The Tyranny of Time

I have had the privilege of learning about time management from some well respected exponents on the subject. Yet my own time management has never been exemplary. Consciousness of time and tasks can become burdensome reality to many. So time management is a pretty important issue in our lives, especially for those who wish to be high achievers and who need to squeeze all they can out of their available time.

A Time Management Question

Here’s a time management question for you, to help you reflect on some of the philosophical issues of harnessing available time.

“There is never enough time to get everything done, so what are you going to do?”

Now, before you launch off with off-the-cuff answers, let me refine the question a little for you. Let’s image a scenario in which to address this question. Let’s imagine a situation where a person does not have a boss. Maybe they are running their own business, or just managing their life without having to be told what to do, such as a salesman might do.

The point of removing the boss is to have a situation where the person must make their own decisions about time management. If a person is overloaded with work given them by a boss they can always revert to the boss and let the boss solve the problem. I am creating a scenario that does not have that option.

The Scenario

So, we are considering a person trying to achieve various things, but with never enough time to get everything done. Let’s assume that by the end of each day there is at least one more task on the list than there had at the beginning of the day. This just goes on each day, ad infinitum. There is just not enough time to get everything done.

Now, if you were in that situation what would you do?

The Options

One possibility is that you could kill yourself trying to catch up. Since there is never enough time to get everything done (as is my starting premise), there is the option of becoming totally buried and burdened by the tasks. You could, for instance, just spend every waking moment chasing the list of things to do, pushing through them like a galley slave rowing across the ocean.

Some people chose this option. They become a pawn to their workload, ever struggling upstream against it. The work eats up their life and their time and their energy and just about everything else.

Is that how you face your workload?

Alternatively you could just give up. You could realise that the task is undo-able and just not bother trying to do it. “Why bother?” No matter how hard you try you can’t tame the demands, so you will have to leave many things undone. If you have to leave anything undone, then why should you have to do anything at all? Why not leave it ALL undone?

Some people lean toward this option. These are the minimalists. They do as little as they can get away with, because they have lost all heart for the tasks. They feel defeated by the challenge and just can’t face pressing on at all.

Two Extremes

Those two extreme positions stand in contrast to each other. Yet they summarise the limits of our choices. Your approach to the things you have to accomplish will be somewhere between complete slavery to the tasks and complete abandonment.

Some of you are workaholics, completely enslaved to the “To Do” lists in your life. For some that is the secret to their success. For others it is the treadmill that will consume their lives.

Others are work-refusers. They avoid tasks like they avoid leprosy. What they have to do they do as quickly and casually as they can. If they can get out of a task they will go out of their way to do it.

Time is Not the Issue

In either of the extremes which I have drawn out of the simple scenario the issue is not a matter of time-management. The issue is that of heart attitude. It is a character issue.

We are not measured by what we achieve or how clever we are at managing the time allotted to us. We are measured by the “who” that we become along the way.

If you become a slave and elevate tasks above the rest of your life, then that is the “who” that you have become. If you become slack and defeated, then that is the “who” that you have become.

The first issue, then, is not how to do more work, or how to get more things done. It is not a matter of priorities, routine, best practice or time and motion studies. The issue is “Who are you?”

What kind of person are you? Do you know diligence? Do you have a faithful spirit? Do you make wise choices? Are you compulsive? Do you let work or other people’s demands rule your life? Have you given up on things? Just how much have you given up on?

Become a Better You

As you become a better you, by developing godly character, doing things as if for God and not for yourself, you will be better able to manage the issues of your life.

Your workload is an issue of your life. It is not your life. Your time is an issue of your life. It is not your life.

Your character IS your life. WHO you are is what your life is all about. You will face eternal consequences for who you are, not for the way you managed time or processed work.

My advice? Become a better you. Call on God’s grace to transform you and your attitudes and character, until the tasks and choices that confront you are met by someone with godly wisdom and divine grace.

Churches as Systems

Churches function as systems and so they bring limitation and problems, just like any other system. It’s about time we looked at Churches as Systems and came to some understanding of how they curse their followers and blind us to what God may really want to do.

Systems Reviewed

I reviewed systems recently in a post titled The Curse of Beneficial Systems. I suggest you review that article for insight into how systems, which are created to regulate process and outcome so consistent worthy output can be achieved and maintained, have the side-effect of limiting other possibilities and even blinding people to better options.

If the church is a system then it too is prone to cursing its adherents by regulating due process which is not necessarily ideal or worthy of widespread application to all.

What is a Church?

Church is the Bible term for two general entities: all of the people who are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (what is called the Universal Church because it encompasses All believers); and the local group of believers in any particular place, as a sub-set of the universal church.

We are told that Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25), speaking of it as a single entity. Yet we also have reference to the “church that meets in his house” (Colossians 4:15). Either way, as the church universal and the groups of local believers, the “church” is not an institution, nor a system of processes leading to outcomes. It is a community of “called out” people, since the Greek word translated as “church” is ekklesia, meaning “called out ones”.

The church is people. Groups of people who are joined by their faith in Jesus Christ comprise the church in any of its expressions. So why do systems have anything to do with churches?

Churches and Systems

While any church is a group of people that group functions as a society. Consequently there are social processes which need to be administered. Some of those processes are expressions of worship which God has prescribed and so they are quite important. Other processes are matters of necessary administration, to facilitate effective social interaction. Things need to be done ‘decently and in order’, so that people are given appropriate opportunity to do whatever it is that they are supposed to do. Then there is the need for people to take and share responsibility. Administration involves all those organisational decisions and practices which enable facilities, programs and resources to be provided, while also adjudicating social interaction when the actions of one or more impact the actions of others in an adverse manner.

Even in their simplest form churches are benefited by the application of systems. Who is to tell who that there is a meeting in someone’s home? What time will they meet and for how long and for what purpose? What will be done about catering, or cleaning the room? Who will lead the meeting and how will it be directed? Are we to bring along friends or is this meeting for those who are already involved? Will there be singing? Who will provide musical instrument or vocal leadership?

If there are several meetings, at different times and with different focus, some elemental systems will begin to emerge.

The New Testament Church Had Systems

The initial days of the early church were quite organic and unstructured. But issues arose, demanding attention. Provision was being made for the needy, but one group, the Greek widows, was neglected in the daily handouts. Appeal was made to the Apostles, who were the natural leaders of the movement, for a solution. They decided to appoint administrative people to oversee the process and they gave instruction to the fledgling church about how to identify appropriate candidates.

“Wherefore, brothers, find from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may appoint over this business.” Acts 6:3

Leadership was established, through elders and deacons. Letters of introduction were used to certify a person’s bona fides. Councils were called to resolve issues in dispute. Key people were sent to specific locations to deal with specific issues. Letters of instruction and doctrine were sent to various churches to clarify beliefs and process.

So the early church had systems. And churches have systems today. But, as I have already pointed out, systems have an inherent risk element. That was seen in the early church and it is seen today.

Dangers in the System

As early as New Testament times there were disputes and abuses of process. Some people used letters of introduction, being commended by one another, but were intent on opposing the work of Paul the Apostle. Paul warned that trouble makers would come forth from the group of appointed leaders. Jude described the activities of certain teachers who exploited the churches. Peter compromised the gospel message when he was intimated by one of the Christian groups.

Within a few centuries the church was beset with heresies, power struggles, competing doctrines, fake documents, deception and so on.

Since the early church experienced such things it is foolish to imagine that today’s church is immune from such abuses of the systems which it employs.

Audit Your Systems

So, what systems do you operate by? How does your church protect you against systems that frustrate the call of God on your life? Are you helping to perpetuate systems which are ineffective, but which you give undue credence to? Are you bound to what you know, as if has divine imprimatur? Are there better ways for your group of believers to function together? What is being limited by your set of processes and your targeted outcomes?

More seriously than these questions are the issues touched by the following questions. Is your church a dynamic expression of the Kingdom of God or a self-serving institution? Do people become empowered to serve God or are they expected to serve your programs and processes? What evidence do you have that your church liberates and empowers people to become effective functionaries in God’s Kingdom? Do you entangle your members in maintaining process for your prescribed outcomes, so they are unable to love God and love their neighbour?

Programmed Up to the Eyeballs

I recall reading of one chap whose family was religiously devout about attending every meeting held at the church. They would walk, single file, down their front path, dressed in Sunday best, black Bibles in hand, heading off the to the church, multiple times each week. They saw this parade as a public testimony to their faith and commitment.

Yet their neighbours saw it as religious slavery. Their whole life was consumed by an institution down the road with its peculiar set of meetings and events. They had not other life. They had no real contact with their neighbours, because it was more holy to be at church than socialising with heathen.

Has your church created anything like that kind of environment? Are you intent on locking your people in to more confirmation of their commitment to your program, or are you freeing them to take Christ out into the world?

We’ll look at this issue again.

The Curse of Beneficial Systems

We create systems to facilitate good practice, but those systems create artefacts and outcomes which become a curse to us. I have an example in mind and you may be able to relate to it. So let me take you on a reflection and observation walk through the subject of ‘systems’.

Let’s Hear it for Systems

Just about everything works best if the processes are understood and the best practices are followed. That fact is where we get such notions as benchmarking, world’s best practice, time and motion studies, efficiency and so on. A good system is a means of streamlining a process and setting in place appropriate checks and balances to ensure that things are done properly.

Jet pilots must go through a disciplined check-list process before take off because so much is at stake once they get into the air. Henry Ford revolutionised vehicle manufacturing through his production line system churning out black Model T Fords. Good salesmen have a mental check-list which they are attentive to as they guide their client toward the sale. Courts, distribution businesses, hospitals, schools, garbage collection and just about all other processes of life are governed by some form or systematic regulation and process.

So let’s hear a big cheer for systems! Without them many things would fall into disarray – the loss of proper array, or order. We enjoy speed, accuracy, efficiency, reliability and service, among many other benefits directly due to good systems. Systems are incredibly beneficial.

Systems Impose Limitation

For all the obvious benefit of systems, however, they impinge on many processes a form of limitation. Every routine and regulation prescribes a preferred process and outcome, but automatically restricts or denies other outcomes, which may have their own inherent benefits.

The process and outcome of a system, assuming it can be properly regulated and achieved consistently, effectively removes variety, diversity and creativity from the process. The choice of process and outcome is made by someone who may not have the best view in mind. Once a system is in place it may work against the discovery of better process and outcome, simply because it limits the possibility for discovery and exploration of other outcomes.

School systems seem to be failing to produce a high level of academic and personal ability in many students. The system itself militates against some exploration of better options. Traffic flow systems are the product of studies and analysis and the best option that seems to be available at the time. But how many times have you been frustrated by a red light that holds you back from an empty intersection? I find it frustrating to stand at a pedestrian light, being held back from walking across a street where there is zero traffic. The system is in place to protect me, but it creates an artificial limitation of freedom which earlier generations enjoyed readily.

Systems impose limitation. Your only hope is that the benefits of the system outweigh the downside imposed by the limitations.

The Smell of a Baby

Last month my tenth grandchild was born. This grand-daughter will be often talked about in the annals of our family history, as she managed to be born on the kitchen floor! Baby Acacia came faster than her mother expected. Before the parents could get off to the hospital my daughter-in-law, Katie, found herself in second stage labour. So she proceeded to give instructions to her husband and promptly gave birth on her father’s kitchen floor. A dinner event turned out to be much more than expected.

When we caught up with the mother and baby the next day my wife, Susan, was in awe of something she had never noticed before. The baby had a most wonderful fragrance on the skin. Susan kept drawing in long breaths to enjoy the amazing scent. It was reminiscent of a lovely powdery perfume.

Baby Acacia had not been bathed by then and so the natural fragrance from the birth was still on her skin. And that’s when the whole impact of systems hit us.

Hospital Births

Susan has given birth to seven children. She is no slouch when it comes to childbirth and mothering. But she had never smelled the lovely fragrance of the baby like she did with baby Acacia. Why not? Because of the “system”! Susan gave birth to seven babies in various hospitals. Hospitals rely on systems to make sure everything that needs to be done is done and nothing is neglected. Those systems may not be perfect, but they are a guarantee against neglect, malpractice, and so on.

In order to mechanise processes and teach systems to a wide range of people so consistent and uniform practice is maintained, the systems need to be fairly straight-forward and as simple as possible. The hospital system for dealing with newborn babies is such a system.

I recall being in the delivery ward when our children were born. With the earlier births the process was taken over by the nurses who weighed the baby and checked various things before the mother was given much time with the baby at all. Washing the baby was seen as an important early process to tick off the list.

So that’s what happened to that lovely newborn baby fragrance on the skin of each of my children. That fragrance was taken from us, by the System! We had had idea we had missed it. The system gave no attention to it and we had no idea of our loss.

Rippling Repercussions

With that one case in mind consider the question of how many other impacts are imposed onto us by systems. The repercussions of these systematic processes and their prescribed outcomes ripple through our society and impact our lives constantly.

We are under constant impact from systems. Roads create regions of higher exhaust pollution. Waiting rooms create highly infectious environments. Schools frustrate highly intelligent children who must stay in step with the class average. Courts employ legal processes not understood by the average citizens they are there to serve. Mass distribution provides variety, but only of the most marketable kind, not the way you may want or need it. Got the picture?

Systems that Blind

Systems also blind us to what else may be possible. The existence of a system that has regulated processes and predictable outcomes imposes a certain stricture on our thinking. People tend to stick with what they know, for better or for worse, and so the existent system imposes itself on the thinking of the populace. This has the effect of blinding us to what else may be available.

Just listen to a conversation where someone announces they are going to do something outside the system. What you will hear is a chorus of protest from people who accept the prevailing system as something like a gift from the gods that is not to be challenged. The person’s choice might be a home birth, running their car on home brew, representing themself in court, owner building, or whatever. If you are near such a conversation listen in to the responses from those who feel bound to the systems.

And mull over the fact that while we are blessed by beneficial systems we are also cursed by them as well. That might help you improve on the systems in your life. It might lead you to help us all enjoy more beneficial systems. Good Luck.

Helped but Not Helpless

Aussie males have a problem getting the help they need. This is probably true in other cultures as well. It’s the problem of ego and ignorance making people think that to need help makes one ‘helpless’. That thought is not true, and it’s a mental stronghold that needs to be pulled down. So, I’m starting up my bulldozer and pushing straight toward that stupid idea.

Here’s an analogy to help you see what I’m on about. Imagine you like driving your off-road vehicle through the bush (that’s the Aussie word for the scrub, off-road, off-the-beaten-track, wilderness, or whatever you call it). Let’s assume that you drive happily and successfully for several miles until you come to a place where your forward passage is blocked by a fallen tree. At this point you need some help.

Fortunately for you another person comes along and sees your predicament. They help you cut up the fallen tree and pull it out of the way. You thank them and drive on happily for another few miles.

As you enjoy your ‘bush-bashing’ journey you come to a swollen creek and are unsure whether it is safe to cross. You have been warned that there are some deep holes in the creek, but you cannot see where the warning markers are, since the creek is now flooded. After a few minutes of waiting, another vehicle comes along on the other side of the creek. They too are nervous about the depth of the water, but eventually they drive into the creek and manage to get across without incident. You note the place where they crossed and make your crossing there too. Without them realising it, they helped you find a good place to cross.

Yet further down the track you discover that your fuel gauge is broken and you have very little fuel left. You now have too little fuel to get back to the road. Thankfully another vehicle approaches and the driver sells you his spare drum of fuel which enables you to get back home.

Now, in that adventure you required help three separate times. So, does that make you ‘helpless’?

Of course not! Getting help doesn’t make you helpless. You were perfectly capable of making good progress most of the time. You are a competent driver and a good navigator. You struck some hitches along the way and you managed to solve them, with the assistance of others.

And that’s how most of us live our lives. We make good progress most of the time and we get helped out when we get stuck. We call a mechanic when our car needs fixing and we call a plumber when our pipes need fixing. We go to a dentist when our teeth need fixing and we go to an accountant when the books need ‘fixing’ (that’s a joke!). It’s completely normal to need assistance at many points along the way.

Even the awesome professionals need help all the time. Professional tennis stars rely heavily on their coaches, who can’t even play as well as the pro’s do! Most businesses rely on consultants, while medical and legal experts rely on second opinions. The reason we have expensive reference resources in many professions is because people need help from resources outside themselves.

Do you get the picture?

So, why is it that many people cringe at the idea of telling someone they have a problem? Why is it that people think it shameful to admit that they need something explained or that they even need someone to point the way out of their situation?

The blockage is pride. Male ego is another term for it in men. Counsellors recognise that women are far more likely to seek help and be open about their problems than men are. But there’s no real reason to be coy about getting the help we need. Help is not only needed by everyone, the most successful people build a team of helpers around them, to cover for all the possible contingencies.

Take a look at a top formula one racing team and look at the amount of ‘help’ that goes into enabling the top drivers to get into the points. Engineering, design, pit crew, race strategists, sports psychologists, tyre technologists, analysts and so on, are all built into a winning team. That’s an abundance of ‘help’, but that doesn’t make us jeer at the Hamiltons, Schumachers, Senna’s or Alonzo’s.

Guys, it’s time to get real and to pull down the idea that getting help makes you helpless. Getting help makes you successful and proves how smart you are. Pretending you are a self-made man and can do everything without help is lunacy. It relegates you to the underperformer paddock, where all the also-rans are sent. Real professionals have no qualms about saying, “I want to be the best and I’ll get whatever help I can get to make sure I get to the top!”

It’s time to stop being helpless and to start getting help. Once you cross this swollen creek, or get that obstacle out of your path you will be able to make good progress again and get to the places you always dreamed of reaching.

You’re Not Dead Yet

There is still hope for you yet. In fact there is going to be hope for you until the day you die. You may have given up already and others may have written you off, but “you ain’t dead yet!” and so there’s still plenty of hope for you and your situation.

Death was once defined as “the cessation of all radical change”. When I tried to track down that definition I couldn’t find it, but it catches the idea that as long as someone is alive they are able to make significant change to who and what they are.

A sinner can choose to put their faith in Christ even as they slip from life. Until death has made its final blow people are open to change, even quite radical change.

So, if you’re still breathing there is hope for you and the mess you are in.

Sadly we make the assumption we are locked into things and we endure our circumstances as if they are unchangeable. We see ourselves as unchangeable too.

But, as I’ve said already, “You’re not dead yet”!

History is littered with testimony of people who made significant, revolutionary and unexpected change. The power of God changes people. The grace of God changes people. A wake-up shake-up can cause people to take action they have kept avoiding. New insights have empowered people to make changes they previously thought impossible.

So, cheer up. You ain’t dead yet! Today is jam packed with miracle potential. You can change the rest of your life, the future of your descendents and even eternal destinies by what you choose to do today.

Aren’t you glad you’re alive?