by Leigh DeVries
About six months ago, I felt like this:
Imagine I have three papers, 300+ pages of reading, and a final exam due in the next two weeks. I have to coordinate, recruit, and teach a spiritually impactful ninth grade ski trip for 25 students in three weeks. I’m teaching tenth grade Sunday school and I also have to prep a devotional for my welcome team. My best friend is getting married, her bachelorette party planning for Friday now falling on me because I’m the only one who “knows the city,” not to mention I have to call the cable company since the cable is out and my bill has gone up by $30 for no apparent reason. I’m also taking a boot camp class, I’m not sleeping, and I’m crying daily because I’m so overwhelmed.
Six months ago I felt like I was always disappointing someone, always failing in some aspect of my life—if I wasn’t failing at work, I was neglecting my friends; if I wasn’t failing my friends, I felt gross because I wasn’t exercising; and the cycle continued. I was always failing. I was coincidentally also going through significant spiritual upheaval myself, constantly feeling like God was disappointed in the young woman I was becoming.
So, like many young 20-somethings, I went and cried to my mom. Weekly. Every once and awhile my dad would be present at my semi-weekly breakdowns. He offered multiple times to help me with my time management, insisting it would “change my life.” Through my sniffles I would reject his offers to help and wallow in my anxiety…because wallowing fixes everything. I doubted how “time-management” skills could really help.
Eventually, in a moment of rare non-contrariness, I accepted my father’s offer to help me learn to manage my time, doubting that anything could really change.
My father then laid out a bewildering plan involving complicated graphs, “mission criticals,” daily schedules, quadrants, and origami paper folding. You think I’m kidding.
Then my papa made me create my own “daily strategic origami” as we’ll call it for the purpose of this article, for the following day. The next day I used that funky paper that father and I had made, thinking it couldn’t make that much of a difference.
That following night I went to bed feeling more satisfied and positive than I had in months. The next day I stumbled through creating a daily strategic origami on my own and went to bed feeling that same since of satisfaction and peace.
Dad’s plan worked. I know; I, too, was astonished.
There are some people in the world who are naturally organized, fantastic with time management, and magical in their ability to complete seemingly everything, all the time. I am not, have never been, and will likely not ever be that person. But, this time management system completely changed the way I go about getting things done, the way I think about my time, and, let’s be real, the way I feel about myself.
It seems ridiculous that something so bland as a time management system could have that much effect, but it did for me. As such, I feel it must be made available for those who may have similar problems, particularly those youth workers like me who are perhaps more relational than organizational, working in a job that literally is never done and always overwhelming.
At the front end, let me say, it seems entirely more complicated than it is.
Organize ALL the things you need and want to complete into a four-quadrant matrix, similar to Steven Covey’s “Time Management Matrix.” (Two good examples are here and here.)
Quadrant 1 consists of important, urgent items. These are things that must be dealt with immediately. Examples: recruiting students to an event the day before, writing the paper due in two days, etc.
Quadrant 2 is made up of those things that are important, but not urgent. Examples: marathon training runs, researching alternative Sunday school programs to revamp your own, reading for class the week before it’s due, etc.
Quadrant 3 is made up of items that are urgent, but not important. Examples: calling the cable company about a surprising bill, doing your laundry (well, for some people it’s of questionable importance), etc.
Finally, Quadrant 4 consists of those things that are unimportant and not urgent. Examples: looking at your cousin’s Facebook photos of her time in India, watching your third episode in a row of The Newsroom to catch up on the latest season, etc.
Everything you need and want to get done belongs in this matrix—personally, relationally, spiritually, artistically—everything.
After that’s sorted, create a document where each of those quadrants, excluding Quadrant 4, is laid out with the consequent lists under it.
Now grab your piece of paper (think regular print paper, I usually grab paper from the recycling) and fold it horizontally in half. Then fold it again twice vertically—so you have three different columns on the back and front of the folded page.
On one side head the left column “Q1,” the middle column, “MC,” and the furthest right, “Q2.” Under Q1, write the list of the things that are in your Q1 list for that day. The middle column stands for “Mission Critical.” These are the items that are most important on that day. There should be no more than two per day and the majority of the time one of them should come from Q2. In last column, Q2, you write the Q2 items you would like to get done that day.
(you can tell this was a lighter day)
Now, flip the page over. The furthest left column label “phone calls,” the middle, “schedule,” and the right column, “emails.”
Originally I was quite resistant to making a daily schedule—it felt dumb. All I needed was the list.
With this system I have to logically think through my day and schedule each event on paper. This means I have a very healthy understanding of exactly what I can get done in a day. No longer do I simply have list upon list of things to get done—some huge, some tiny—and go to bed feeling like a failure because I haven’t finished each item. I have a schedule of what I can actually do in a day.
My papa, quoting Stephen Covey, told me about how happy people live in Quadrant 2—getting things done that are important and not urgent. Those items then can’t migrate to Q1 because you’ve already completed them. Do that. It makes for a way relaxed life.
Each workday you create this “daily strategic origami.” You won’t always stick to it perfectly, but at least you begin your day knowing what you can actually get done. For me this system significantly decreases the guilt I feel when I think I “disappoint” people, when I “fail.” I get done what I can, and the rest waits for the next day. I’m pretty sure God already knows what I can logically finish in a day—now, I get to know, too, and I can stop beating myself up for not being Hermione Granger with a time turner.
Leigh DeVries is a graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training. Growing up in the shadow of that other semi-talented DeVries (you know, the one who wrote the books), she was bitten by the youth ministry bug as a teenager and worked at First Presbyterian Church Nashville for two years. She is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also enjoys reading adolescent paranormal romance novels and always believed in Severus Snape.