I love plans and list-making.
Ever since I was a child, I would have journals where I would document various plans and lists. Lists of books to read, of things to do that day, of things to pack for a holiday and so forth. Making such lists and ticking them off was pure pleasure and still is.
It makes me feel productive and efficient. When I’ve ticked off a number of them, I sleep better at night knowing that I haven’t wasted precious time that day. I’ve further developed these plans and lists over the years. I’ve expanded and organised them to include categories (faith, health, exercise, etc) that encompass my life so as to include things that are important to me, and in order to keep myself balanced and healthy.
Lists were what helped me to finish writing a six-month-long dissertation for my masters. It helped me at work when I would start my day by writing down a list of things I had to accomplish. At work, I learned how to prioritise items on my list based on impact, risk of not doing them and urgency. Months before we tied the knot, my would-be husband and I planned our entire wedding over several weeks in a Costa coffee shop in Dubai laden with coffee, a laptop and several lists. Next came managing a home and babies, and with that proceeded different kinds of lists like meal planning, grocery lists and even things to pack for the hospital delivery! These days with multiple children and homeschooling, my lists usually take the form of schoolwork that needs to be done daily or weekly, housework and meal planning, bible reading and very soon, a weaning plan for my new baby!
One helpful list that I’ve used over the years is a “brainstorm list” – this is a special inventory that I create when I am feeling stressed that there are a lot of things left undone and are being forever postponed. When I feel like my life is accumulating a lot of such incomplete tasks, I sit down to just brain dump everything on a piece of paper. The list usually ends up being quite long but the sheer exercise of writing it down gives me some sort of relief. I’m able to see clearly what tasks can be done quickly (I call these ‘Quick Wins’), what items are critical and must be done urgently and what can be spread over the next couple of weeks. Life seems a bit more manageable then and I can breathe a sigh of relief…it’s not as bad as I thought!
As you can see, I manage my life around lists. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are either a list person or not. There’s much that can be gained through them, and I credit a lot of my productivity to them.
My perspective of lists though has changed through my Christian walk. For one, they do not always work, they can frustrate and be a burden. They can promote legalism and make you legalistic, proud and self-righteous. When you can’t keep up with your lists, you feel like a failure and your sense of worth and identity can be wrongly tied to them. Only God is sovereign, He knows the beginning from the end and His plans are perfect. We can plan but ultimately, God’s plan supersedes ours and He will accomplish all his purposes.
So yes, it’s the beginning of a new year and I am excited to make a plan for it: a broad, overarching plan for the year and a more detailed one that will help me execute it. And while planning is beneficial and prudent, I also know that my days are in God’s hands and that is wise to plan but also to keep these below verses in tension while writing my plans down.
James 4:13-16 ESV
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Proverbs 16:9 ESV
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
Luke 14:28 ESV
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord
Proverbs 16:3 ESV
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
Some other helpful things to do while planning and execution:
- Pray over the plan and ask God for wisdom while creating it.
- Put Him first in the plan. For e.g. make spiritual disciplines like bible reading and fellowship with God the first priority rather than others. (Matthew 6:33)
- Know that you will fail but learn to dust yourself and try again.
- Remember that although you made the plan (with wisdom from God), he provides the result or the growth. Remember to thank the Lord for productivity. Pray for humility and a heart of gratitude.