The Pareto principle says that 80% of our results will come from 20% of our activities. Applying that principle to how we invest our time can be life transforming. In his brilliant book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares a helpful guide to determine how we are to spend our time. The picture below divides activities into 4 quadrants.
Let’s think about our time as seed and our activities as soil to sow the seed into. What investments are we making with our time? Recently I have started using this thought process in determining how I spend my time. I am definitely a work in progress and far from perfect but my goal is to live in Quadrant 2 activities, Not urgent but important. Think of this quadrant as the fertile soil. While it is impossible to avoid moving into Quadrant 1 occasionally, the urgent and important, we don’t have to live there. Not urgent and important for me looks like the relationships that I want to cultivate in my life. In his amazing book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown writes: “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our life?” For me, spending time with Jesus through prayer, worship, and reading his word has proven to be most fruitful. While I have struggled with consistency sometimes, my intimacy with Him spills over to all my other relationships. When I know how deeply I am loved and that I am right with Him, this makes loving others so much easier. A friend gave me the idea to take my daughters on a daddy-daughter trip to the location of their choice. This week long investment of time was priceless as I was able to show them how much they were loved and valued by their earthly father, and as a result we strengthened our relationship. My wife and I have made weekly date nights a priority in the business of life. This allows us to slow down, look into each other’s eyes, relax, talk, and just enjoy each other’s presence. Concerning my friendships, this looks like reaching out to my brothers that I know are struggling to give prayer and encouragement. Conversely, when I am struggling I can reach out to my brothers to receive prayer and encouragement. It also looks like spending time in a rustic shed with a handful of men on Friday afternoons, to be vulnerable with our struggles, dive into the truth, and pray for each other as King Jesus meets us there. Additionally in my work I can choose to ruthlessly eliminate time wasters, and pour myself into the small number of activities with excellence to generate the best results.
You may find yourself living in the tyranny of the urgent with relationships in your life on life support. Be encouraged! There is hope! We serve a God that celebrates progress not perfection. If you are like me, the path of least resistance is to find ourselves sleep walking through life and not paying attention to how we are investing our time. Start with the simple prayer of surrendering your day to Jesus. Next ask Him to show you the most fruitful ways you need to spend your time, and last ask Him that these activities that He shows you would bear maximum fruit for his glory. I will give you a fair warning. You are going to be pruned. For me it looked like significantly reducing time on the smart device that we currently live on in todays culture and choosing to read books instead. I still have a long way to go in this area! For others He will identify toxic relationships that are not bearing fruit in your life that He wants you to cut out. The hardest things will be the “good” things He will ask you to lay down. This could look like laying down leading a small group at church so that you can cultivate that relationship with your struggling teenager, or resigning from a board so that you can be more present with your family. The old cliché is so true: “We all have 24 hours in each day.” The reality is today matters, so here’s to intentionally discovering important and not urgent activities that Jesus highlights to us, and having the courage and discipline to ruthlessly eliminate the activities that rob us from living in that space. Start today. Ask Him to start showing you the important and not urgent stuff and watch your stress decrease and your fruitfulness soar for His glory.