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. Your devotion “Tool, Toy or Tangent” was such an answer to prayer as I had made the decision back in January (a resolution) to reduce the amount of time I spent on the computer and texting as well. Yet, it had not been received well by many of my peers who are very attached to the immediate gratification that these seem to provide. I am a stay-at-home mom, “my job” is my kids and I just felt that technology was getting in the way. It was wonderful to hear that someone else out there agrees with my position! Thank you Karen.

  2. I need to plan! I think I would be so much better at being organized if I had a system and a plan for every day. I don’t know why, but that initial step into planning is the hardest one for me, but I’m totally lost without it.

  3. You are exactly right! I know I need to set the boundaries. I actually had the revelation yesterday after spending HOURS on the internet over the last few days researching a really good and useful topic for my family that this was no more than a tangent I was on. Imagine my surprise when today’s devotion was about technology being a tangent. Wow! Point well taken. Thanks.

  4. I absolutely love the idea of the colored highlighters around task groupings! I use a planner pad and using highlighting on top of that has to be the best of the best of organizing!!!!! Check out plannerpad.com. Hope this helps! Cindy

  5. HI! I deffinatley have a problem with staying on track and getting things done, especially when i don’t have a motive. I loved all of your tips! I am for sure going to use all of them! I love to go on pinterest, and because i have such easy access to it, a 5 minute break can easily turn into a 2 hour break. So i loved the idea of putting my Bible on top of my computer! Such a great reminder! I will also put a reminder on my computer screen that says Tool, Toy, or Tangent? so before i even hit the internet button those questions will go through my head. Thank you so much. These simple tips are going to help a lot.

  6. I like the idea of leaving my bible at night over my laptop as a reminder. I also like to turn my phonee to silent every night at 8:00 for less distractions.

  7. The tip that I will set in place first (and have tried before) is to “Set up a visual reminder of your time priorities.” I really like the “Bible over blogs” tip. I have good intentions, but fail often. Thank you for the enouragement.
    I also plan to get better about planning! With six children, spending even 30 minutes of one-on-one time is a big chunk of the day. I have promised them a schedule for Monday.
    Thank you!

  8. Great ideas.! I hope to incorprate all five into my life on a daily basis. I know it may take time to change my habits, but I’m ready to start making changes TODAY! Thank you for the helpful tips!

  9. I like the idea of setting an alarm on my cell phone. Great way to stay focused on the task without worrying about the time. Thanks for all the great advise.

  10. I liked the idea of using the alarm on the phone and also the list and highlighting! I am definitely going to try those things out.

  11. Thank you Karen, this was a good and timely message. My husband and I were just talking about how back in the ’70’s when we were teens how life was so much simpler without cell phones and Internet, etc. if you were out and wanted to reach someone you used a pay phone! It seems so easy to get distracted with all the techie stuff, I believe it has in many ways become a national addiction. Thanks for your suggestions!

  12. I love the cell phone/ electronic communication limits. I have found that if I take my cell phone and turn it to silent or vibrate and then lay it on the table rather than in my pocket, I can get a lot accomplaished and when I’m ready for a break from work, I can call or text back. Too bad I don’t do it more often – I’d have more time

  13. I like the idea of having a lock screen that asks me “Have you spent time with God today?” because so often when I first wake up, I get busy with other things and haven’t done a quiet time yet. Thank you!

  14. I use lists most days a big help staying focused. Need to use the timer to encourage keeping on task. Remember racing to get laundry on the line before the mail came as a kid.

  15. I like the idea of highlighting the lists. I do my calendar in different colors for each family member so why not make my to-do list colorful, too. I use a timer regularly. Especially for things I don’t want to do. I set the timer for 15 to 30 minutes and just do it. As it turns out, this job I’ve been dreading is done in 15 to 30 minutes. All that procrastinating for nothing. Like today, I “wanted” to clean the blinds and window in the toy room. Been putting it off all week. Done in 30 minutes! Sometimes when I have things I want to do but there really isn’t a time pressure yet, I make my list, roll a die, count down the list to that number, set the timer (usually 30 minutes) and go do it. If I totally finish it, I can cross it off. If not, I roll the die to see what I do next.

  16. I need to write down my lists rather than keep them in my head… And I like the idea of highlighting like tasks in the same color. Very timely post for me!

  17. Love these tips!! I am definitely going to try the visual reminders. I also have times (like going to the park with my kids) that I leave my cell phone at home so I’m not tempted to endless check email and texts. Even just an hour or two can feel like such a huge break from being always-reachable!

  18. I loved the Proverbs 31 devotion and this post yesterday. I find myself often feeling overwhelmed with my 3 little ones, but I know a lot of it can be attributed to poor time management – too much time on FB/e-mail and not utilizing my time wisely. I love the idea of using my phone alarm to set time limits of when to do things. It’s a fine line for me between spending time with my littles and having a clean, organized house. If I used an alarm, I may find a better balance!

  19. Wow! I really liked your ideas! I have discovered for myself making a list is very helpful and I feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can cross it off when it’s done. So, I’m going to try to do this everyday. Thanks for your ideas!

  20. Thank you for the encouragement to prioritize and get organized. The ideas you give are practical and helpful in getting focused on one area at a time. I have found that a lot can be accomplished in short periods of time. Even 10 minutes a day on one area can bring success. It is a day at home with so much to do it is overwhelming but I’m encouraged to start so here I go….

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