I’ve long struggled with putting people first, putting relationships ahead of the projects that are taking up my time and focus. As soon as I started writing online and learning about personal productivity, this theme was playing itself out in my life.
Almost 10 years ago, I was pondering how things were to fit together.
I started thinking again about what it really means to follow the concepts that make up GTD. And how that fits with being a christian. One is focused on tasks and the completion thereof (on the surface at least). The other is focused on relationships. My relationship with God, and my relationships with my fellow man. I started wondering if these two seeming opposites could be reconciled.
This is one reason I liked Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next. He states that God wants us to be productive, but the goal is so that we’re free to do good works that benefit others. We discipline ourselves and make the most of our time so that when unknown needs arise (someone else’s, not our own), we’re able to stop what we’re doing and lend a hand. But I find any time that you try to approach things systematically, I put my attention too much in the wrong place. The system itself.
Even my much younger self quickly realized the issue was not with the tools, but with me. I could tinker with software or productivity frameworks or notebooks all day long and it would not bring about the correct results. What is needed is a change of desire.
And this is also true for the Christian life.
The Chicken or The Egg?
For those of us who struggle to put the first things first, for whom the spiritual often gets swept aside by the things that seem more urgent, how do we make seeking him the top priority of our life?
Our current culture loves to discuss the systemization of life. “Life hacks” are a popular subject. This is why I mentioned GTD above — this is something I’ve struggled with for quite some time. And in the long run, discipline and productivity tricks and hacking your brain all fall short. The heart wants what the heart wants and you can only force a change in behaviours for so long before you “fall off the train”.
So while discipline has a role to play in this struggle, the actual goal is a change in our desires. We use the disciplines of the Christian faith to get us started, but the goal is to want communion with God so badly that discipline is no longer required.
Yet, Scripture calls us to work hard at working out our salvation (not working for). Discipline is the tool that can help us initiate a change in what we actually want. I often shake my head and wonder what comes first: my desire to change or my forcing myself to do what my head knows is right when my heart wants to be lazy?
This Applies to All Areas of Life
The funny thing is that this is not only applicable to our walk with Christ. It applies to all areas of life. Read any article about productivity and underneath it all the need to put routines and systems in place to enable and force us to do good work, rather than succumb to the siren call of busy work and social media.
But you first need the desire to change before that can happen. If you're going to learn to focus deeply rather than succumb to the desire to do the easy thing (check email, Twitter, or even take care of the minute, small duties of your job), you have to want it. If the desire is not there, change will not happen.
And when it comes to making the changes, whether in our work lives or in spiritual matters, the focus must be in the right place. The end product.
Again, I was thinking about these things 9 years ago. In analyzing a growing backlash against GTD, I stated:
GTD, or whatever your system of choice, are merely tools to accomplish that which you want to achieve. When the tool becomes the focus — the only focus — then we've missed the mark of what GTD was intended to improve. Namely, completing work and our ability to do so … If you find yourself working on your system, rather than in your system (or better yet, your system working for you), then you probably know what I'm talking about.
And the recommendation I had at the time was that one has to change their priorities and habits in order to focus on what matters.
Back to The Christian Walk
This fits so well with the life of a Christian. In my work, I need to focus on the end result, to envision how I want to feel about my work and my career 10 years down the road. But as a Christian, I need to focus solely on Christ … for he is both my end goal and the means of achieving it.
The goal of the Christian life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And we glorify him when we do his will. What is his will for his children? For them to be conformed to the image of Christ, the firstborn over many brethren.
And this is a big reason why I always return to the classic disciplines of the Christian faith. They help me get my gaze pointed in the right direction. Yes, I can twist things to focus on the temporal, or on the tools themselves. But things improve over time. My study, prayer, meditation, and the like all get better as I get older. As I (slowly) lost my taste for the things of this world.
It’s a change of desires.