The Infinity To Do List
Where Two or more are gathered..
I am the father of three very energetic little boys. For a long time the scheduling in our households had my wife working on her computer in the office in the mornings, and I would “do mornings.” I would get the boys up, get everybody dressed and fed with breakfast. Usually after breakfast there was some free time before mom came out and I had to go to work at the church. Problem was – the boys are all at very different stages of toddler-life. My 5 year old wants nothing more than to have me sit and read chapter books to him for hours on end. My 3 year old wants to play make believe by smashing his action figures down on the table and roaring as loudly as he can. And my 1 year old just wants you to chase and tickle him constantly. And no matter how good I am at multi-tasking, you simply cannot read a book, smash action figures on the coffee table AND chase a 1 year old around at the same time. There’s an old scripture that’s often quoted, “where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, sort of), but I would like to submit an alternative quote – “where two or more are gathered, you’re going to let someone down.”
Effectiveness as a blessing instead of a curse
Part of what I’m doing with this blog, is that I would like to share some of the resources I have created, and the things I have learned about being an efficient and effective pastor. Even beyond being a Pastor, there are some basic life-hacks that can really increase productivity in your world. I’m really excited to post those things – because I know they will be so helpful. They will inevitably enable you to be more effective and to get more things done in the time you’ve got. But I had to write this post first. You see – effectiveness, without a healthy understanding of the “Infinity To Do List” will be a curse on your life instead of a blessing. If I teach you how to do more with each day – you will get more done. But that will simply mean that the water will be even deeper when you eventually drown in the endless to do list of life. The ability to DO MORE, without understanding your limits and how to engage them will not save you. Efficient and effective pastors burn out just like the rest of us.
There’s a lot of self-help and leadership guides that tell you things like “work smarter, not harder” and then they give you a couple good ideas for maximizing your work load. But here’s the problem with being able to do more. (And this is KEY for ministry, AND for life). It will never be enough. Read that again slowly. It will never be enough. Even if nobody every interrupted your office hours, and you worked 13 hours every single day and you used all the most efficient tools and the greatest technologies and all the best possible life hacks. IT WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH. (and that’s okay)
The Infinity To Do List
The concept of the “infinity to do list” is fairly simple (like everything I do). Basically, it is the humble recognition that your to do list is infinite and you are not. Your to do list will never end. Even if you finish everything on the list that you could think of, there’s always more you could add. As a Pastor, you could always pick up the church directory and call down the list to check in on people you haven’t heard from in a while. As a normal human being, you could always clean out that one room you always avoid cleaning out – or match up the Tupperware like you’ve been meaning to do for the last *checks notes* fifteen years! Your To Do list is infinite, and you are not. We live a life of unlimited tasks in a limited world.
Here’s the important part: THAT’S OKAY! Rather than depress us and cause us to despair, we can let the inevitability of the Infinity To Do List set us free! You will literally never finish your to do list – so stop trying to do that! The mark of a good day is not a completely finished to do list. No, the mark of a good day is where you have done all you can in the time you had. No more and no less. Now, please don’t misunderstand – I am not advocating laziness. I work incredibly hard at my job, and I put in my 40 hours a week without fail. I accomplish a massive to do list every single week. What I am encouraging you to do is to STOP beating yourself up for having limitations! Give yourself a break! Accept that you can’t do it all, and that will FREE you to accomplish what you actually CAN do.
Rest as a resource
I once had a member of my congregation repeatedly come into my office, gravely concerned that they weren’t doing enough with their life for God (despite the fact that they were running themselves ragged as it was). We went back and forth a bit, but eventually I leaned across the table and said, “You know, if I really pushed myself – didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, ignored my family – I bet I could be the greatest, most focused pastor for maybe 4 full days straight. I can pull all-nighters and I’m really good at drinking lots of coffee, but eventually I would collapse. I would drop dead from exhaustion and that’s all God would be able to use me for – just a few days. Now, if I allow myself to sleep, but nothing else – I lose a full 8 hours of working each night, but I could probably go for a couple of weeks before I starve to death. If I take breaks to eat and sleep, I could go for years before depression and emotional exhaustion take over. BUT, if I rest every night, eat healthy, and make my family and my non-work life a priority – I can give God an entire LIFETIME of service. Don’t you think that’s what God would rather have?” Rest is a resource. (an important one too). It might be hard to believe for those who know me (because I throw myself very completely into my work), but I rarely exceed 40 hours in my work week. If I have a meeting at night, I go home early, to spend time with my family before I head back to the office. If I work late one day, I come in late the next day. There will always be more to do – the list is unending, there’s always more to do tomorrow. So what do you gain by burning yourself out on it today? Do what you can in the time you’ve allotted – work hard, and then rest. Rest is a resource that will enable you to serve God for an entire lifetime.
To close – let’s break this down practically. Remember – the list is never-ending, an infinite To do list in a finite world. The way to utilize the Infinite To Do List is to approach it differently. The question is never “how do I get it ALL done?” The question is always, “what can I get done today?” To start, I write down EVERYTHING that needs doing. Create the master list. Everything I can think of. Collect all of it in one place. Then, from the infinity to do list I can pull my daily list. Asking myself things like, “what needs to be done today?”, “What SHOULD get done this week?” and “what do I WANT to get done soon?” I create a post it note size list – usually 5-6 big things for my day. If I go faster than expected, I can always make a fresh post it. The last step, and this one is important – I number the items on my list for the day. What I’m going to do first, and so on. When you are faced with a giant pile of things to do, it can be paralyzing if you don’t know which thing you’re going to do first Three Steps: 1.) Create the Master List. 2.) Pull your daily list and 3.) Prioritize them by numbering. Simple, right?