. Certainly schedules can be interrupted (anyone who was with us for the first year of our church plant can certainly attest to that). However, while a schedule can be interrupted, that does not mean that there is no value to having one. Having a schedule allows us to choose our own priorities, rather than having them dictated to us. A carefully constructed calendar is what turns you from just being busy (taking a bunch of steps in a bunch of different directions) to being purposeful (consistently moving in one direction).
Just as one example of what this looks like, Angie and I sit down every month and plan out what we hope to accomplish that month. We plan out a rough idea of when we will do different “steps” that take us further on the path towards the end that we feel God has called us to. We then meet on a weekly basis to fill in those details fully for the coming week. We also do some big picture stuff for the year.
The great thing about google calendar is that you can have multiple calendars for various things. I have my church calendar, family calendar, Sovereign Grace Churches calendar, neighborhood calendar and Eagles calendar (yup) all loaded in. I can choose to only look at one at a time or all at the same time depending upon what it is that I’m trying to schedule. Also, Angie has access to the same calendar and if either of us make any changes the other sees it immediately. This has almost eliminated our double booking ourselves (apart from human error, which we definitely still have).
Having a calendar also helps us be realistic about what we can do and not feel bad about what we can’t. The reality is that there is only so much time in each day and only so many days in each week. God is unlimited and unbound by time and having a schedule is a good way to remind ourselves that we are not Him. Our schedules let us see what we realistically have time to do and they are a great tool to look back on and see how well we are doing in pursuing what God has put in our hearts to do. Calendars let us look back and see where we’ve been spending our time, which gives us the opportunity to course correct as we then look ahead and make our plans. To rephrase a popular saying from Ben Franklin, if you don’t schedule your plan, then you have scheduled to fail.
I’ve heard it said that living by a calendar can stifle creativity. However, John Alan Lassitar (Chief Creative Director at Pixar) would disagree. He uses his schedule to make sure that he has time for free space to think creatively. Without a schedule he always feels like he is missing something and it is harder for him to think creatively. But when he is operating with a schedule, he knows that he doesn’t have to think about certain things, because it isn’t time to do so and therefore he is free to be as creative as possible. This disciplined pursuit of free space then allows him to be spontaneously creative throughout the rest of the day.
B. Project based to do list
As we come to the end we finally are going to talk about lists. Some people love lists, some people hate lists. The unavoidable reality is that if you want to make plans, you need to make lists. Lists are what move plans into more than just plans, but actual execution. As you break down each goal into manageable steps, put each step on a list and then systematically work through that list.
1. Keep all your lists in one place
You have probably heard of split personality disorder. I think there is also a disorder called split list disorder. This is when someone has lists all over their house, car, room and desk. These lists don’t know each other, have nothing to do with each other and you never know when one might be in prominence. It is complete chaos. A good system for lists is when they are all in one place and so you can look at what you have to do at any given moment and be freed from having to remember anything (praise God for reminders!). My Mom was old school and always kept her list in the back of her daytimer. I’m not sure if they even make those anymore. I’ve used several apps over the years and have found todoist and meistertask to be my favorite with meistertask having the edge if you need to collaborate with other people.
2. Don’t just list tasks, but list groups of tasks
If you look at a to do list and there are 30 tasks on it, I don’t know about you, but I’m giving up and just going back to sleep. I think it is helpful to have all your tasks listed under bigger header groups. For example, I usually have anywhere from 5-7 big groups of things that I am trying to get done on a weekly basis (Family, Sermon prep, Pastoral Care, Leadership Development, etc…)Each of these are “projects” that have multiple tasks under them. The beauty of this is that i don’t have to think about “What am I supposed to do here?” I already thought about that in my yearly, monthly and weekly planning time. As I go through my week, I just have to execute each task on my list. As I do that eventually big projects get done.
3. Everything goes on a list
We only have so much mental capacity. We can only remember so much. We can only think about a certain number of things at any given time. It takes mental space to make plans and seek to live an intentional life. There is no way we will have the space to access that if we always have all these different things floating around in our heads. My rule is that if it isn’t written down, then it doesn’t exist. Everything I plan for has to go on a list or it will never get done.
If you read all this and just feel completely overwhelmed, let me give you some encouragement. First, praise God for the strengths He has given you! People who naturally like to plan need people like you in their lives just so that we remember how to have fun. The world would be a terrible place if everyone’s natural strength was planning.
Second, be willing to work on your weakness. I need to work on being ok when things don’t go according to my plan. That’s my weakness. If your weakness is thinking that you don’t need to plan, let me encourage you to consider working on that as well. We can either turn a blind eye to our weakness and never grow, or we can humbly acknowledge that there are things in our life that make us very aware of our dependence on God and we can press into those things and experience God’s transformative work. If planning isn’t a strength for you, don’t be discouraged. Press in. And consider getting some help. Find someone (family or friend) that you can reach out to for whom this is a strength and see what you might be able to pick up from them. God promises to give grace to the humble and seeking to grow is a sure sign of humility.
Ok, that will do it.
See you around the neighborhood!
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On twitter: @Pastor_Jeff
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