5 Keys to Tangent-Proofing Your Time

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Welcome Encouragement for Today devotion readers. If you are joining us and haven’t yet read my devotion today, click here to do so and get up to speed with the rest of us here. Don’t forget to hit your back arrow and come back for 5 keys to tangent proofing your time and a giveaway!


Have you been there? Allowed the Internet or another hobby or pastime knock you off course and sap your time? How can you prevent this from happening in the future? Here are 5 guidelines that have helped me focus and keep on task:

~ Plan your work and then work your plan, grouping like tasks together.

There is no substitute for a good working list. If you set out to “get things done” without a written list of what it is you need to accomplish, it will sap your mental strength. You will unknowingly be preoccupied with the fear of “forgetting”: to make a call, send an email or pull meat out of the freezer to thaw for supper.

If you can brain dump your tasks on to a piece of paper or “notes” app on your phone or electronic tablet, you can focus all your mental energies on doing the task at hand rather than worrying you’ll forget one you hope to accomplish later that day.

When you are making your list, group like tasks. Think about the errands that require you to leave your home: the dry cleaners, grocery or drug store, post office run or item to return. What about tasks that require the computer: sending an email, making an online purchase or paying a utility bill. Are there around the home chores that must be done? Cleaning, laundry, pulling weeds or organizing a closet?

Rather than just launching out on a “mission to accomplish” and randomly start working, think smart. You will save time, motion and effort if you group like tasks as you work.

I do this, once I have written out my list, by using different color highlighters. I’ll highlight all the “around the town” errands in pink, computer tasks in green, etc… While I’d like to be organized enough to group the tasks as I write the list, that often takes more effort and may require starting over. Just doing a general brain dump and then going back and categorizing with highlighters works best for me. Besides, I like to see pretty colors on my to do list rather than just a black and white list. :-)

~ Utilize your phone alarm.

Work in pre-determined “shifts”. Set out to tackle some household chores, but set your phone alarm for 30-45 minutes later. Then, dive in and work, without thinking about anything else. Roll up your sleeves. Stay focused. Listen to music or an audio Bible on an Ipod or MP3 player. Lose yourself in your work.

When the alarm sounds, read what the screen says. (I “talk to myself” by making my alarm reminder read “Good job girl! Go make yourself an iced tea!”) Wrap up the current task, take a short break and move on to the next thing.

Alternate between working with your brain and working with your hands.

I find that if I am using my brain for an extended period of time perhaps writing, filling out college forms or other paperwork, I need to mix it up after a few hours. Those tasks are not particularly draining physically but do deplete my brain’s energy and creativity .

To remedy this, I will switch to something brainless for a while instead. Yes, I will fold laundry or clean the house while watching Gunsmoke, Bonanza or another retro show. It rests my mind and refreshes me. Then, I’m ready to jump back in and use my brain again.

~ Set up a visual reminder of your time priorities.

I place my Bible on top of my Ipad each night on my nightstand to remind me “Bible over blogs”.

Maybe you’ll need to make your phone’s lock screen read “Have you spent time with God yet today?”.

Or put a picture of your family on your computer’s home page. Anything that will help you connect with God and your family BEFORE you venture off into cyber-land.

~ Less is more.

The less I am pulled by social media and cell phones, the more time I have for God, family and just “being” rather than “doing” all the time.

This has been the biggest lesson lately for me when it comes to electronic devices becoming tangents. I was letting social media, my cell phone and emails I received call the shots and dictate how I spent my time.  With the instant access that today’s culture provides, it can overrun a people-pleaser like me.

Up until a few months ago, I gave out my cell phone number freely. I was accumulating friends on Facebook and also accumulating lots of “invites”, and “requests” and challenges to play games. And, I was getting dozens of emails per week from people asking me questions to which I had no answer or asking for time-consuming favors from me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love helping people. I am thankful for the connections that can happen and the ministry that takes place via the Internet. Seriously thankful.

I am deeply grateful for cyber friends and blog readers and I am a faithful reader of a few blogs myself. However, because I tend to be a people pleaser, I would jump when I got a private Facebook message and feel I needed to answer right away. Or, if a text message came in when I was supposed to be accomplishing a task or spending time with my family, I would feel the tug to text back quickly.

When I would fight the urge and, in an attempt to live my priorities, not respond until later when I had time, I would feel guilty. Or others would feel slighted that it took me a day or so to answer. However, when I added up the time it would take just answering people (sometimes to tell them I actually had no answer!) it would be hours per week.

So now I give myself some guidelines and boundaries including limiting answering emails (that aren’t from family or my work-at-home ministry position at Proverbs 31) to 30 minutes a day. That might mean I can’t answer someone for a few days or weeks depending on how full my inbox is. I also got a new cell number and only give the number out to family, close friends, my one son’s school and other sons’ tutors and crucial ministry contacts. I can still communicate with friends (in real life and cyber both) by Twitter messages rather than texting.

I have become so convinced that electronic communication methods, with their instant access to people, have become modern day bullies. They boss us around and burn up our time when we aren’t intentional to use them as tools only. I can’t describe to you the freedom I now feel now that my phone buzzes only occasionally and I don’t feel glued to the computer. Ahhh….freedom!

Now, please leave a comment with which of these tips you’d most like to try. Or, any other piece of advice or thoughts you have on this topic. One gal will be chosen to receive a signed copy of my book The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized and a $15 Staples gift card to purchase some list-making notepads or a new planner to help you use your time wisely.

Winner announced Monday.


  1. You are my hero, Karen!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and putting into words the same feelings I have been having about “Tools, Toys and Tangents”! These feelings of guilt have been eating away at me, but I have never been able to put my finger on what it was that was really going on. After reading your article on Proverbs 31 and then reading your blog, I am feeling empowered to let go of the guilt and begin to use some of your tools to take control again!!

    The tip that I’m going to try is using the alarm to help keep on track with my working list. I think this will break away from my tangent long enough to say, “Look at what you’ve accomplished during this time!! Now, let’s move on and accomplish something good in another area – and all for the glory of God!!”

  2. I am going to try the idea of scheduling my time better, not being a slave to my phone, email, Facebook, whatever takes away from my family time. I also like the idea of putting my viable on top of my phone, so that’s the first thing I do in the morning.

  3. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for your post. I have been struggling ith this issue and losing ground. I already use a timer on my watch and was encouraged that the same concept works for you. I have tried to make lists, and end up doing “spider web brainstorming” on a small whiteboard, which isn’t always convient to carry about. When I use paper, I feel I have to write and re-write it so that my list is grouped together. I really like your idea of the highlighters because I can still follow my visual bent with the color coordination at a glance, without carying the whiteboard around, grin. I appreciate the ‘permission’ to limit my time being sucked away by technology, and being poured unproductively into people and away from the responsibilities and needs of my family. I still want to interact, encourage and minister to perople, but I can guiltlessly set a limit on my outgo of time through technology by the visual reminder of my Bible placed ontop of my laptop. Thank you so much.

  4. Thank you for all the great ideas. I like the visual reminder of time priorities idea. I am so thankful for all of you at Proverbs 31! Blessings to you!

  5. I had my regular “to do” list laminated. That way I can check things off with a dry erase marker and then at the beginning of a new week, I can just erase last weeks checks. Things that are out of the ordinary get written in my planner.

  6. I so agree with you about e-mail! I do much of my work on the computer so have to be careful not to get distracted making frequent email checks. One thing I do is designate “e-mail clearing” time every week. During the week I don’t read in detail all of the the devotions, newsletters, blog entries etc. that I get via e-mail. I take the time, usually Friday afternoon, to go thru and read all of those e-mails, at that time taking the action of forwarding, deleting, moving to another folder, etc. When I get into the “groove” of doing that it doesn’t take long; when I do it in the midst of other work tasks it’s harder to get back to the task I was SUPPOSED to be doing.

    THANKS for the other great suggestions!

  7. Thanks so much for your wisdom. I am a list freak and consider myself very organized. As I read your blog i realized how much I’ve lost my way. I have felt so frustrated lately and it’s because i have allowed so many of these tools to become a tangent. I loved the suggestion of changing my home screen on my phone and then sadly, i realized that i do already have my daughters on my home screen. I will look at it different now. As a reminder of where my time is better spent. Also, i love the alarm suggestion. Since as mom’s be rarely have someone tell us that we have done a great job, i think the encouraging alarm will be a great pick me up when I’m cleaning. Thanks you so much for sharing.

  8. I am bad to list and rewrite the list to make it flow. I’m thinking highlighters are MUCH better!!

    And bibles over blogs is brilliant. I always connect with God through my daily e-devotions, but this reminds me there is no substitute for His word in full. Kind of like the difference between my daughter having a FaceTime visit with her dad versus a real visit when he comes to see her.

  9. I needed this today! I need to set (and then honor!) specific times to respond to emails and be on Facebook. I run a home based business so both are important tools for me but they can also steal focus from other important tasks. I want to do what HE asks of me first and respond to others’ requests second. Thanks for the post and. contest!

  10. I, too, am a list maker. When writing my grocery list I place items in order of the grocery store aisles so I won’t need to backtrack and waste time while shopping. Of course this works best if you shop regularly at the store and are familiar with the aisles. I also make an errand list in order of the store locations so I’m not backtracking or crossing the highways. Saves gas too.

  11. Less is more- that is what I need to work on. I am constantly available via my phone and therefore I always feel the need to answer/respond or message back. When really, the person doesn’t need an immediate answer, it is just that is what they are used to getting from me…

    Thanks for the encouragement to live my priorities! I really enjoy your blog!!

  12. I like the ideas of setting an alarm for a set period of time and just working on that task until the alarm rings, no delays!

    I also love the idea of planning my work. I work off vague lists and ideas, but I really need to get back to the concrete schedule – I do so much better that way!

  13. I love your tips, Karen! Today is my first day reading your blog, but I loved every word! I have been making the brain-dump lists (which help me sleep without worrying about all the things I need to remember) but love the color-coding idea! I also used the timer trick quite a bit when studying for final exams, and for a while when my husband and I tried to spend a few minutes each night tidying up. It would have worked even better if we had only kept it up! But my favorite of your tips today is putting the picture of our family (priorities) on the computer or phone screens, and Bible on top of the iPad. What a great way to remind us that every day is precious! Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!

  14. This blog came at a good time for me. I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time with reading blogs, pinning on Pinterest, keeping up w/ Facebook, etc. And my house is showing the ill effects! Just before reading this blog, I was unsubscribing from any that weren’t giving me enough info lately. (I had already cleaned up & organized my FB “likes” & friends list a few weeks ago.)

    I’ve enjoyed the blogs I’ve found and I’ve learned so much & felt so good about things, but too much is too much. It’s time to prioritize.

  15. This is so for me. I am a stay-at-home mom with two young boys. I definitely have struggled with letting the computer and phone take over my priorities. I have the people-pleaser mentality and don’t like to disappoint people, and therefore feel I need to respond immediately and check my emails constantly to make sure I’m not “missing” something or someone. When in reality I am missing out on my own family. That sounds terrible to say. Ugh. I was convicted of this in recent months, and am still working on this struggle. I am glad to be aware of it though, and I love your tips. I am definitely a list maker and have gotten away from that since I’ve been staying home where I don’t feel as much “pressure” to get things done. I am going to get back to list making! I love the feeling of crossing something off a list. Thank you for your encouragement and sharing your story!

  16. Karen,

    I LOVE your idea about putting your bible on top of your laptop! I was challenged by a tweet from Travis Cottell saying what if we got to the end of our life and spent more time tweeting about our lives rather than living it? OUCH! This came during Lent so I took him up on the challenge to only tweet on the weekend. It has freed me up to not squander time, but I have to admit I have “peeked” a few times during the week. But grace :)

  17. Setting phone alarm to work on projects for a specific period of time. I can appreciate alternating brainy tasks with physical labor. I give myself physical jobs as micro mini breaks at work already. Lots of great ideas!

  18. Oh my!! I feel as if this entry was written with my name all over it! Last fall I moved from teaching to working for a non-profit agency from a home “office” (corner of the dining room?!) I have really struggled with time management. I have been overly connected to work & the families we serve and already knew that I MUST re-evaluate my practices to claim time for God, my family and myself. Karen, how could I pick just one tip that you shared? I love the idea of highlighting similar tasks on my to-do list. Alternating the work tasks–brain vs. hands will most definitely increase my productivity and effectiveness. One that I hadn’t considered was getting a new cell number…I truly see the benefit! :) Thank you SO much for sharing these practical strategies. Eager to make changes.

  19. Karen,

    I tend to be a people pleaser, too, so I closed my facebook page. When I felt like I was supposed to do it, I put it off by telling myself I would only go on to answer facebook emails–but you know how that ended up. The smack to the forehead came for me when I realized how I was pushing my children away, telling them I would be with them when I finished reading things online. They are only with me for a short time, and I want every minute to count!

    Thanks for the encouragement and great tips. I appreciate you!


  20. Thank you for sharing these tips today! I love the idea of just dumping your ideas and going back with a highlighter to group them. I try to group them as I write them and often loose my train of thought and forget to write down some important task. I also am going to use the alarm system to keep from getting sucked in and loosing track of time, especially on the computer. This is a great idea!

  21. I love the concept of phone alarms. I have been doing that particularly praying for my daughter at a particular time of day. Now will use the idea of grouping tasks and using different color of highlighters. Thanks, Karen!

  22. I enjoyed your blog today! Made me think of the time I actually enjoy being away from technology and electricity when we go camping. Definitely a refreshing time! The same goes with my telling boys to get off computer after a time limit is up, and I need to tell myself the same. In that case, I am getting off now! :)

  23. I REALLY needed your encouragement today! Thank you for your helpful tips! I’m planning on planning my time, using my alarm and limiting computer time to 30 minutes! Thanks again for sharing!

  24. I’ve stayed away from most social media but still find the internet is a distraction. I like the idea of making a ‘things I need to do on the computer’ list and setting a time limit each day to work through this list. What doesn’t get done today will get done tomorrow. This is a habit I will continue when I finally join the social media world.

    I use my google calendar as a to-do list and write in the time I plan to get a certain item done. The reminder dings on my phone and reminds me to “call now to schedule the dentist appointment.”

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