Choosing How to Use Your Time

In a recent post, I argued that there isn’t enough time to do all the things you want to do. I finished by saying:

There isn’t enough time. Some things will just not get done. Choosing what to spend your time on — and what not to spend it on — makes all the difference in the world. And the choices are never easy.

A few people responded by asking what I’d recommend on how to choose what to do and what to leave undone. It’s a great question. The answer is surely more art than science. Part of me hesitates to share my ideas on how to use your time, fearing that they might be received as law, when they’re just ideas. So I share them more as guiding principles of wisdom than as hard-and-fast rules.


Guiding Principles on How to Use Your Time

1. Prioritize what energizes you.

Some things we do make other things possible and, thus, are important to focus on keeping. Sleep gives you the energy to do everything else in life. Exercise provides you physical strength and prevents future debilitating illness or injury. Time with God fills your spiritual well with resources needed during daily tasks and trials. Date nights provide the emotional connection with your spouse that keep you on the same page and growing in intimacy.

Each of us require different amounts and different forms of these things. Some people do fine on 5-6 hours of sleep per night. Others need 8-9 to feel human.

Prioritizing what energizes you is often difficult because it often feels selfish or impossible (especially with young kids). But the cost of continually depleting yourself without regular renewal is too high and everybody else pays for it too.

Get to know yourself and prioritize accordingly. A helpful book in this regard is The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.

2. Prioritize your irreplaceable roles.

You are the only husband to your wife or wife to your husband. You are the only legitimate source of emotional and physical intimacy to your spouse. Similarly, you are the only mom or dad to your children. Parenting is not a role that can ever be truly replaced.

However, we will be replaced in almost every other role we have. Almost every other role we have will be replaced.

Someday, somebody else will be the pastor of Redemption Church Gateway. But I’m the only dad my daughters have.

So, if somebody is going to get cheated or short-changed, it better be the church instead of my daughters.

This is particularly difficult for moms of young children, because almost their entire lives fall in the category of “irreplaceable” roles. Thus, they often feel like they can never break free as it would feel like abdicating their primary responsibilities. This is why godly, wise husbands will prioritize space, time, and money to allow their busy wives room to get away from these responsibilities. If husbands don’t prioritize it for their wives–sometimes even forcing them to take time for themselves–it usually won’t happen.

Every husband desiring to help his wife in this way should listen to CJ Mahaney’s talk, “Strengthening Your Marriage in Ministry.”

3. Consider your season of life.

Much of our frustrations about not having enough time come from forgetting or under appreciating our current season of life.

Especially if you have young children, there are just a lot of things you can’t do. Interestingly, if you’re older, there is often more money and freedom but less energy. So no age is utopia until the New Heavens and New Earth.

I once heard Larry Osborne talk about how he took a 13 year break from writing books because it was taking too large of a toll on his family. In the process, he left many exciting projects, speaking opportunities and financial gain behind. He says:

Once all the kids were in college, I took back evenings and weekends as my own and started writing again instead of heading off to an endless parade of their school, church, and athletic events. By the way. It was a great decision. I have some books that will never be written, but I also have three grown kids who love Jesus, love the local church, and think Dad being a pastor is a cool gig.

4. Don’t just think about daily — think weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually too.

We’re often overwhelmed by all that we think we should do daily. But you can’t do everything daily. So think about other categories.

For instance, I don’t expect to work out every day. But I do expect to work out hard at least three times per week. I don’t expect to go on a date with Molly every week, but I do have a goal of 35 dates this year.

5. Discern between good opportunities and Spirit-led calling.

Good opportunities abound. And they often keep us from doing what we must do or should do. Thus, not every good opportunity should be pursued.

Other opportunities are Spirit-led. These are doors that God is opening that we should obediently pursue.

Larry Osborne says it this way: “Fulfill your calling, not your potential.” Potential is what you could do. Calling is what you must do.

Sometimes these Spirit-led opportunities drain us, don’t fit our season of life, and contradict the general principles I’ve outlined. If God is calling us to violate the principles, we should obey him. But we are foolish to violate them if it’s not really his calling.

6. Take responsibility for your choices.

You are not a victim of your busy schedule. You have real choices to make. Difficult choices. Choices that will inevitably leave many things undone. Choose intentionally, prayerfully, and with wise counsel from godly friends.

Then rest.

As you consider these choices, I highly recommend Andy Stanley’s message, “Choosing to Cheat” from his Breathing Room series.


What would you add? How have you tried to navigate these waters?

Published by Luke Simmons

I was born and raised in Denver, CO and lived there through high school. Then I moved to Champaign, IL where I attended the University of Illinois and played on the Fighting Illini baseball team. I was married in December, 2001 to Molly, who I met at the U of I. In June of 2002, we moved to Phoenix and have been here ever since.

8 thoughts on “Choosing How to Use Your Time

  1. Thanks for sharing your tips, Luke. It is really helpful to see how others prioritize life.

    As one of those moms in the crazy stage of parenting young kids (sleep??? what is that?) and homeschooling, I have learned to set very small, very do-able goals for myself each day. Like, five. I write them down and post them on the fridge. By the time I go to bed, I want to have 1. had some Bible time, 2. walked around the block (with the kids), 3. swept the floor, 4. done a load of laundry, 5. washed a load of dishes. Any more than that and I start to feel overwhelmed or “not good enough.” I like crossing things off my list and feeling OK about my job as a mom. Now that my youngest is a year old, I’m thinking of adding #6 to the list…take a nap!

  2. Lots of good stuff in here. I’ll try to be a good steward of my own and others’ time by not commenting on all the points I want to!

    My biggest challenge navigating these time waters has been my sin – mainly entitlement and victimization. I at my worst falsely believe that I am OWED the chances to do everything I want to do, when I want to do it and they should never conflict. I wrongly believe that being forced to make choices is wrong and I embrace victimization. ‘It’s not MY fault that I have multiple options, passions, interests, responsibilities, etc.’ – I can play that card really well. When the truth is I need to get over myself and accept that I just can’t do everything I want to. The GOOD thing about that is that it’s forced me to make better, more meaningful choices and while it still ‘hurts’ that I had to miss something, I can rest knowing that what I chose was the right decision.

    Which brings me to the second challenge – everyone is NOT busy. We like to say ‘everyone is busy’ to either sound humble or extend grace to those who don’t prioritize us and our stuff, but it’s not true. Some people don’t have a lot going on and sometimes they struggle to understand that you do and that you have commitments, relationships, responsibilities, etc. that trump what it is that they are asking of you. I honestly understand when people tell me, ‘I value you but I can not meet with you now or go there because there is something else/someone else that needs my attention that I value more.’ I wish others were more understanding.

  3. Thank you for that follow up response!! What a great post! We have also appreciated the resources you mentioned like Andy Stanley’s and Larry Osborne’s advice. There is good wisdom here!

  4. Love it. I’ve used Mike Hyatt’s ideal weekly schedule spreadsheet as a template for my own “ideal week”, which is the only tactical addition I’d make to this post. Otherwise, solid gold.

    Redemption Flagstaff

    1. Thanks, Drew. Hyatt’s ideal week is helpful. I was also helped recently by Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next. Hope to write a review of it soon.

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