Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just One More Thing

I had no idea who David Allen is until I followed a link Justin Taylor provided to an interview with the productivity expert. From what I've read so far I think I could benefit from reading his book Getting Things Done. When asked what key concept he hopes someone coming to his material for the first time will grasp, Allen says that people must capture, clarify, and manage the multiple commitments we make with ourselves and others. "Most people simply don’t realize how many commitments they have made and the level of stress and distraction they live with when they are not responsible to them. They’re trying to sit on top of this horse, but they find themselves being driven by the horse instead of guiding it."

I plead guilty. I tend to naively (and at times impulsively) agree to requests made and/or opportunities presented because in the moment I consider them in isolation from everything else going on in my life. "It's just one event" I tell myself. "How much time could it consume?" What I often fail to take into account is the cumulative effect that all of those "little" appointments can have. I've readied myself for many such engagements with resentment and a resolve to streamline my schedule in the future. Perhaps one day it will stick.

The reasons for my taking on a variety of commitments are varied. I think that, at least to some degree, I'm sincerely motivated by a concern for people and a desire to be of help to them. Another contributing factor is my curious mind. I have a lot of interests and when an opportunity arises that sounds exciting, I'm easily snagged. But, I know that there are far less noble factors at work as well. Sometimes I say "yes" because I fear what others will think if I say "no." I sacrifice wisdom on the altar of the fear of man.

David Allen's comments made me think about those of Richard Baxter the Puritan preacher whose Christian Directory I've been reading. In his directions for "redeeming opportunity" he advises:

Endure patiently some smaller inconvenience and loss, for the avoiding of greater, and for the redeeming of time for greater duties: and let little things be resolutely cast out of your way, when they would draw out your time by insensible degrees. The devil would cunningly steal that from you by drops, which he cannot get you to cast away profusely at once; he that will not spend prodigally by the pounds, may run out by not regarding pence. You shall have the pretences of decency, and seemliness, and civility, and good manners, and avoiding offence, and censure, and of some necessity too, to draw out your precious time from you by little and little; and if you are so easy as to yield, it will almost all be wasted by this temptation....And as in our yearly expenses of our money, there goeth near as much in little matters, not to be named by themselves, and incidental, unexpected charges, of which no account can be given beforehand, as doth in food, and raiment, and the ordinary charges which we foreknow and reckon upon; just so it will be with your precious time, if you be not very thrifty and resolute, and look not well to it: you will have such abundance of little matters, scarce fit to be named, which will every one require a little, and one begin where the other endeth, that you will find in the review, when time is gone, that Satan was too cunning for you, and cheated you by drawing you into seeming necessities.

As I come to terms with the likelihood that I have already lived more life than I have yet to live, I regret the irretrievable time I've squandered and realize how desperately I need discernment, discipline, and self-control to make use of the gift of time. At times my vision is so clear but it doesn't take long for the cataracts to form again and once again I immerse myself in trivialities rather than invest in the kingdom of heaven.

Increasingly I find myself praying with the psalmist: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

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pastorshaun said...

I love that Baxter quote!!

I just read Allen's book about a month ago. Baxter hits upon something that I think Allen misses. Allen is so focused on our getting "much" done, that he minimizes the "value" aspect of our ministries. Further, Allen's system makes it very easy to lose ourselves in the midst of our tasks, the very thing Baxter warns against. While I'm not ready to call Allen the devil, I think Mormon Covey got it better when he based his entire system around values.

(Another great place to read on this is Well's Technopoly.)

YnottonY said...

Hi Keith,

I'm glad to hear you're reading Baxter's Christian Directory. I'm reading J. I. Packer's book (which was his doctoral dissertation at Oxford) on Baxter and it contains many good quotes from the Directory. Baxter had great insight into how theology should impact our heart and lives. I will have to buy that Baxter book as soon as possible. Thanks for including the quote. Please cite other gems that you may find from that work.

pastorshaun said...

Just make sure you bring along a wheelbarrow to get it home in. ;O)

KP said...

I just hired movers.