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Scheduling the Unexpected

At the beginning of the biblical productivity series, I stated that busyness is no sign of diligence, faithfulness, or fruitfulness. And that is because busyness does not indicate that we are devoting ourselves to the most important things. We can become busy with everything under the sun except fulfilling the roles God has assigned for us. And no matter how busy I appear, if I am neglecting one of my primary roles, I am a procrastinator, spinning in unproductive circles.

To this point in the series we have focused on how to identify roles, create goals, and block out our schedule to make sure our time is focused on what is most important.

My preference is to retreat to Starbucks on Monday morning (a day off for me). That’s when two very important things take place: (1) I carefully study the Washington Post sports page. (2) I consider my roles, create goals, and transfer them into my schedule for the coming week.

But no matter how hard we try, it is impossible to plan every detail of our week. Interruptions arise, an unanticipated phone call requires an immediate decision and possible time investment, a new email from a friend requests our help, and a new counseling situation arises that will require the pastor’s immediate attention. The list of possible surprises in our carefully planned weeks is seemingly endless.

So what do we do with the requests we didn’t see coming?

First, it is important to understand our roles, goals, and schedules before we discuss responding to unanticipated requests. Often the procrastinator fails to work from biblical roles to establish his schedule, and is therefore vulnerable to the urgent. So he defaults to the most recent—or easiest—request. He neglects the important tasks and is governed by the urgent and the easy. He is busy, busy, busy, but he is not diligent, faithful, or fruitful.

On the other hand, the one who has been diligent, understands his roles, and has created goals can respond to unanticipated requests with discernment, aware of the time he has available. He can make appropriate scheduling decisions. He has planned for the upcoming week, informed by biblical roles, and can now evaluate requests and everyday surprises wisely.

Each day, both requests and opportunities to serve exceed our capacity and our time. Saying “no” is really a humble response acknowledging our limitations. But if we have not determined in advance who we are to serve, and how we are to serve, we will not be able to say “no” when appropriate.

If you cannot say “no,” you will be governed by the urgent requests of others and distracted from what is most important. Eventually you will become overextended and frustrated.

Evaluating Requests

So how do we evaluate the many requests and opportunities we encounter each day? This is not science, but I personally work from a rough framework when evaluating requests as they arrive. I approach the requests through a workflow that can be divided into three primary questions.

(1) Does the request fit my roles?

First, does this particular request reflect my God‐ordained roles? Does it reflect my role as a Christian, or my roles as a husband, father, grandfather, ministry leader, or my commitment to the local church? If so, it automatically moves on to the second question that we will get to in one minute.

But if the request is not consistent with my roles, I ask a further question: Can I complete this in less than two minutes? Sometimes small opportunities to bless others arise but do not fit into our specific roles. If that’s the case, go for it.” If not—if this is a large request that would require a block of time in my schedule and does not fit into my roles—I must decide to delegate, decline, or delete the request (basic David Allen stuff).

(2) Does the request fit my goals?

So the request is consistent with your roles. Good. And in previous posts we have begun considering our goals, which are really sub‐ priorities within each role.

So does the specific request meet my personal goals? Perhaps not. Or at least not at this time. These requests must go into a folder where they can be prayed about, submitted to the counsel of others, and possibly postponed for later consideration.

If the request is consistent with my roles and goals, then it needs to be done. Time to proceed to the third question.

(3) Can I accomplish the request in under two minutes? 

This is a simple question that can help as you put requests on your schedule.

Can the request be accomplished in two minutes or less? If you can complete the request that quickly then it’s really a no‐brainer— complete it immediately. There is no reason to wait, no need to schedule a block of time.

But if the request requires more than two minutes of your time, it will require a place in the schedule.

So that is my process for evaluating requests. If we put this entire process together, it may look something like this flow chart:



It’s not possible to schedule all of our lives (nor should we try). And so there is no misunderstanding: I’m not dependent upon my schedule. My dependence rests upon God himself.

The unexpected will arise each day, needs will emerge that we did not anticipate, and situations that we could not foresee will require our attention.

We should not be surprised by apparent interruptions to our schedule. These are part of God’s purpose and plan for our lives. As C.S. Lewis so wisely noted:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own,” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.

So true.