The trusted system: a week in the life

WindmillsIt’s time to summarise some of the main elements of this blog series about habits and personal organisation structures I’ve developed over the years for “sustainable sacrifice” in Christian ministry. I’ve talked about how I get my phone under control (minimising notifications and putting apps in their place). I’ve listed the basic building blocks of my trusted system. I’ve spelled out the importance of capturing my various commitments in this system. I’ve described how helpful it is to divide my week up into various zones based on state of mind and energy levels. The trusted system: A week in the lifeI’ve spoken about my daily habits of getting all the stuff out of my inboxes and turning them into proper tasks in my trusted system. And I’ve outlined my weekly review in which I use my trusted system to plan the tasks for the week. Now it’s time to sum it all up and show you how this all works for me in a “typical” week.

Starting the week

At the start of the week, I do my weekly review. Normally, I do the weekly review on Sunday evening. This time works best for me at the moment. That’s because my work week at Moore College tends to be Monday-Friday. When I worked as a minister at a church, I normally did the weekly review on the morning following my mid-week day off.

At the end of the weekly review I have two really important structures that allow me shape my week:

Firstly, I have a calendar which reminds me what appointments and zones I’ve planned for the week. In my calendar, every waking hour of the week is assigned either to appointments or to zones. If you’re unsure what I mean by “zones” see my post: living life in “the zone”: using zones to regulate life. The zones in my week include time for rest (e.g. day off, nights off, etc.), family, exercise, and church; there are also of course zones relating to my “work” at Moore College, such as pastoral, teaching, supervision, etc.

Secondly, I have a list of tasks which reminds me what tasks I have decided to do in the coming week. The tasks are grouped according to zone. For example, I might have 3 tasks under the “pastoral” zone for this week; 4 tasks under the “teaching” zone for this week, etc.

I use Omnifocus to keep this list of tasks. I access the list by clicking on the “Flagged” perspective. This gives me a list of all my flagged items. And it groups the flagged items zone-by-zone. (Actually, Omnifocus uses the term “context”, but I prefer the term “zone”).

Starting the day

Each day, I get up, unplug my phone (which I keep in a separate location, not in the bedroom), and start with Bible reading and prayer. I also pray with Bron while drinking a morning coffee.

Well, that’s my aim. Every so often I fail to do this. Why do I fail? Despite the fact that I’ve tried to tame my phone by minimising notifications and putting apps in their place, I sometimes end up checking my emails first. When I do, I tend to discover messages that people have sent me overnight. And I start getting stressed about little things. This of course distracts from prayer. So it’s a failure. But failure happens. I’m weak, and this is a spiritual battle. So I need to come back to the Bible, and keep praying about it.

When I’m finished with Bible reading and prayer, I do the things in my morning routine–which for me often means going to the gym.

Then I check my forecast for the day. This means I review and remind myself about:

  1. Any tasks that are due today. This means tasks that actually have to be done today. I don’t set artificial due dates for myself: see my post Who’s afraid of to-do lists? Making tasks that work.
  2. Any appointments for today
  3. The zones I’ve decided to be in today

The Omnifocus “Forecast” feature does this for me automatically.

During the day

During the day, I follow my calendar (see above). That is, I keep my appointments, and work within the zones I’ve assigned myself for the day. Whenever I enter a zone, I do any tasks assigned to that zone. This is where the trusted system really pays off. The trusted systems means that, for the vast majority of my day, I can focus on the people and tasks that I’ve decided to focus on, without being distracted by all the other stuff. It’s great.

Of course, emergencies happen and plans sometimes change for good reasons. That’s OK. The trusted system is very adaptable and allows for this kind of thing too.

During the day, I also collect various inputs in my inboxes. For example:

  • If I receive text messages or phone calls that I have to follow up, I make a note in my Omnifocus inbox.
  • If I have any random thoughts that need to be followed up but which aren’t related to the appointment or zone I’m in, I make a note in my Omnifocus inbox.
  • Every couple of hours, I check any unread items in my email just in case something urgent has come in. This doesn’t take long. I give each email about five seconds of my time:
    • If any email is actually urgent and I need to act on it straight away, I do. But this is relatively rare. Most of the emails that come in aren’t urgent; they can be left till the end of the day when I process my inboxes.
    • If any email needs action from me later, or needs to be read more thoroughly, I mark it with a star.
    • For all the other emails, I mark them as read and forget about them.
  • Any bits of paper that people give me and that need to be followed up, I put in my A4 folder.

The end of the work day

I define “the end of the work day” as the half an hour before I “switch off” for the day. If I’m having a night off or a date night with Bronwyn, then “the end of the work day” starts half an hour before I head home. If I’ve decided to work during the evening, then “the end of the work day” starts about an hour before bedtime.

The is the time when I process my inboxes. I spend about half an hour getting all the stuff out of my inboxes and turning them into proper tasks in my trusted system. Then I can “switch off”, knowing that my trusted system is up-to-date.

The end of the week

At the end of the week, I look over the flagged tasks I haven’t yet completed. There are two reasons I might not have completed all my flagged tasks for the week. Firstly, I may have underestimated how long they would take. Secondly, some emergency or unforeseen circumstance may have come up which stopped me from following my plans. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

If there’s anything I haven’t done and which need to apologise for, I do. But apart from that, it doesn’t really matter. I can just unflag all the tasks. They can all get subsumed back into my trusted system. They’ll be there, ready to be considered for action in the next weekly review. At the end of each week, my slate is clean.

So I can thank God. And I can start my day off.

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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