Monday, July 15, 2019

Managing the Chaos to Encourage Productivity

If you’ve been paying attention here in Seekerville, you’ve probably noticed a theme running through several posts this summer. It started in June with Amanda Barrett’s post about stress reduction for writers, then continued with Cate Nolan’s post about that 15-letter word we all hate: Procrastination. Pam Hillman finished up the June theme with her post on burning the candle at both ends, and Mary Connealy carried it into July with her post on plowing the rough field.

Do you see the connection?

My life this summer is no different. In April my husband and I finally found our retirement home in the Black Hills, ending a year-long search to find the perfect place, and we knew we were facing a long summer of changes. Big changes.

The view from our new deck - I can't get enough of it!
Soli Deo Gloria

But we had no idea how many unexpected changes God had in store for us.

With all these changes comes the list of tasks…applying for a mortgage, having garage sales to downsize our possessions, packing box after box, finding temporary housing for the next four weeks until we can move into our new house, etc. etc. etc. Insurance, changing addresses, changing utility companies, finding a new internet provider... It never ends!

And we're moving THIS WEEK! Suddenly, everything seems VERY URGENT!

Meanwhile, my next deadline is looming, getting closer every day. October 1st will be here before I know it! And THAT is very important!

How do I determine which wins my time? Do I do the important things? The urgent things? Both?

Some days I just want to chuck it all and go back to bed! Sometimes I think the chaos is going to win.

But while my head tends to think I’m standing on a very shaky house of cards, my heart knows that God will take me through this stormy season.

One way He's doing it is through three major tools that are helping me survive the chaos and become more productive, and I’d love to share them with you in case your life is chaotic too! (Who am I kidding? We’re all living crazy-busy lives!)

The first is my Bullet Journal, affectionately known as my BuJo. You can read about the Bullet Journal here, and you can find tons of ideas on Pinterest. I can't say enough about how my BuJo has changed my life in the past few years. No planner made by someone else fits me, but my BuJo is perfect for me because I create it myself.

My BuJo layout is fairly simple – mostly a daily task list – but I also use project pages for major things like moving and tracking my daily word count. I color code my tasks: blue for writing related activities, green for home and family, red for church, orange for moving, and pink for things that are just for me.

I have monthly pages, then a space for the current week, and then daily entries. I use my BuJo to keep track of what I have planned for each day.

In this crazy summer, I've also found it helpful to keep
a countdown to major dates.

The second is an idea from Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s a matrix for prioritizing tasks that he developed while he was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War Two (and I thought my life was stressful!) You can read about the Eisenhower Matrix here.

This matrix helps me separate the urgent AND important tasks from those that are either urgent OR important. It helps me decide which jobs need to be done NOW, which jobs to schedule for another day, and which I shouldn’t be doing AT ALL. That's how I prioritize what I need to do each day.

When I merged these two tools, my to-do list became manageable. I can decide which things are today’s tasks (ideally one major thing – my word count – and two or three less-major things) and which can be scheduled for tomorrow or next week. It also helps me determine which tasks can be delegated (i.e. asking for help from my dear husband).

I confess – I’ve always had a hard time asking someone else to do something I think needs to be done. But I continue to learn how necessary it is.

Not surprisingly, that last square in the Eisenhower matrix, the “Don’t Do” square, has made all the difference. If it’s before 5:00 in the afternoon and I find myself wandering toward “just a few minutes to see what’s on Facebook,” that don't do list brings me back. I keep that list taped to my computer screen!

But I mentioned three things earlier, didn't I?

The third thing that God has brought to my attention this summer is rest.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39 ESV)

Jesus was an incredibly busy man. Everything he did was important. Every waking moment was spent doing his Father's work...except for those times when he went off by himself for prayer. He knew how to separate the urgent from the important.

That's my inspiration - not only for writing, but for life.

If I'm too busy to go off by myself and spend some time with God, then I am too busy. I'm letting the urgent take the place of the important.

If I'm too busy to accept God's gift of rest, not only on Sunday, but every day, then I am too busy.

What effect have these three things had on my productivity?

It's amazing. When I think of what God has helped me accomplish over the last several months, I am astounded.

Believe it or not, I'm naturally lazy. My idea of a pleasant evening is to curl up in my favorite chair, stitching in my hands and an audio book playing or a good movie on television. Add a gentle snow-fall and a fire in the stove, and I'm a happy camper. *sigh* Comfy jammies and all!

But with these tools, I can enjoy steady productivity and my time of rest - with God in the morning and with my cross stitching in the evenings.

And this crazy-stressful season of my life? Easy like Sunday morning. No chaos allowed.

How do you conquer the chaos in your life? Do you use a planner? An on-line calendar? Or have you thrown in the towel? 

Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of more than thirty-five years, where she enjoys hiking in the Hills and spending time with their expanding family.


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  2. Chaos is order out of focus.
    Focus your life.

    "Per solam gratiam"

    "One man's chaos is another man's Kandinsky."

    1. Koyaanisqatsi... Hopi for "Life out of balance"... I saw a dance routine done to this years ago, and never forgot it, how easy it is for one thing to tip everything out of balance... and how fragile balance can be.

      Now, twenty years later, I realize that the fragility often comes from within the person, not the situation... that some folks will weather storms and others have a much harder time of it, and that the balance isn't always about situations, but about inherent personalities.

      I take this into my books now, because those characterizations make characters stand out as real to readers. I think mostly because we all carry that within ourselves... not strength or weakness.

      But differences.

    2. Wow Ruthy this is deep, thanks.

    3. Definitely, Vince. By grace alone.

      God is order, the opposite of chaos.

      So what do we focus on to defeat the chaos? God alone. By grace alone.

    4. Oh, Jan, you got it 100%!

      Ruth, God provides the balance you speak of.

      Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life."
      John 14:6 (NIV)

      You are never lost if you know the way.

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  4. These are such perfect instructions for how to be real... and productive at the same time.

    Jan, continued prayers for this move!!!!! And for the deadlines and for all the changes.... and your steady, patient focus on the important things in life.

    Life is rarely easy or stagnant. Which is good, right, because stagnant gets smelly!

    While some seasons rise and flow naturally, others slap on the V-8 engine and race... You're a person who handles the race with dignity and the calm with authority.

    Great attributes.

    Aren't we so very blessed??????

    1. Ruthy (and Jan), one of the best things I've learned from this site is that nothing happens in a vacuum. You are all real people with real demands on your time, whether it's pumpkin season on Ruthy's farm, calving time on Mary's ranch, or Pam taking care of her grandchildren. Thank you all for your transparency.

    2. Long gone are the days of a writer working alone, sequestered from the world (if there ever was such a time!)

      Giving the writing the time that it needs while remaining happy and productive in the other areas of our lives is a delicate balancing act, sometimes. So we have to learn to go with the ebb and flow.

      I think the real secret to remaining calm when life gets crazy is to remember that God is sovereign over all things. I'm just tucked into His pocket, taking care the the details He gives me.

      And yes Ruthy, we are blessed beyond measure. We have an embarrassment of riches. :-)

  5. Such wonderful advice, and hard-won through experience...which is the best kind.

    Hoping you can find a few minutes here and there to get that writing done while you are waiting to get into your new house.

    1. I hope that once we're done with all the details of selling and moving out of the house, I'll have a breather during the month that we're houseless and staying with friends. I've warned all of them that I need to get a lot of work done!

  6. Every time I see your bullet journal I'm inspired, but I still haven't taken the plunge yet. Best of luck with the move. Let's hope the weather cooperates for you!

    1. Thanks, Glynis! We're watching the weather closely! The most crucial time will be Thursday evening when we're moving the piano. We don't have any thunderstorms predicted for that evening. YET! :-)

  7. Thank you, Jan. So timely. So glad Seekers, present and emerita, warned me about how busy I'd be AFTER I got an acceptance. This summer I'm dealing with PR for "Westward Hope," writing guest blogs in advance, first edits on "Settler's Hope," contracting for the Christmas novella, researching the third book in "Western Dreams," doing research and exploratory work on a possible nonfiction book with one of my daughters, plus the day job, significant home repairs, and trying to have some sort of summer with family and friends. I may try the Matrix. Eisenhower has never steered me wrong.
    Already practicing some "don't do it at all." Turned down a chance to be on committee for establishing church library. In the last quadrant of my life, I don't want to ever be on another committee, or have my name on anything other than a book.
    Our time management needs change with time, don't they? I used to write when I put my kids down for a nap. Now it's me who needs the nap. In about a year I'll have to add a retired husband into the mix.
    We need to define what's important to us and work everything else around the edges. Driving my brother-in-law to dialysis is a nonnegotiable. Being on a committee, any committee, isn't.
    And we need to do the things only we can do, first. Only you can be a spouse to your spouse. Only you can be a parent to your children. Only you can write YOUR books.
    I recently did a "five things' exercise for myself. Q. What are the five things I want to do for the rest of my life? A. Write books, spend time with family and friends, grow tomatoes, work on my dollhouse hobby, and travel. Everything else can fit around the edges. Guess what? No committees on that list.
    Jan, love the view from the new house, I know you're going to be productive and happy there.
    Kathy Bailey
    Avoiding committees like the plague in New Hampshire

    1. Five things...that sounds like a great way to focus on what you really want to do.

      Yes, this last quadrant of life leaves no time to waste on things that aren't important. (I just had a birthday, so this has been on my mind...)

      I'll have to think about my own five things. I know one of them will be writing!

  8. For years I was the queen of chaos and a couple of years ago had to make a commitment to simplify my life and get a system in place. I've spent hundreds of dollars on fancy planners and none of them have worked for me. What has helped me the most was a workshop by Sherri Shackleford on Kanban boards. Like your bullet journal, this struck a chord with me and has helped me so much! Social media and marketing is something that overwhelms me, so I put a small post it flag on the big calendar in my office. Each flag represents a task I have to do. When I've made the post for the day I take the flag off and stick it to the side to reuse the next month. It's not nearly as overwhelming when I go a day at a time.
    And I love your third one. Rest. I'm often reminded that I need to be still and listen to God. Sadly, this is probably the one I struggle with the most.
    Thanks for a great post!

    1. LeAnne, love the Post-It notes. We all need visual reminders.

    2. The post-it notes are a great idea! Much like the items in my BuJo - I mark them off when they're done, and then I don't have to think about them until the next time they come around on my calendar!

      And rest. That should have been my #1 thing. It's amazing how my rest with God in the morning centers my focus for the rest of the day.

  9. I can so relate to this! We all can.

    Taking a deep breath.

    Plan. Prioritize. Rest. Got it!

    Thanks, Jan!

  10. I love this, Jan. And you're points are spot on. We often overlook the rest part (or pay too much attention to it and ignore the other stuff), but without the proper rest we fail to be productive and the chaos knocks us off balance. Thanks for sharing these wonderful reminders.

    1. Thanks, Mindy!

      And that proper rest...that word "proper" is so important!

  11. Jan, you DO have a lot on your plate! Your points are so helpful. Lately, I've been a "sometimes-uses-the-planner" kind of girl. So many demands on my time with two teen boys, neither of whom drives yet, and lots of other things going on have encouraged the habit of focusing on the next thing, which may not always be the next best thing. Your post reminded me I need to slow down, pray, plan, and be more intentional about how I spend my time each day.

    And what you said here: "But while my head tends to think I’m standing on a very shaky house of cards, my heart knows that God will take me through this stormy season. " was a sweet reminder to my heart. Thanks for sharing these resources and thoughts, Jan. I'll pray that your move goes smoothly and that the settling in time to your home and community happens naturally and quickly.

    1. Thank you, Jeanne!

      I remember those days so well, when I spent much of my time in the car! I spent very little time on myself back then, but I grabbed Bible study and planning time when I could - usually in the car waiting for an activity to get done!

      And thank you for your prayers. :-)

  12. Jan, I just bought my first dot journal! I use it to keep track of all the batches of sourdough bread I bake. I LOVE it! I was so surprised at how much I enjoy the dot format. It gives you some structure but doesn't limit you like lines do. So fun!

    1. I wasn't sure about the dots, but as soon as I started using my BuJo with the dots, I fell in love!

      Is it that extra sense of freedom? The openness? Maybe I just like drawing diagonal lines once in a while!

  13. I've been lurking but have really enjoyed this series on productivity and stress. I've heard of Bullet Journaling but have never looked into it, so now I have an excuse! I've always kept a "household" dayplanner with family appointments and records and a writing journal/dayplanner for myself. But I really need to focus and drill down on my own productivity and these tips are just what I needed today. Thank you, Jan! I hope your loading and storage go well. We have some experience with that with all our military moves. But you have that gorgeous deck view at the end of it all to make it worthwhile!

    1. Hi Laurie!

      The change in my planner really came when I changed my mindset from being in charge of the family calendar to using my planner to help guide my career and personal life.

      If I had family at home, I think I'd end up using both types, just because I've found having a personal planner to be so useful. But we're empty-nesters now, so I don't need to be as hands-on in running the household. :-)

      And yes, that view! One of the things on our wish-list when we were house hunting was a "stellar view." God has blessed us immeasurably by giving what we desired and so much more.

  14. Lovely blog, Jan. I need to look into President Eisenhower's technique. I believe I've seen it before...and need to review it again, no doubt!

    I have a monthly calendar that I use...and sticky notes with daily priority items. I've tried weekly planners but they don't work for me. I need to see the entire month at one glance.

    The view from your new house is breathtaking. God's creation in all it's glory. Be still my heart!

    1. One thing I love about the Bullet Journal is that you can design to work the way YOU work. I found that I need a daily list - I'm a list maker. But I also need to see what's coming up this week, so on Mondays I add my weekly entry. (I keep it quite small - only 5 or 6 lines long across one page.) And like you, I also need to have that month at a glance. So the blotter on my desk is a monthly calendar, and I also make a two-page monthly calendar at the beginning of each month in my BuJo.

      On top of that, I need some way to keep track of commitments made months, or even years in advance. So in the first several pages of each new BuJo, I make a future planner - a 7 x 9 block for each month of the coming two years. I use that for book deadlines, wedding dates, etc. It really comes in handy when someone asks me to commit to something beyond the next few months!

      But the main thing to consider about any planning system is that it has to work for you. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!!!

      And yes. That view. I dream about sitting on that deck in the morning with my Bible and a cup of tea...

    2. Debby, I love the idea of to-do list sticky notes! That way you can keep them right in front of you. And I bet it's very satisfying to throw it away with everything checked off. :)

  15. Great post, Jan. I wish you lots of luck with moving. Your new view will be worth it! I know how stressful that is. I try different ways of using planners and not sure what works best. It is still a work in progress.

    1. Hi Sandy!

      Yes, that's what I keep telling myself...the view will be worth it! There isn't any light pollution, either. I mean none. We'll be 30 miles from the nearest city, and the neighborhood has no street lights or mercury lights. I can't wait for the first clear night!

      And then I tell myself, "Patience. Patience." LOL!

  16. This-"If I'm too busy to go off by myself and spend some time with God, then I am too busy. I'm letting the urgent take the place of the important." I love it! And I love your view! That is amazing.

    1. Hi Sally!

      I learned that concept about being too busy from Elisabeth Elliot, and I've taken it to heart. :-)

  17. Anne L. RightlerJuly 16, 2019 at 5:54 AM

    Such good advice. Although retired my life is still busy and I need to keep a calendar so I don’t double book things! At the end of the week a month of an all too short summer is already gone. Making plans is key if one is going to accomplish one’s goals. Thank you for the tips for keeping on track.

    1. Anne, that's so true that time flies by, especially when we haven't set goals.

    2. Oh, I know that feeling! It feels like the future is full of possibilities and the time to do everything! But then comes the realization that even in retirement, there are only 24 hours in a day.
      You're so right about planning well to meet your goals, even in retirement...or especially then!

  18. Best wishes on your move and finding peace amidst the chaos.

  19. I'd never seen the Eisenhower Matrix before but I like it!


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