Spiritual Formation

Rid Yourself of the Tyranny of the “To-Do”

Despite the fact that it snowed here last Saturday, summer is coming!

Truly, it is.

It’s obvious on our college campus, since all of us—professors, staff, and students alike—are limping along in mile 25 of this marathon—counting each mile marker, turning the last corner, and straining our eyes for the finish line.

See, as much as I love my job, every spring I approach the end of the school year with great anticipation. Every bone in my body longs for a little break from the extra-early mornings and the long commute and the perpetual piles of papers.  


After a lifetime of living this rhythm and routine—school year—summer—rinse—repeat—I also know this about myself…

I won’t be long into the summer season before I’ll fall into a bit of a funk.

This dip and descent used to catch me off guard. What’s not to love about summer? How could something I so deeply craved so quickly lose its sheen? Is it just the lack of structure, I wondered, that is knocking me off-kilter? That’s part of it, for sure.

But a few years ago, I (finally) recognized that—the funk?—it was also my own fault.

More specifically, it was the result of a Tyranny of the To-Do.

Here’s how it would go…

At the beginning of every summer, I would sit down—sometimes with Peter, sometimes alone—and I would make a list. A Summer To-Do List—of mammoth proportions. (I’ve written before about this process.)

I would put on the list every idea and project and plan that was swimming around in my head. I would jot down every possibility and dream and expectation and goal. This would include writing aims and house projects and activities to do with the kids. It would include people to see and places to go and books to read and mountains to climb.

Then, I would prioritize.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible practice. In fact, some people probably use it to good effect.

My problem has long been two-fold.

1). My list is completely unrealistic. It’s akin to making a million-dollar budget for my college-professor salary.

And 2). I hold myself accountable to the list as if it is doable and as though my worth depended upon it.

Summer after summer, I kept this same sort of silly list on my desk or hung it on my fridge, and it would stare at me every sunny day. It taunted me. It even—when I let it—seared me with shame. I spent too many days trying to cross off her items, to satisfy her—so often unsuccessfully. And I would frequently feel the failure as a result.

Hence, the funk.

So this year I’m trying a different tactic.

I’m shifting my focus from my TO-DO LIST to my TIME.

This involves understanding my time for what it really is—a limited resource that requires careful stewardship.

It actually means treating my time more like my money and budgeting it as such. It means carefully and prayerfully considering each week of my summer, each hour, each day, and asking—how would God have me spend this time that He has given?

I don’t know about you, but I find this this change of focus fabulously freeing—when the measure of a “successful day” isn’t how many items I crossed off of a list—but rather how I have invested my life (my time) in loving others, loving God, and giving Him glory.

Because here’s an important, baseline truth related to this subject of CALLING that we have been exploring these past many weeks…

God may very well call me to assignments that seem outside of my ability or beyond my strength. He may drive me to depend on His wisdom and power as I seek to obey.

However, He would not (could not) call me to do more things than I possibly have TIME to do. While He can pour out His Spirit and His grace in unlimited measure—unless He chooses to once again stop the sun—He will not grant us more than 24 hours in every day.

So, the call-to-action becomes clear.

Let ’s check our to-do lists carefully—perhaps even throw them away and focus instead on stewarding our time—for if our to-do lists are impossibly long, we have undoubtedly placed projects on them that we need not worry about because they simply aren’t assigned by Him.

This is the ninth post in a series on how to clarify our CALLING.  

Read the introductory post here

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions,

and stories on the subject!

I invite you to email me, comment here, or find me on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Rid Yourself of the Tyranny of the “To-Do”

  1. Wow. How timely this was. I really loved this as I was just sending a dear friend a prayer request of staying present amidst my to-do list acquiring more things. This was so perfect and I love what you had to say about how to measure a “successful day.” It’s not about how many items we crossed off (which I so often measure my own success by) but rather, it’s about how we invest our time and our lives.

    I love this. Thank you!

  2. Kelli,
    Yes I agree with you. But what I have started to do once in a while is still make the to do list. But then spend suite a bit of time praying over it. Let God prioritize it. Let God add things and take things off. Let God decide the timing as well. Maybe that thing is a high priority but needs to be done next week.

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