How to Find Joy in Your To-Do List

February 12, 2019 Peter Frank

joy in to do-Blog

I’m always impressed by a good marketing strategy, and the folks at Netflix have shown once again they know how to market. On January 1, 2019, the day when New Year’s resolutions are started (and often ended), Netflix released the show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Inspired by her #1 New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this show features Kondo coaching families on how to organize their homes using her KonMari Method™.

According to Kondowebsite, the KonMari Method “encourages tidying by category—not by location—beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items.” The most unique aspect of the KonMari Method is found in the practice of keeping only the things that “spark joy” for the owner. Whether it is an article of clothing or a family heirloom, if an item does not spark joy, one must “thank” the item and discard it.

Although the KonMari Method is not necessarily tied to any religion, it does seem to be influenced by Kondo’s background in Shintoism, particularly by attributing a spiritual aspect to inanimate objects. For example, upon entering a house, Kondo greets it and thanks it for the shelter and comfort it provides.

While this type of spiritualism is contradictory to Christian beliefs, I think there are a number of lessons we can learn from the KonMari Method. Let’s take a look at a Christian understanding of joy and how it can be applied to one particularly untidy area of our lives: our to-do lists.

What Is Joy to the Christian?

While joy is often characterized as “happiness,” it has a very different meaning for the Christian. While happiness is brought on by positive (and often temporary) emotions, joy is rooted in the grace and forgiveness we receive from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Having received this free gift, we can rejoice knowing that God has fulfilled His promises to us in Christ. All the physical things we own are certainly blessings from God, but they are nothing compared to the gift of His love for us in Jesus. So while our possessions can bring us happiness and we should be thankful for them, all thanks and praise should be given to the Lord for all He has done for us, and most of all, for the joy we have as we live in Him.

Five Steps to Recognizing Joy in Your Work

Because of what God has done for us, we can trust that He delights in blessing His children and that His plans for us are always good. He will bless the work that He has set before us and make it fruitful, and that is how our to-do lists can spark joy for us. No matter what our vocations, God uses our work to bring Him glory, and this is especially true in our service to the Church. When we remember that our to-do lists are simply itemized ways the Lord is working through us, it is easy to rejoice.

Like clutter in a house, lack of organization in our to-do lists can distract us and hide that joy, causing us to feel nothing but stress and despair. Just like with KonMari, by following a simple process of organization, we can remove clutter and focus on things that spark true joy, the joy found only in the Lord.

1. Pick Your To-Do List Tool

It’s hard to organize your to-do list when you don’t have an actual list, so the first step in getting organized is to pick the right to-do list tool. While this doesn’t have to be digital (who am I to judge your love of sticky notes?), an electronic to-do list provides a level of flexibility and efficiency that is not easily found when using pen and paper.

My personal recommendation is Asana, a free tool created by former employees of Facebook and Google. I’ve written about Asana before, so I won’t go into too much detail in this post, but the thing I like most about Asana is that I change it to fit my preference, not the other way around.

There are a number of other tools available, and I know people who highly recommend Todoist and Evernote (which does far more than just create lists), so be sure to try several tools before you pick one.

2. Funnel Your Inboxes

Next, I’ll borrow a play from David Allen’s Getting Things Done playbook and encourage you to identify all your inboxes. An inbox is anything that creates items for your to-do list. For me, it’s my email inbox, our company’s marketing plans, meetings, phone calls, and even other people. It’s not bad to have a lot of inboxes (our lives are pretty complex), but it’s important to know what they are.

After you have that list, the next step is to funnel any tasks that come to your inboxes and get those tasks on your to-do list. Allen recommends completing tasks that take less than two minutes as quickly as you can, and anything over that should be added to your list and be prioritized accordingly.

3. Time Your Tasks

When you prioritize, the most important thing to consider is time. One aspect of time to consider is how long a task will take, but more important, consider when a task is due. It is very tempting to add a due date for every task so you can order them according to due date, but I caution you not to do that. Respect true due dates by indicating dates that are hard-and-fast deadlines. (Trust me, this is more easily said than done.)

Next, prioritize your tasks into smaller buckets rather than one large list. This make things easier to manage because you’re only dealing with subsets, not an entire list. My to-do list is divided into Today, Upcoming (this week), and Later (more than a week out).

Within Today, I have my tasks broken down even further:

  • Scheduled Tasks: These are things that must happen at, or be completed by, a certain time. This includes my meetings and any work that is to be presented at that meeting.
  • Today’s Priorities: This is everything I plan to work on and (hopefully) complete during my free (i.e., non-meeting) time.
  • Waiting for Others: These are things that need to be worked on today, but I am waiting on someone. If I don’t hear from them first thing, I will follow up with them today.
  • Added Today: This is where any new tasks fall. That doesn’t mean I will work on them today, but I do plan to prioritize them.

Within Upcoming, I also have it broken down further:

  • Review Daily: I try to look at these tasks every day to make sure nothing needs to move up to the Today section. (In reality, I look at this 3–4 times per week.)
  • Waiting for Someone or Something: Just like in the section I mentioned above but with less urgency, these tasks require something to happen before my next step, but I won’t be following up with anyone for a little while.
  • Review Weekly: These are items that have some elevated priority but no specific timeline. These are usually the things I want to do, not the things I have to do.
  • Dated Items: These are the things that must happen by a certain time in the upcoming week, but not today.

All other tasks go into my Later section, and I don’t bother to think about them until their due dates start to come closer or until my other priorities change. I try to look through these once per quarter at most.

4. Apply Your Projects and Goals

This step is not so much a next step as much as something you should be doing concurrently with Step 3. No task gets prioritized without first being added to a project. Some of my projects are time sensitive and have definite end dates (like a marketing campaign). Other projects are primary job functions, so a pastor might use the category Sermons or the secretary Bulletins.

If I can’t easily assign a task to a project, I pause and think about whether I should be doing that task. If a task isn’t part of any of the primary projects, does it even need to be done? This is a tough question, but it needs to be answered, and the best answer usually isn’t to just do it and get it over with.

Similarly, I recommend assigning goals to as many tasks as you can. Goals are separate from Projects in that you are not directly responsible for them (like you probably are for Projects), but they still show how your daily work supports the bigger picture. This is the easiest place to find joy in your to-do list: when you can clearly remember that even the mundane tasks support the work of the Lord.

5. Be Realistic and Forgiving

For me, this is the most difficult step. Everything else is relatively process-based and straightforward, but this last step causes me to pause, take a humble stance, and admit that I’ll never be as good as I would like to be. It’s very rare that I get the list of tasks under Today done. It’s even more rare that the things in Upcoming are accomplished within the week. Even more rare still is that I end a workweek feeling accomplished.

The problem with living as sinners in a sinful world is that we know where we should be in our work, and we know that we are never quite there. We need to remember to forgive others (and ourselves) when things don’t go according to plan, and we are able to do that only because of Christ, who forgives us.

All the projects and tasks we have on our lists are there because the Lord has prepared them in advance for us. They are there because they support the work of the Gospel, and in fact, they are on our to-do lists because the Lord has prepared us to do them. What an amazing thought! Even when those things aren’t quite done, we can remember that the most important thing, the work of Christ on the cross, has already been done for us. That is where we can truly find joy in our to-do list.

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About the Author

Peter Frank

Peter Frank is full-time student at Concordia Seminary who also serves part-time at Concordia Publishing House as the Digital Product Owner. His responsibilities include leading Concordia Technology Solutions (CTS), the church management software division. A graduate of Concordia University Wisconsin, his background in theology, business, and technology gives him a unique perspective on technology in the church. He is married and the father of two young children.

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