Prisoners of Our Own Device

Overwhelmed? Overloaded? Overcommitted? Overworked? Overburdened?

     Me, too. Or, should I say “I was living that way, too.” Until God broke the dam and gave me some great relief. Many of you have been following these strange posts on my Facebook page about “inbox = empty” and wondering either “who cares?”, “is it Christian to hate him?”, or “how can anyone get their inbox to empty so often and why is Aarron Pina taunting me?!”

Let me explain.

     About 6 ot 7 years ago I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and implemented a good portion of it, experienced great success for a time, but eventually fell off the wagon enough times that I think I broke (and subsequently, lost) my spine. About 2-1/2 months ago, after reading over our family mission statement which includes part of Romans 12:2 (“…be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”), I started listening to David Allen’s podcasts and re-implementing the GTD system.

     Ever pray to God for a breakthrough and hear no response only to find out He was silent now because He’d already clearly told you something several times before? God had given me an answer, freely and without reproach, but this time He made me uncover it when I was so fed up with my own mess that I moved Heaven and earth to find His answer:

1. Track your commitments. (Wait, something fell through the cracks?!)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”

     Every one of us has (at the 10,000 foot level) between 30 and 100 “projects” at any given time. (A project is any multiple step activity that when all the steps related to it are checked off, it can be considered “done” – closed-ended.) These commitments need to be tracked or they will “fall through the cracks”. Every one of us has (at the 20,000 foot level) between 10 and 15 categories of commitments, called “Areas of Responsibility” or “Areas of Focus” that cannot be completed because they are ongoing and open ended. Ex. “market research”, “bills”, “customer service”, “health”, “strategic planning”. These, too, must be tracked. Some people call this “getting organized”, but what I’m suggesting is a larger, richer, system of workflow management that includes “organize” as a component without being limited to just getting there.

2. Run the Prison, Don’t Let the Prisoners Run You

     God is a god of order and He designed our minds to be like “steel traps”, capturing thoughts and storing them. But, most of us are very sloppy in the way we run the penitentiary of steel traps in our head. I was taught a long time ago that when it comes to lust, there’s no excuse for sloppy thinking. However, the verse above isn’t just limited to lustful thoughts. Yes, we need to get unruly, unwelcome visitors like lust out of the lobby, but we need to make sure the rest of the prison stays in control.

     The “to make it obedient to Christ” part means, from a practical standpoint, identifying a thought as either godly or wicked. Here’s a simple question I’d been blowing off hundreds of times a day, resulting in towers of clutter on my desk: “What is this?” Every email, every memo, every assignment, every “note to self” can either be acted on or not. That’s helpful information. It’s either a prisoner, a prison worker, or a visitor. Unfinished business is like an extra inmate with no place to go – accumulate enough of them and the guards… the prison… will be overrun and out of control.

     Identifying each thought (email, commitment, inspiration, project) is vital information to me now, because I know there are only four possible places something can go once identified:

  • A. Do – if it’s something that I, and only I, can do and it’s less than two minutes (I have a sand timer on my desk called the “2-minute Nazi” to hold me to this) I’ll knock it out, immediately. If it’s something that requires other input from other people or that takes longer than two minutes it gets “Dated”.
  • B. Date –  I’m funny like this: if it’s on my calendar, it’s pretty likely to get done on the day it’s listed on my calendar. If the answer to “What is it?” is “something that cannot or should not be done right now, it goes into my “tickler” file (see below for definition) on the appropriate day or gets scheduled on my calendar in a “free” block, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks so easily. No stray prisoners allowed in the hallways!
  • C. Delegate – If this is something that should be done or worked on until done but just doesn’t fit into my job description (Disciple – Grow – Promote), it must be delegated. This is like transferring a prisoner to another facility into someone else’s care until their sentence is served.
  • D. Dump – Can I tell you about two of my newly favorite tools in my office? The trash can and the shredder. Love ’em. Now, I even know how to use them so well, they get emptied sometimes twice a week! How awesome is that? Talk about freedom. Get them out of the prison if they don’t belong there and you keep the prison clean!

3. Roll Call – the Glue that Keeps It Running

     Every week, I now have a sacred hour or two on my calendar called “Weekly Review”. Read Getting Things Done and you’ll get a better feel for what it looks like or email me about our upcoming “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Work, and Life” workshop in January and I’ll get you more detail. Essentially, this is a time for me to clean out all of my inboxes (virtual and physical) update all of my “next actions” lists, get clean and clear on what commitments are still waiting for other peoples’ inputs, etc., and check off items that may have moved so fast I couldn’t track them in the moment – “Mom called, she’ll be coming for dinner on Sunday, at 5:30” – great, I don’t have to call Mom about that.

Freedom Found? Be Encouraged.

     For me, staying on the GTD wagon for 9 weeks, the payoff wasn’t just increased productivity. I’ve never felt like I literally “found” two extra hours of time in a week before, but that wasn’t the payoff, either. It was an even cooler reward than I had imagined. Have you ever emptied out your sofa or even the back seat of an old car and found $20? A five? Okay, enough change to buy a #4 breakfast at the drive thru? It’s like all this STUFF was in the way covering a buried treasure.

     My treasure was more than cash. It was an unexpected gift from God: once I had uncluttered my inbox, my “to do” list, and my “current commitments” pile, it was clear I had been making dozens of choices based on either fear of rejection or the approval of men. Idolatry no matter how I looked at it. That was a set of commitments I knew just what to do with: I wrote them on paper “fear of rejection” and “approval of man”, said a little prayer “Lord, you have set me free from these. Let me stay free, indeed”, rolled my chair to the shredder, and listened blissfully as is churned away.

Free at last, free at last…