What do “productivity,” “workflow,” and “getting things done” have to do with spiritual formation? A whole lot, actually. For instance…
…how I spend my time reveals what I value; what I value reveals what my heart truly longs after; my heart longings reveal subtle (and not so subtle) idolatry.
…laziness is sinful, and so is making work and idol.
…stewarding the time allotted to me by the Lord honors God.
In Do More Better, Tim Challies hits the nail on the head when explaining how productivity is an act of worship to God and service to others:
“Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. Productivity calls you to direct your whole life at this great goal of bringing glory to God by doing good for others. … So, ultimately, here is what productivity is all about… doing good to others.”
In this post, I’ll help you identify your current workflow, share with you my workflow (how I get things done), and in the process pass on some great resources.I hope this post will help you develop, fine-tune, or perhaps even overhaul your own workflow.
Identify: What is your current workflow?
You have a workflow. It could be an informal and loosely structured workflow like making lists or writing down reminders of appointments on post-it notes or scraps of paper. Or, it could be a formal and highly structured workflow like using a combination of various desktop and mobile applications to assist you with scheduling, task management, and data management.
What is your workflow? Or, to put it another way: how do you get things done? Here are some questions to help you identify your current workflow:
- Calendaring and scheduling. How do I keep a schedule of appointments and events? (Examples: white board calendar, a calendar app, a paper planner, etc..)
- Task management. How do I track what I need to do? How do I determine what is important, what is a distraction, what is unnecessary, and what is an urgent matter? (Examples: task management software and apps, list creation software, a journal or planner for keeping lists, post-it notes, etc..)
- Reference and cataloguing. How do I keep track of important documents, manuals, and resources? How do I collect resources related to ideas, projects, trips, and other items larger than tasks? (Examples: data management software and apps, file cabinets, folders and files on a computer, etc..)
- Planning and prioritizing. How do I determine what I need to be doing today, this week, this month, this quarter, this year? How do I determine how to allocate my “free time?”
Take a few minutes to answer these questions.When you’re ready, read on and I’ll share with you the fundamental philosophy behind my own workflow.
Clarify: What is your philosophy of work?
For the believer in Jesus Christ, central to any workflow or productivity effort must be a Biblical understanding of work. Among other things, the Bible says that God has created us to do good works and this is part of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Whether our work is the work of creating, sustaining, or renewing, all work is a good work. The Bible also says that our sin complicates our work, frustrates our fruitfulness, and fosters enmity between people (Genesis 3). In Christ, we are able to do the things we were created to do, and to do them in a way that brings honor to God (Ephesians 2:8-10; Colossians 3:17, 23).
What is your philosophy of work? How does it align to what Scripture says about work?
is a beautiful collection of songs written about honoring God with our work, our vocation. Their website has links to information about the project, videos of the artists singing the songs, and other resources. You can also check out their album
Discover: My workflow (how I get things done)
Before I share with you my workflow, a couple of qualifying statements:
- Discover, don’t duplicate. You may already have a fantastic workflow that works for you. If so, I don’t expect you to change your workflow to duplicate or integrate parts of my workflow. In fact, I’d prefer that you share with me about your workflow so that I can learn from you! Use the comments feature below to drop me a line.
- One of many options. My workflow is one of many options out there.
- Best current draft. This is my best current draft of my workflow. Best = its the process and system that I’ve landed on. Current = its the one I’m currently using. Draft = its subject to tweaking and change.
There are 4 important elements to my workflow: calendaring, task management, reference material organization, and planning/review.If you have read anything about workflow or productivity, you know that these 4 elements are ubiquitous. Why? Because when you reduce your workflow to its simplest, most basic elements you end up with these 4 things.
First, you should have a system to collect appointments, events, activities, and other calendar items.
What I use for calendaring: I use the basic Apple Calendar App on my laptop and on my phone. I sync my Google calendar with it, which is super helpful because I use shared Google calendars to assist with communication and planning. I use shared Google calendars with my wife, the elders of our church, and even the sports teams that I coach so that parents have up-to-date calendars. I also subscribe to shared Google calendars for our kids’ school system so that I know when schools are closed or have early dismissal.
What I put in my calendar: If you look at my calendar you’ll see a lot of blank space. This is because I only put appointments, events, and activities into my calendar. I do not mix tasks, to-do lists, or deadlines in my calendar. Nor do I block off time for work projects or activities. My weekly and daily review (see #4 below) helps me identify those 2-4 things I absolutely must do each day. Once I nail those down, I use the “blank space” in my calendar to accomplish those tasks.
My recommendation: Use a simple Calendar app that syncs across mobile and desktop platforms. Additionally, f you don’t have one already, get a Google account and take advantage of the shared Google calendar feature. Keep your calendar simple by only adding appointments, events, and activities that you are scheduled to participate in.
2. Task management
Second, you should have a system to collect, organize, and remind you of important tasks.
What I use for task management: I use OmniFocus—both the desktop and mobile apps—for my task management. OmniFocus is an Apple-only app, but I understand that Todoist is a great alternative that works well across Apple, Windows, and Android platforms. I don’t have any experience with Todoist, so I can’t really speak of its benefits.
While I prefer to manage my tasks digitally, you don’t have to go digital. Bullet Journal is a fantastic analogue alternative and can be integrated into any paper journal or planner system.
How I organize my tasks: I organize my tasks in 4 levels.
- Level 1: Role – I have 5 roles in life: Personal (this includes fitness & spiritual growth), Family (this includes family health & finances), Church/Work (as a pastor, these are combined, but they may be separate roles for you), Ministry (this includes my blog & writing), and Social (this includes friends & out-of-state family).
- Level 2: Responsibility – I divide each of my roles into responsibilities for each role. For instance, my Family role is divided into the following 5 responsibilities: Family Growth, Spiritual Care and Leadership, Financial Care, Home, and Auto.
- Level 3: Project – I assign projects to each area of responsibility. Some projects are recurring, such as my weekly sermon preparation project. Others only exist until I finish the project, such as preparing for an upcoming speaking engagement that I have.
- Level 4: Task – This is where things are most important. I am ruthless in assigning tasks for every single thing that needs to get done in order to complete a project. For example, my sermon prep project is broken down in the following tasks: study, outline, draft 1, commentaries, draft 2, and practice.
OmniFocus, Todoist, and other digital task management systems are designed in such a way that you can create Role, Responsibility, Project, and Task hierarchies to get things done. In OmniFocus, I create one folder for each of my Roles. Then, I create subfolders in each Role folder for each Responsibility. In each subfolder, I create unique Projects—long-term projects (such as physical fitness), recurring projects (setting up and taking down Christmas decorations), and one-off projects (writing this blog post).
In each Project, I list out every task that I need to do in order to complete that Project. Then, I assign deadlines to each Task. I do not mix Tasks or deadlines with my calendar because my task management system keeps track of all my deadlines for me.
I triage my projects and my task deadlines weekly (and sometimes more frequently) in my planning (see #4 below).
What about to-do lists or shopping lists?If I need to do a grocery or Target run, I create a sub-list under my “Purchases to Make” project. I then tick off the items as I put them in my shopping cart, and the project gets done.
Bonus: Task collection.
You have to be able to collect your tasks and quickly integrate them into your task system. You cannot trust your brain to remember everything and keep it organized. So, you need to outsource your task collection. Here’s how I do it…
OmniFocus integrates with Siri, so I simply open Siri on my phone and say “Remind me to _______” and Siri dumps the reminder into my task inbox in OmniFocus. Then at a later time I go back and categorize the task and assign it to a project with a deadline. I also have a physical “in tray” on my desk where I place papers, bills, appliance manuals, business cards, and whatever else needs to be filed, assigned a task, or otherwise dealt with.
Post-it notes, notepads, Siri, Alexa… there are many ways you can collect your tasks and project ideas.My recommendation:Consider using Todoist (free), OmniFocus (paid + Apple-only), or Bullet Journal system to begin organizing your tasks.
3. Reference organization
Third, you need to have a system to archive and categorize your reference materials. Reference materials include, well, just about anything and everything! Tax documents, car and appliance manuals, immunization and medical records, college transcripts, marriage license, etc, etc, etc.
What I use to organize reference materials and how I organize them: I use a file cabinet for paper and other physical reference materials. I adopted the GTD system to organize my cabinet alphabetically. GTD = Getting Things Done. The book by the same name written by David Allen is a classic for workflow and productivity, and I highly recommend it.
For digital reference materials, I’m currently in between systems. For pretty much forever I have used the file system on my computer and sync it via Dropbox with all my different devices in order to organize digital reference materials. I am now slowly transitioning to Evernote. I am still in process of adopting Evernote, so I can’t really write much on it right now.
I saved the best for last! Planning and review is the lynchpin of the entire system. This is the part where prayer, discernment, and stewardship come together.
What I use for planning and review: I use Passion Planner for my weekly and daily planning and review. Previously, did everything in my workflow digitally except for my file cabinet which had to remain analogue. However, over the past year I have developed a hybrid approach that integrates analogue planning. There’s something about sitting down with pen and paper—it slows me down and forces me to think about what I’m writing. This is especially helpful as it acts as an archive of God’s work in my life.
I love Passion Planner for these purposes. There are many other analogue planners out there, but I have discovered that the simplicity and flexibility of Passion Planner is ideal for what I do. I use the “classic” size (i.e. the “big” one), and my wife Kim uses the “compact” size (roughly the size of a Moleskine journal). I love the large blank pages of the classic size for doing things like mind maps, and I enjoy the graph paper for sketching out tables and processes. Kim uses the blank pages in her Passion Planner as a journal, which is a fantastic way of archiving your daily rhythms in the planner section and the work of God in and through each day in the journaling section.
How I conduct my planning and review: Every Sunday, Kim and I carve out 30-60 minutes to pray and plan our weeks.For me, this involves many steps including: email inbox 0, task inbox 0, reference inboxes 0, reviewing the next 30 days in my calendar, reviewing the next 7 days in my calendar, reviewing every project in OmniFocus (there’s a feature that reminds you to do this each week), identifying mission critical priorities for the week to come, and assigning deadlines to tasks for the week.
I use Tim Challies’ method of
(living life in the presence of God). His book,
goes into detail about his daily review and weekly review system. They are both fantastic, and the book especially is a must-read for anyone desiring to integrate faith and practice together in their workflow. He also reproduced his system
My recommendation: Pick up Tim Challies’s Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity or at a minimum read this article by Challies in order to make the most of your weekly and daily review. Getting Things Done by Allen also provides tips and methods for weekly and daily review, although there’s a lot of material to get through in order to find it.
Take the first step
It takes a while to develop and tweak a workflow system.Don’t let that stop you from starting! While it takes a while, there’s no better time to start than today. So, what is your first step?
Without regular maintenance and attention, your workflow will be worthless.
You can have great tools, but if you don’t regularly use them, they don’t serve you, God, or others. Take time to do a weekly, if not daily, review.
Spend the time on the front end so that you have the confidence that you are doing the work God has called you to do.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s do the work of / for / with the Lord! Let’s love God and love people better with our time.
Join the Conversation
- What tools do you use for calendaring, task management, reference maintenance, and regular review?
- What resources (books, articles) have helped you in your own workflow management?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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