It was the summer of 2009. The year was barely half over and I felt I had already given a year’s worth of effort. My work was slowly burying me alive, and if I didn’t find a way out, I wasn’t sure how much longer I would last.
Our denomination’s annual meeting was being hosted in Louisville that summer. Our church had taken on special projects related to that meeting, and I was in charge of some of those projects. During that same time, our beloved children’s minister had to take extended medical leave; so I became the director of our annual week-long Vacation Bible School, which drew over 150 kids and required months of planning and about ninety volunteers. And of course I still had all my regular ministry responsibilities to attend to, which included teaching, organizing, recruiting, and visiting the sick, among other things.
My organization systems (which had served me well for years) cracked under the load. I became awash in a sea of ever-increasing work stuff: piles of papers, hastily jotted notes, unresolved emails, and unfinished loose ends. I was working as hard as I could, as fast as I could, and as long as I could, and I still couldn’t keep up. My wife and kids were seeing me less and less, and even when I was with them, my mind was at the office. At night, exhausted, I lay in bed and tried to sleep. I had never been able to fall asleep quickly, but the constant stress made it worse. I would toss and turn for hours.
I knew that something had to give, but my workload showed no signs of decreasing. I felt like I had to find a better way of working. I needed a breakthrough that would allow me to get back on top of my work, and more importantly, make sense of it all. I needed to find that breakthrough, or accept defeat, or face a breakdown. I prayed to God for a breakthrough.
And my prayer was answered, for during that crazy time I stumbled across an interview of David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (GTD). Intrigued by the interview, I checked out his book from the library and studied it. Allen’s GTD method boiled down to four simple yet comprehensive directions:
- Collect every possible commitment to examine later;
- Examine every possible commitment for a desired outcome and the next action towards that outcome;
- Place every next action and desired outcome into a workable system; and
- Use the system to guide decisions about what to do in the moment.
In the end, I ended up buying my own copy of Getting Things Done and somehow carving out the greater part of three days to kick-start my own GTD system.
The effect was astounding. I still had the same responsibilities and the same workload; but I could see my work and my limitations with a clarity I didn’t have before. With that new-found clarity and God’s guidance, I truly started working smarter. My family started seeing me much more, and I was more present when I was with them. But the most incredible side-effect of GTD was one that I never would have predicted: at day’s end, within minutes of laying my head on the pillow, I would fall fast asleep.
In a world that seems to constantly be throwing more at me than I can reasonably handle, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have the GTD process. And I haven’t found any other time-management or organizational system that can rival GTD in simplicity, practicality, and sustainability.
However, I have had to make one major hack to GTD. In Getting Things Done, David Allen elevates the abilities of the human mind and emphasizes that the final decision-making process of GTD should terminate with the user. In other words, it should be my gut, my intuition, my feelings, and my logic that determines what I do in the moment. In that sense, GTD is all about getting my things done.
As a Christian, I’m supposed to submit to Jesus in all things. So from the beginning of working with GTD, I’ve tried to submit that final step of the process to him. But I’d been doing that for a while before I realized that God didn’t want to simply be involved at the tail end of the process! He wants to walk with me through the whole process from beginning to end. He doesn’t simply want to help me get my things done; he wants me to enjoy getting his things done. So I keep working on that…despite my good intentions, I still decide far too much on my own.
Walking with Jesus is like that, though. When he first entered my life, I wanted him to answer the big questions–like whether God was real, or if God forgave me, or where I would go when I died. He answered those questions once I was willing to listen, but he didn’t stop there. Jesus pressed on to answer many more questions that I hadn’t thought of or didn’t want to ask. And while I often resist him and make it difficult for him to teach me, I’m thankful that he doesn’t give up.
Do not despise the LORD’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe his discipline;
for the LORD disciplines the one he loves,
just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.
(Proverbs 3:11-12 CSB)