Life By the Bells

Many years ago, after taking a course called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I started planning out my week using an agenda. Over the years I have adapted a shorthand that helps keep me on track throughout the week. My agenda looks like this.

It’s pretty simple really and covers everything from sleep to daily exercise and even prayer.

I found that just writing down what I planned to do in a weekly agenda did not help me to do the things I planned. The agenda helped me to keep track of my meetings ( which as a pastor is important, you don’t want to be missing funerals or weddings), but as far as the big rocks went (the disciplines of everyday living I valued like prayer or exercise) just writing them on a weekly to do calendar did not help me prioritize them. I found it too easy to let the work of ministry supplant the everyday disciplines because the work seemed so much more urgent than the time spent in the things I valued for my personal life.

Then I got a smart phone and I discovered two things: the Bible App and the timer/stopwatch app. I had heard how monks lived by a series of bells telling them when to go to certain activities and when to move on from that activity to the next one. Of course we all did that in school didn’t we? I personally loved when the lunch bell rang.

I tried it where my personal disciplines were concerned. When it came time for prayer, I would set my timer for twenty minutes and when it rang I could go on to the next activity…or I could set it for another twenty minutes, if I had nothing pressing me, and pray some more. But while the clock was counting down precious few things were allowed to interrupt me from my timed task.

Soon I was using the timer to time my exercise sessions, my reading sessions my writing sessions and even my housework. I found living by the bells had two advantages: For some reason the idea of doing a timed task made me more committed to the task and less likely to allow myself to be interrupted. Also, if I found myself not wanting to do a task, telling myself I only had to do it until the bell rang made the task more palatable somehow.

It still took work and time, trial and failure, but life by the bells has worked for me. As we have shut ourselves in during this time of quarantine, life by the bells has helped me organize and structure my days even while I do not have the big events like church services or worship practices or community events to attend to.

How do you structure you daily life?

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