Basic Rules for Being Effective and Getting Things Done

It’s not that this kind of thing is reducible to “the rules” themselves. In a sense, getting things done is as much a function of temperament and personality as the steps to take but there are a lot of things we can do to maximize effectiveness and achieve goals.

Here are a few:

1. Make a list.

I know it seems simple enough but all of them are going to be simple. It’s not figuring out hidden strategies for success that’s on point but planning steps in such a way as to get them done. The simplicity of “the list” might mask its importance and power as a tool for self and time management. It is a powerful tool but one you can make with a pencil, software or in your own head. It’s my experience that people that make lists and apply them get a lot more done than people that have a jumble of ideas and a vague recollection of the things they wanted to get done that day, week or year.

Here’s a great business note or planning app that’s free and effective:

Remember, you only get out of a tool what you put into it.

2. Get Clarity: Clearly define what you want to get done and plan reasonable steps toward its accomplishment.

You must know what you want to do.

What do you want out of life. What does God want for you. What does God want for you to want.

Almost anything is easier to do if you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve before you start. If you’re already on a path and you find out you need to change course during the walk, it’s a lot more difficult.

In simpler or lesser things the principle still applies. I want to grow a nice garden or I want to learn to cook are probably too vague for a reasonable expectation of success. What kind of a garden and cook what are things you should explore early and deeply.

3. Count the cost: Everything has a cost and everyone pays the toll.

This is perhaps the hardest aspect of getting things done but also the most fruitful. If it’s a complicated task like “get a degree” or “learn a language” or “become the world’s greatest whatever” there will be clear, identifiable, achievable steps to complete that task. Your job is to find out what they are and measure your available time and resources against the completion.

Google it. Research. Ask around. Read a book. Do some searches and find out what the big, main issues or concerns are in achieving the goal at hand. If it’s unfathomable then pass it by but if it’s doable then maybe you take a run at it.

Anything can be done but not everything should be done.

This is the biblical maxim of “counting the cost”. Jesus uses it as an analogy of the Christian life when he says, “”Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” We’re not one to try to use a scripture out of its context but if the principal wasn’t true to life in general he wouldn’t have used it as a teaching tool for this issue in specific. We need to know what we’re getting ourselves into.

Search engines like and are places to start researching almost anything but remember you’re not just looking for what you want to achieve but the intermediate steps between wanting and achieving.

4. Time management:

The most valuable resource in life that you’ll never have enough of is time. It’s always running out. This goes back to making lists and gaining clarity but when planning, whether getting the groceries or climbing Mt. Everest we need to know how much time is should take, how much time it could take, and when to just stay home. Remember the old maxim time is money? It’s because the amount of time that something takes is directly related to how much it will cost you and thus how much you will gain or lose through achieving it.

Everything in your schedule has a reasonable amount of time that it should take and should be scheduled accordingly.

It’s incredible the transformation that happens in some peoples lives when they start to apply time management principles to daily or weekly activities. It’s not that they need to remove every “fun” thing or hobbies or social events, they find that they have more time for all of those things when they sharpen the amount of time they spend in necessary but time absorbing tasks.

Things like blogging, Facebook, reading, etc are things that you can and should set an amount of time for, and discipline yourself toward those ends. If we don’t the mindlessness of the activity (and I mean that in the good way) can make minutes and hours disappear that we will never see again.

If you Facebook in the morning for example, set a five minute time limit; if you can’t do it or lose track of time, set an alarm. If you still find that you can’t drop it and not check it again till lunch time or after dinner, lose it. There is nothing in there that is that important to your own or another person’s well being. You are quite literally giving a chunk of your life away that should be being spent somewhere else doing something else.

“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath” Psalm 39

If you’re 16 and you play video games for hours on end, maybe you get a pass. If you’re 26 and have a wife, kids and duties in the community and you spend your time playing video games instead of dealing with your home life and catering to the needs of family, career and community (please insert any of a number of time-wasters like working on your car restoration project, fishing, bowling, watching T.V., reading fiction, whatever) you probably aren’t dealing with a potentially serious problem. If history serves us well you can expect that it will catch up with you and hurt. It’s as inevitable as the ticking of the clock.

Life is short. You won’t get another one. At the end of it you are not going to list trivia as a worthy object of the cost you paid with your seconds, minutes and hours.

5. Manage fatigue: Anything worth doing is generally hard to do.

With that there are usually a lot of un-glorious, boring, monotonous things to do in the process of achieving any good thing. To raise children we change diapers. To get through law school we brief cases. To win a race there are a thousand intermediate steps before a finish line.

If you just want to manage your house better that’s easy in theory but hard in practice. The sheer number of actions that are needful each day can wear you out. It’s not the big things, it’s the small ones multiplied over and over again.

When I’m working on a big project and under the gun I still take ten minutes out of every hour for a brain break, do something else, check my email, call my kids… anything that resets the intensity and keeps you working harder, faster and more effectively through the next 50 minutes. Fatigue is inevitable if you’re doing anything that carries the glory of painful labor (which is its own beauty), it’s all in how you manage it.

Adopt a conscious mental stance that you will not be defeated by the drudgery of doing toward the glory of succeeding. Consciously deciding is better than hoping for an automatic or unplanned resilience. If you’re trying do anything worthy of doing the thought of quitting might come to mind more than once along the way. Be ready for that, and when it comes hit it with something heavy.

Do you know what sets doctors and lawyers apart from most folks? People usually think it’s natural intelligence. It’s not. Lots of very intelligent and and skilled people drop out/flunk out of medical or law school and find something else to do. It’s bruising, tenacious, unyielding, unforgiving focus and tenacity coupled with the willingness to do the heavy lifting and back-breaking labor. Success at most things boils down to the willingness to do the hard work. If you already know you’re not willing then you’ve already found a reasonable limit to what you’re really willing to achieve.

Socrates was not wrong when he said, “Know thyself”. It’s a painful lesson so learn early to get it over with.

Is what you want to do something you want to do bad enough to actually do it? Are you willing to suffer and dig deep? Are you willing to risk failure for the hope of success?

At this point you might be thinking, geez I just wanted to learn how to tango and this conversation and suddenly gotten all heavy, and that would be true. You don’t need to lean this heavy on the inner workings of the soul to learn the macarena, but if you want to do something heavy you’d better get used to thinking heavy thoughts. Heavy thoughts are heavy for a reason.

6. Value good advice:

The Proverbs teach that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

How many people, when they were 17, thought their parents were complete idiots but by the time they’re 37 think their parents are geniuses? It’s pretty common. Wisdom hangs out where it wants too; you can’t choose where to find it. If you need to know how to fix your marriage you go to a marriage counselor; if you want salvation get thee to church; if you want money see the banker. It’s not rocket science.  It’s obvious. Get some counsel.

When you get contrary counsel choose between them as best you can.

People that aren’t willing to take the wisdom of those that have already walked a few miles rarely do anything very interesting. Yeah, every once in a while you get an Albert Einstein but he was Albert Einstein. The rest of us are just trying to get things done.


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