The Focus Course

Finding Clarity Amidst the Chaos

I can’t believe the summer is over!

That’s all I could think about as my wife and I started prepping for the beginning of the school year. Which, I can tell you with 5 kids at home who are all 12 and under, is no small feat. But as we talked through who would take who to soccer practice or piano lessons, admittedly my mind was elsewhere. We had been looking forward to summer vacation for so long, and I had trouble accepting the fact that it was already over.

Time moves so fast. And as I reflected on the summer, I was thankful that we had managed to fit quite a bit into the few beautiful summer months we get here in northeast Wisconsin. I was grateful for the experiences we had, like me being able to present at Macstock in July and bring my wife along, going up to Door County for an entire week with the family, and participating (along with Shawn!) in the Relay 5th Anniversary Live Show in San Francisco.

But it could have been much different.

This summer could have been like so many that came before it where we just kept running from one commitment to the next. More than once, we’ve held out hope for the summer being this magical time where we would finally be able to do all the things that we’d been putting off. But we found that we’d be so stressed and overwhelmed that by the time our vacation finally came, we weren’t even able to relax and enjoy it.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case this year.

As my wife and I sat down to compare calendars and coordinate schedules before the craziness that is the school year, I was thankful for the time we had taken and the memories that we had made.

It took a lot of work, but sitting here now with school about to start, I realized how worthwhile it all was.

A Happy Family is No Accident

A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided we wanted to be more intentional about the course we set for our family. As our family grew, we realized that more and more of our time was being spoken for – and we had less and less control over how it was being spent.

We realized that because we didn’t want to miss out on things or let people down, we had slowly been conditioning ourselves to say “yes” to things. Saying “yes” had become our default. “Yes,” we’ll come over for dinner on Tuesday. “Yes,” we’ll be there for the family reunion on Saturday. “Yes,” we’ll make something for the church bake sale.

But we realized that by saying “yes” to everything and everyone else, we had subconsciously been saying “no” to the things that were most important to us. By the time we got done saying “yes” to everything everybody else wanted, we had no time for the things that we wanted.

That’s when we knew things had to change.

“Dost though love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life’s made of.” – Benjamin Franklin

We were tired of giving our family the leftovers when it came to our time and attention. We decided that the way we were spending our time was not in alignment with our vision and values, and we needed to do something different.

So, we started budgeting.

Budgeting Your Time

There’s a popular saying when it comes to budgeting your money that “every dollar should have a job.” The basic principle is that what doesn’t get managed will be wasted – a $12 lunch here, a $6 latte there. When you look back at your expenses at the end of the month, you’re scratching your head and wondering how you managed to spend $300 this month on coffee but still couldn’t find even $50 to save for your rainy day fund.

For us though, the resource that was even more precious than money was time, so we decided to try this approach with our calendar instead. We created a time budget with the intention of giving every hour a job. We put family time on our calendar first, then let everything else fit in around it. Instead of saying “yes” to everything and everyone who asked and then spending the remaining time together, we scheduled (budgeted) time together first, then filled in the rest.

This seems like a pretty small change, but it made a big difference!

By intentionally choosing us first, we were able to be proactive instead of reactive. Yes, we were still busy – but now we were in control. Instead of life just happening to us and trying to do the best we could, we had clarity about what we wanted and where we were headed as a family.

In other words, we knew what our big rocks were.

Picking Your Big Rocks

One of my favorite stories is from author Stephen Covey. The story goes something like this…

A professor once pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of his class. Then he produced about a dozen large rocks and placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top, he asked his class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel into the jar and once again asked, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. Next, he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand into the jar and it filled all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class responded. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.

The moral of this story is that if you don’t put the big rocks in your jar first, you will never be able to get them in at all.

So how does this apply to achieving your goals? Well, your calendar is your one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar. You can put whatever you want into it, but you are limited by the size of your jar.

The beautiful thing is that you get to pick what your big rocks are. Want more time with your family (like we did)? Make that a big rock. Want to finish writing your book (like Focus Course alumni Mo Bunnell)? Make that a big rock.

Flip the script (like we did) and take control of your calendar. Don’t wait for permission, simply take charge! Live your life by design, not by default. Put the family trip on there first or set aside time to write before your day fills up with other urgent (but less important) tasks. Start reclaiming your time and regaining your momentum – whatever personal or professional project is important to you.

Start Small

Yesterday was Labor Day, which typically marks the beginning of the school year. It can be a dreaded day for parents as not only does school begin, but so do all of the extracurricular activities that go with it. Even if you don’t have kids, the fall tends to be a busy season for everyone and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This can be the year that instead of feeling like you’re drowning as you are constantly running from thing to thing, you take control of your schedule and feeling of calm that comes with it.

Just start where you are with what you have.

The truth of the matter is that you are where you are today because of the choices you made previously. If you want to change your future, change the decisions you make today. Small, intentional choices made today can create your ideal future.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

The biggest mistake you can make when you feel overwhelmed is to try to fix everything at once. You may find yourself in a season of life where, for one reason or another, things are extremely busy. It’s foolhardy to try to completely change your course during times like this. Instead, just pick one thing to focus on. Pick one big rock to put in your jar and go from there. Don’t feel bad or get upset because things aren’t the way you think they ought to be. Control what you can control. Pick one thing that would make tomorrow awesome, and make it a priority.


Photo by John Salzarulo via Unsplash.

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