Keeping Life Simple: 18 Steps to do When Life Gets Crazy
by Jim Wideman
Life can sure get wild in the ministry. Have you ever noticed how just when you don’t think things can get any busier they do? We’ve all been there, but really and truly busy is a relative term. What’s busy to me might not be busy to you and what’s manageable to me might be crazy busy to someone else. Whatever your definition of busy is it is a source of pressure in your life. Pressure is not always bad—it can cause you to grow or it can expose weakness. The more pressure you are able to handle well the more responsibility and authority will be handed over to you. The bottom line is, our worth to the pastors and churches we serve is tied to our ability to handle the craziness and pressures of life and ministry.
I was forced to delegate. Delegation did not come easy to me. When things would get overwhelming I would think, Just find someone to help. But it was hard to let go of things I enjoyed doing and were good at to let others do. It wasn’t until I moved to Tulsa that I really had no choice but to delegate. When I started working at the church, it was in addition to the job I was already doing of traveling and training children’s workers. This was before Southwest Airlines came along, and in those days there were cities where a Saturday night stay was required for the plane ticket to be reasonable. I had no choice but to allow others to help me at the church when I was stuck in another state. It was the best thing that could have happened—it forced me to let others help me. Over the years, some of the best lessons I’ve learned have been from situations I found myself in that made me ask myself, “What am I doing that someone else can do, and what do I need to be doing that only I can do?”
Jesus is our help and peace in stressful times. Are you glad you don’t have to face life alone when things get complicated? Here’s what the Word says in Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” Not only was Jesus called the Prince of Peace; He is our Prince of Peace. John 14:27 says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:16 tells us: “And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” Jesus never leads us into something that will harm us. This Helper, or Comforter, guides us and leads us to God’s perfect plan for our lives. God’s plan includes a peaceful life.
Jesus is the master of simplifying life. The laws of the Old Testament were many and complex but Jesus made it very easy to follow them. In Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV), He says: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus’ answers concerning life are always simple even though it may not always be easy to carry them out.
Paul too had a quest to keep life simple. In 2 Corinthians 1:12 (KJV), he writes, “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” Paul had a heart for following the Lord. He patterned his life after the example of Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 11:3.) The devil tried to complicate God’s simple instructions to Adam and Eve. He still tries today to complicate our lives by injecting thoughts into our minds.
We must choose to keep life simple! It’s our choice when things get crazy. Sometimes our responsibilities and the pressures of life affect us in a negative way. We see this in the story of Mary and her sister Martha. Luke 10:38-42 (NIV) says: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” We all are faced with this choice. So, to help me keep my crazy world on track, here are 18 steps I use to keep life simple when things are crazy.
- Set your priorities! You can’t keep priorities if you don’t have priorities. If you can’t name your priorities by number at gunpoint then they are not how you order your life. Arrange your events, tasks and duties by your priorities. My first three never change. My relationship with Christ, my relationship with my family, and my pastor’s problems. All other priorities in my life can change daily. I must be willing to make their choices on a daily basis. Could you make a list right now of your top 10 priorities?
- Keep your priorities in order. As I said above this is a daily choice. The order of your priorities may be different at different times; this is where your leadership must become intentional. My favorite Scripture in the whole wide world is Proverbs 28:2: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.” Maintaining order is the missing element in becoming a super leader.
- Delegate to others those things that they can do for you even if it’s short term. When you’re out of time use someone else’s. There are times I need to delegate something long term, there are times I do it for a season. Make a list of everything you are doing that someone else can do. I hear you saying, “But they can do it as well as me.” I know, I’ve been there. This is why you use checklist and job descriptions as well as special assignments to get them to do it your way. If you have not identified where you need help and what you need to stop doing you’ll just keep doing what you’ve always done and have the same results.
- Use time saving tools. Every job goes smoother when you use the right tools. Here are the tools I rely on to help me keep my life simpler: Cell phones; a timer I use to stay on time and end meetings, phone calls and sermons at the time I have allotted. I also use a service at Jott.com. My most valuable tool is my calendar. You can’t manage time without a day planning system. I use a PDA because I had reached a place where my calendar system was a time waster. How did you know that, Jim? Because I have developed a habit that saves my bacon on a regular basis, I account for my time daily as I spend it. Another wonderful tool is voicemail. It can eliminate some memos and even a meeting. A tip to remember is when you can leave details instead of needing a call back. Next is a tool that is where my master calendar is kept is my computer. I use a laptop because it helps me keep life simple everywhere. By having a computer with me everywhere I am, it helps me meet deadlines, network and brainstorm with others, do things once rather than constantly redo. I depend on a computer so much I have a spare just in case I need it. Other tools I use include email groups and drafts so things I say over and over I can send without retyping and those people I send to a lot I make a group. The problem with email is knowing when to talk and not type, it’s all about keeping life simple. I’m also a big fan of two other tools: blogging and websites. Both can be huge assets in communicating with key leaders, workers and parents.
- Do more than one thing at a time. I try to always make the most of waiting, commute times, and meals. All three of these are great times for study, meetings, and people development, time to return messages and emails and to make assignments as well as plan. Take something to read with you where ever you go. I even use a hands-free phone so I can type and check emails while I talk.
- Decide what can be postponed or eliminated. This step goes back to priorities. You are the only one that can determine what’s urgent and what can wait. Don’t just look at the task, look at the time you have and the time involved. Learn to say “No!” This is a key skill required to simplify life. I’ve also learned that a big part of saying “Yes” to urgent and important matters means you MUST say “No” to less urgent or unimportant things. When time is short, I look to managing me first, then others, and manage things last.
- Get creative with your family time. I try to take a family member with me every chance I get. I also try to combine my family time with something else. I go walking with Julie, cycling with Julie and Whitney, tennis with Yancy and Julie, movies with my son-in-law and shopping with them all. Call them when you can, just to say “Hi.”
- Schedule a break even if it’s only for a few hours when you are at your craziest. Even convicts get time off for good behavior. If I can’t go out of town or schedule a massage, I make time to play my guitar or visit a music store or make a Starbucks run, or a bicycle store. These kinds of breaks are real therapy for me and all take me to a happy place.
- Be open to change in your lifestyle. Different results require different actions. Don’t despise change. Change is not a four-letter word it’s a six-letter word and can be your friend. (Which is also a six-letter word.) When I have to change something that I know is not a permanent change, I remind myself this is only for a short while and I can do this! As with anything else, guard your thoughts and your tongue and line them both up with Scripture.
- Do your homework and see what others do in hectic times. I love to study busy people. I check up on busy people by calling, emailing, read their books and blogs, network at conferences or on Facebook. I look for new places to learn all the time.
- Stop and listen to Jesus. I shouldn’t have to say this to children’s ministers but make time for the Word! You are the only person who can make sure you stay refreshed spiritually, and that you feed your spirit. If you can’t go to church, listen to the CD. Sing and praise God in the car in the shower and in the craziness of life.
- When you are tired and busy, don’t think, rely on a checklist. I’ve been saying this before I got gray hair, “Paper is for remembering not my brain. I don’t try to remember anything that I can know by having information with me.
- Don’t ever quit or make big decisions during the madness. Major decisions and crazy times don’t go together. This is a key rule to remember.
- Don’t make people decisions when time is limited. When it concerns someone else, take your time and consider things from every angle. Always treat others the way you would want them to treat you or your kids. Don’t let the shortness of the hour keep you from making a wise decision, slow things down and think it through when it affects people.
- Develop a plan to make next year better. Learn from your experiences. As soon as an event is over I ask my team what did we learn? How can we make it better? What do we need to simplify? Do this while it’s fresh on your mind, go ahead and start next year’s file.
- Get feedback from others. A good leader is a good listener. I consult others before hand, during, and afterward and get a cross section of opinions from different perspectives.
- When it’s over, crash! Get some rest. I try to always schedule a break between big pushes. Watch out for too many irons in the fire. Be realistic on the amount of projects you take on. I have learned to get others on board to help you limit what you do. I have a group I run outside projects by so I don’t take on more than I can handle.
- Do more by doing less. Focus on the main thing. Why were you put on the earth? If God has a wonderful plan for your life (and He does!), then what is that plan? Focus on your main thing. Focus calls for a concentrated push or intentional actions. What are you doing presently that’s keeping you from your main thing? Just because it a good idea doesn’t make it a God idea.
If you are serious about mastering the art of simplifying life, you must master the habit of evaluating constantly. Listen to your spouse. Ask the timeless question: “Where’s the beef?” Examine and inspect fruit, gains and losses. Evaluate efficiency and look for ways to build systems and streamline efforts. Every experience in your life teaches something. A great question is what did I learn today from life? Ask daily, “What should I discontinue, change and/or add to my life? Last but not least, look for your next step. God leads us in steps not leaps or jumps. We calm the crazy and simplify life by walking life out in steps and climbing them one at a time.