In Praise of To-Do Lists

Happy New Year! I pray your 2018 was a good year: rich and full of God’s grace and mercy. And I pray that 2019 is better yet!

We cannot know what 2019 has in store for us, but I want to be prepared for what God has for me, and I’m sure you want to be ready for what he has for you. To that end, let me start the year by commending to you the humble to-do list. May we thoughtfully prepare ourselves for the good works God has for us, strategically readying ourselves for the tasks we are called to step into.

Without a doubt, people trump tasks. To paraphrase Paul[i], if I accomplish all the tasks in the world but have not love, I gain nothing.

And yet, organization can be a wonderful tool for a life organized around God’s good purposes for us.

One of the most important verses about our purpose is found in Ephesians 2. There, Paul says that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[ii] What are the good works that God has prepared beforehand for you? Do you know? Do you have an inkling of what they are?

Certainly none of us know with certainty exactly what the good works God has prepared beforehand for us are, but we ought to have some hints about what those works are. We know they have the shape of the fruits of the Spirit. They are works of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. We know that they are connected to our spiritual gifts. We know they are connected to the unique place God has called us to and the unique relationships God has placed us in. They are connected to our church, to our vocation, to our family.

But how are you going to do those good works? Do you have a plan to walk into the calling for good works God has placed on your life? That involves meta-planning, to be sure (one, three, five year goals, for instance). But it also involves the daily routines and habits of your life. How is your life structured to accomplish the good works that God has called you to?

I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of requests, demands, and things that pull my life daily. If I wanted to, by week’s end, I could join another dozen ministries that have invited me (which are all great ministries!) and with hardly a blink put another dozen meetings a week on my calendar of various organizations or people who have reached out to me (again—all great people!). And yet, I know it’s my responsibility not to be busy, but to be fruitful: to step into “the good works that God has prepared” for me.

How do I do that? How do you do that?

A strong inner compass and good organizational skills.

The strong inner compass is directed at the true North that God created you for. Good organizational skills center your daily routines toward the destination God has called you to.

Let me share the two most important tools I use to help me organize myself. You might use different tools. The first are my to-do lists. To be specific, I use an app called “Todoist.” The benefit of the app compared to the old fashioned paper to-do list or your phone’s built-in to-do list app is threefold. First, I can schedule tasks that are done on a recurring basis. For instance, every Wednesday I write a blog post and so there it sits on the top of my to-do list every Wednesday. Second, I can also schedule tasks out in the future. With a traditional to-do list that would be staring at you for weeks or months at the top of your page demanding your attention when it might not need to demand your attention. There are some long-range planning things I want to do for the church, but realize that the time to tackle them is after a busy season, and so I push them out a few months and there they’ll wait. Finally, the app allows you to categorize your tasks. So, every book that is recommended to me I plug into the app. Some I don’t put to-do dates on, others I push forward in the pile and might plug in a to-do date a couple of months out.

The second tool is my calendar. I use Outlook, but there are benefits of the different variations of calendaring: paper, Google, etc. I like that Angel and I can share calendars on Outlook and that it connects relatively well to my email. More important than the actual form of calendar you use is how you schedule your day. Wherever you are able, take control of your calendar and block in the most important tasks you have for the day. For me the morning is the most important part of my day and is when I do my best work. I try to batch my meetings all day Monday and then in the afternoons the rest of the week. Depending on where you are in your organization or what type of job you have, your work hours might be somewhat or entirely out of your control. But the rest of your day isn’t. Block in time for devotionals, work-outs, reading, planning, writing, or whatever else is important for you. Don’t expect the time to just show up, schedule it in.

Organization does not equal holy living. Your value of your life is not determined by the number of tasks ticked off your daily to-do list. But, when a handmaiden to God’s good purpose for your life, organization can be a powerful and good companion.

Here’s to to-do lists created for the purpose and glory of God.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

[i] 1 Corinthians 13

[ii] Ephesians 2:10