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Time Management

It’s more about us than about the time

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Owen PhelpsBritish publisher and writer Ernest Benn once said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” If that’s true, the challenge of time management is a lot like politics.

The problem starts with our description of the challenge. It isn’t about managing time at all. It’s about self-management. Time is a fixed commodity. It comes unbidden, and when the moment is used up, it’s gone. What’s to manage?

That said, time can be divvied up and allocated to various activities we either want to or have to accomplish. In a perfect world, we could make a list of all the things we both want to do and have to do, lay out a calendar or open one on our laptop, and assign time segments to each of the things on our list. So far, so good.

But then reality happens and our time management system blows up. The simple and sad rule is that there will always be more things we have to do or want to do than there will be time to do them all.

Then there are the surprises. A phone rings, connecting us to an emergency, a gripe or a desire to chat. Someone just shows up at the door. We remember a doctor’s appointment we didn’t schedule. When the time scheduled to prepare our weekend homily comes, we may have a headache and can’t concentrate. Our printer jams. A staff member has an urgent question. We don’t feel like doing what we are scheduled to do.

Even our good-faith effort to allocate planning time gets interrupted. Then we are flying blind, in something of a panic. We’re like the proverbial engineer who finds himself up to his eyeballs in alligators, way too distracted to remember that his purpose is to drain the swamp.

We have to prioritize. We have to plan. Then we have to stick with it as much as is humanly possible. We have to delegate. We have to ask God for help and forgiveness in all of it. Then we have to follow this process religiously (that’s the real task, self-management), except on our days off. And we have to take days off, at least one a week, along with vacations. Remember, even God took the seventh day off to rest.

Prioritizing and planning should be done weekly. Schedule a time for it. I know a lot of priests who set Saturday morning aside to write their homilies. If that’s the case for you, schedule time to plan your week before you start working on your homily. I like the four-quadrant system. Make a to-do list. Then every item on your list gets a rating:

IU — important, urgent.

IN — important, not urgent.

NU — not important but urgent.

NN — not important, not urgent.

Now go to your calendar and begin to assign the things on your list to a date and time interval. Start with Masses you will celebrate, other scheduled sacraments and meetings you have to attend. Then add the items rated IU. Next schedule time for some items rated IN. Fight to allocate time for these. Don’t let them fall through the cracks.

Next, come items rated NU. Before you schedule any of them, delegate as many as you possibly can. Schedule the rest to assure you’ll get to them. Items rated NN can be delegated, severely subordinated or just ignored.

OWEN PHELPS, Ph.D., is executive director of the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute and author of the book “The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership — Servant, Steward, Shepherd” (OSV, $15.95).

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