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Capturing wild commitments

Being a Christian is about responding to God’s love for us by loving other people. Loving people involves being committed to them. And being committed isn’t just a nice feeling–it involves all sorts of commitments, at all sorts of different levels, to do things for people. These commitments arise out of our relationship with God, our relationships with others, our ministry roles, our promises to others, and our particular desires and motivations to see Jesus honoured in the world.

Running tigerThese commitments should be a joy. But so often, they can become a major source of stress, particular for Christian ministers. This stress arises especially when we don’t have a good system for managing our commitments. In that case, we can feel overwhelmed by them. Instead of rejoicing on our relationships and opportunities, we can view the commitments like wild animals, prowling around, and we’re never sure when they’re going to pounce on us.

(This blog series is about habits and personal organisation structures I’ve developed over the years for “sustainable sacrifice” in Christian ministry. They’re specific to my own situation, so if you think any of them are worthwhile you may have to adapt them. For more information about the purpose of this series see the first post: Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice.)

Sleeping TigerI’ve found a system for managing commitments to be incredibly helpful. The first step in developing a system like this is capturing commitments. That means getting the commitments out of your mind (where they’re wild and scary) and into a system where they can be tamed, organised and dealt with. In the past, I’ve used various tools to do this, such as paper-based folders or note-taking tools. More recently, I’ve found Omnifocus to be an excellent tool for commitment-management. Omnifocus makes it easy for me write down my commitments, move them around, link them together, organise them into folders and structures, modify them, and then use them as the basis of day-to-day tasks. And every day, as more commitments come in or come to mind, I can easily adapt the system to cope with them. Cf. David Allen on “stalking the wild projects.”

Types of commitments

There are two types of commitments.

Firstly, there are projects. In GTD terms, a “project” is “anything you’re committed to complete that takes more than one step”. Projects can be big, like writing a book. They can also be small, like getting the car serviced (this takes more than one step because I have to book it first then take the car in on a specific date).

Secondly, there are also just general spheres of life or people you’re committed to, but which aren’t exactly “projects” that are going to be “completed”. Omnifocus calls these “single-action projects” (although the term “project” is a bit unhelpful). Examples include household chores, commitments to be a loving spouse or parent or friend, etc.

Commitments and stress

Getting all your commitments down in one systematic place is a really good idea. It helps me to love people, it helps me to be less stressed, and it helps me to be more creative (because I’m less worried about all the niggling bits and pieces in life).

But there’s a possible objection: you might feel that seeing all your commitments together might increase your stress. After all, if you wrote all your projects and spheres of life down, you might have a list with a hundred or more items in it. Wouldn’t that be overwhelming? Well–it might feel overwhelming. But if it does, you’re probably already quite stressed anyway. It’s just that the stress is under the surface. Writing all your commitments down doesn’t create stress. It just brings it to the surface. More importantly, though, it gives you an opportunity to organise and deal with the commitments.

My commitments

I thought it would be helpful for me to write out all the various kinds of commitments I have captured in Omnifocus in the moment. Obviously it will be different for you. But my list might give you some ideas if you want to try to list all of your commitments. I won’t list every individual project and sphere of life here, but I will list the various areas the commitments appear in.

General commitments

My general commitments fall in the following areas:

  • Relationship with God: Personal prayer and Bible reading.
  • Family and friends: Prayer and Bible reading with family, loving individual members of my family, extended family, friends, sharing the gospel with others, schooling.
  • Household: pets, household chores, car maintenance, holidays, family health, finances, giving / charity
  • Church: relationships with people, speaking God’s word at church, events, music, other rosters.

Moore College commitments

My specific commitments on the faculty at Moore College fall in the following areas:

  • Moore CollegePastoral care and evangelism: Chapel, preaching, leading chaplaincy group, meetings with co-chaplain, individual pastoral conversations, tutoring of individuals with particular needs, meals with students, preaching classes, running Moore College mission team, walk-up evangelism, “Mark Drama” evangelistic event, other student events.
  • Teaching (in a formal educational sense): Classes run in capacity as New Testament lecturer, conversations and emails with students, admin and setup of subjects, marking, syllabus revision, New Testament departmental admin, training and professional development.
  • Supervision (of research students, undergrad and postgrad): formal meetings, reading, written feedback, marking, speaking with potential supervisees, training and professional development.
  • Research and writing: Writing books, writing articles / essays, attending conferences, presenting papers at conferences, faculty presentations, keeping up language competency (ancient and modern), reading to keep up to date, chasing future ideas, advertising prior work.
  • Resourcing other Christians: Talks via Moore College Centre for Christian living, speaking at conferences for churches and larger conferences, helping to promote the work of others, dealing with requests to speak, blogging, radio interviews.
  • Ministry and mission partnership: Organising events for colleagues (my particular role at Moore), formal roles with particular ministry networks (currently ACL, ThinkingOfGod, Certainty for Eternity), prayer and support with fellow faculty members, peer support with ministry colleagues, ministry mentoring, relationships with supporters, relationships with missionaries, keeping future mission opportunities on the agenda, engaging online, college alumni, helping to promote Moore in the wider community
  • Other roles at Moore College: Administrative meetings, administrative roles, etc.

I also need to keep up my general support structures: health, gym, recreation, and keeping my system up to date. And of course, there will be things I’ve forgotten or haven’t yet realised I’m committed to.

Your commitments?

Having all these commitments captured in Omnifocus helps me to deal with them and not to get too overwhelmed by it all. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me a lot. This list might help you to create your own. It’s worth it. Capturing your commitments in a system is the first step to getting them under control.

Some people have asked me how the list of commitments I outlined above relates to my Omnifocus setup. By and large, here’s how I’ve organised it:

  • Each dot point in bold text (e.g. “Household“) represents a folder in Omnifocus. That means I have about 11 main folders.
  • Each item after the bold text represents the kind of “projects” I have in Omnifocus. At any one time, I have about 100 “projects” going. Some of these “projects” are actual projects – i.e. they have a defined end-point. Others are just spheres of life or people I’m committed to. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, see above under the heading “Types of Projects”

How might you capture your commitments into a system like this? Set aside a whole day or two to try to write down and capture your main commitments. Get them all down in some sort of list, perhaps using a mind-mapping technique. Then organise them in a logical way in your trusted system. (If you’re using Omnifocus, it’s just a matter of typing in your projects and arranging them into folders). This will give you a good initial list of your main commitments. In the following weeks and months, it’s likely that more commitments will spring to mind. When they spring to mind, add them to your trusted system.

In future posts I’ll talk about structures and habits that help me to fulfil my commitments, day by day.

The posts in the series so far

  1. Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice
  2. Taming the phone 1: Minimising notifications
  3. Taming the phone 2: Putting apps in their place
  4. Building blocks of a trusted system
  5. Capturing wild commitments
  6. Living life in “the zone”: using zones to regulate life
  7. Inboxes. Getting all the stuff out of them. Every day.
  8. Who’s afraid of to-do lists? Making tasks that work
  9. The weekly review: Planning for sustainable sacrifice
  10. The trusted system: a week in the life

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