How to use your time more wisely
Three lessons from a productivity expert
If you want to use your time more wisely, Morgan Tyree can help.
Tyree is a professional organiser, a fitness instructor and a writer. After friends dubbed her ‘the Morganizer’ (US spelling intentional), she founded an award-winning business called Morganize with Me. When asked whether Morgan was her real name, she assured me she just “hit the jackpot”.
The Productivity Zone traces Tyree’s story to illustrate simple principles and methods for better time management. After highlighting so many helpful nuggets that my copy is mostly yellow, three ideas stood out. The same three resurfaced regularly during our conversation. To use your time more wisely, get to know yourself, determine what to do when and let your schedule be shaped by grace.
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Know yourself, your season and your purposes
Three and a half years in Portugal taught Tyree the value of knowing herself. She reflects, “It was a really cool experience, but it also turned my world upside down.”
“The first step towards productivity is being self-aware and realistic.” – Morgan Tyree
“I have a high energy level,” she explains. “So the challenge moving overseas was that I went from so much structure and purpose to ‘I have the whole day – like eight hours.’ ”
In the realm of productivity, we tend to wish we had more time. But her time in Portugal taught Tyree that there are seasons when we feel we have too much time. ‘seasons’ is an important word for her.
“Whenever you have a big change, the first thing I would recommend is to really acknowledge it. I had to realise that I was wrestling with this because I need more structure and purpose – just the way God has made me.”
The first step towards productivity is being self-aware and realistic. Tyree suggests logging weekly activities or asking a loved one for feedback.
“God wants us to use the gifts he’s given us and to be intentional with whatever we’re being called to do.”
In this case, when friends in Portugal expressed their gratitude for the slow pace, Tyree realised she couldn’t force herself to relate. Instead, she turned to a more beneficial task: asking herself, “How do I make the most of this season?” After all, often difficult seasons produce unexpected fruit.
With ample time, what Tyree lacked was direction. So she learned to define her purposes and priorities. For practical guidance on how to define these, I recommend the book. In principle, “God wants us to use the gifts he’s given us and to be intentional with whatever we’re being called to do.”
Rather than going with the flow or simply relying on external structure, Tyree advocates the intentional pursuit of purposes and priorities that align with our God-given ‘gifts’ – meaning both the skills and the circumstances he provides.
The elephant in the room
“Technology, while it is an amazing gift that gives us resources and information, also causes us to be more distracted almost at all times … and to have this sense of urgency, of being available – maybe too available.”
Although she acknowledges that season of life impacts our control of technology, Tyree again emphasises intentionality. But technology both requires intentionality and hinders it.
Again, the first step is being self-aware and realistic, whether that means tracking daily technology use or asking a loved one, “Do you think this is consuming or addicting me? Am I spending too much time on it?” Technology is a (very easily misused) tool to help us pursue our purposes. It’s worth asking ourselves what purposes and priorities our technology use indicates.
But what about application? When we know our purposes and priorities, how do we pursue them well?
A simple system for time management
The time management system set out in The Productivity Zone is designed to be used by anyone, Christian or not. In fact, Tyree sees giving it to clients as a ministry opportunity.
The three zones, set out in detail in the book, are focus, flex and fill.
Focus time is like cruising down a highway. This is where serious ground is gained and deep work completed. There are no petrol stops, no distractions, and momentum is rarely broken. The question is, ‘How can I use my most productive times to focus on urgent, complex or important tasks?’
Flex time is like driving in traffic. Progress is slower and interruptions more frequent. This is when you prepare food while chatting, when co-workers have an animated conversation near your desk or when you wash the dishes while the kids get home. This is not (theoretically) when my wife tells me I’ve been folding laundry for the last 45 minutes, because 90 per cent of my attention was on the TV. Multi-tasking well is possible, says Tyree. The question is, “Which tasks can I combine without doing both slowly or poorly?”
Fill time is like refilling your petrol tank or leaving your car in the garage. Progress isn’t the main goal and it might not be a goal at all. This is a lazy Sunday. It might be an intentional time for Sabbath.
Productivity and grace
The key to a flourishing life is not productivity. The purpose of our efforts to use our time well is to receive and extend grace well.
“I don’t like the word ‘busy’,” Tyree declares, saying it is too often used as an excuse or a humble brag. Instead, she recommends thinking in terms of balance. Through trial and error, these tools have enormous potential to maximise productivity and minimise stress, helping us to find balance in the way we use our time.
Another issue with the word busy, Tyree notices, is that “we don’t want to let an undertone creep in that we’re just striving and striving.” I suspect our busyness is often a kind of existential striving, contrary to God’s calling for us. Perhaps, we think, I can build a tower of achievements tall enough to reach the heavens. The achievements for which we strive might be in the realm of business, family, spiritual life or an infinite number of other areas.
But God’s grace to us is not earned. “We can be hard on ourselves if we have a hard day, Tyree laments. “But you always get a fresh start.”
We will not fulfil God-given callings if our tanks are empty. We will not embrace God-given opportunities if our schedules are full.
Instead of striving for achievement, our purposes and priorities should be shaped by God’s purposes and priorities. From the first books of the Old Testament, the Christian faith has always emphasised rest – Sabbath. “There’s comfort in knowing God is in control … He’s our true guidance,” says Tyree. The knowledge that God is on our side means we need not strive.
Instead, Tyree sees intentionality as a way to honour God’s grace to us and extend grace to others in our numbered days. God has given us talents, experiences, influences and ultimately himself, with the expectation that we use his gifts well to bless others.
Practically, prioritising and being intentional in ‘filling up’ ourselves, enables us to serve others. We will not fulfil God-given callings if our tanks are empty. We will not embrace God-given opportunities if our schedules are full. Margin enables us to serve well and attentively. Our attention is our most valuable commodity, and our families, friends, spouses and co-workers notice when we are not attentive. If we are not intentional, we will hurt the people we love. If we are intentional, our relationships and our loved ones are more likely to flourish.
If we value time for our plans and achievements over time to extend grace, what does it say about our hearts?
Although intentionality is crucial, Tyree also points out that many of the grace-filled encounters God gives us are completely unexpected. A long conversation with a neighbour might seem like an interruption. But perhaps pivoting in this moment enables something much more meaningful than 20 minutes of ‘productivity’.
If we value time for our plans and achievements over time to extend grace, what does it say about our hearts? What does it say about our trust in God’s providence? What does it say to our neighbour, our kids, our friends or loved ones? “As Christians, we are called to be an example,” Tyree notes. What example are we setting?
Even more importantly, what example are we following? The example of Jesus, who did not consider his power and stature something to be used to his own advantage, but humbled himself in service of others, even to the point of death on a cross. The way of Jesus, the way of glory, the way to use our time best – most productively – is the way of the cross. Not selfish ambition, but selfless grace.