“Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should” (PSALM 90:12, TLB). How should we spend our time? We’re encouraged to make the best use of our time. But what does that really mean? Should we aim to be more productive? Is the goal a better quality of life? Will owning a bigger house, living in a better community, going to a better school lead us to happiness and fulfillment? How should we use our time to have the biggest impact?
Time management is crucial to our effectiveness, regardless of our role (leader, parent, son/daughter, friend, etc.). Time is a limited resource, whenever we devote too much time to any given role or task, we must compensate in other areas of our lives. Conversely, not devoting enough time results in anxiety and can damage our relationships. There are many things that eat away at our time; not all are equally important. Fortunately, Jesus helps us cut through all our demands by prioritizing our relationships; first with God and then each other (Matthew 22:37-38).
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2013), Stephen Covey describes relationships as unique “emotional bank accounts” consisting of deposits and withdrawals. As in any investment, our goal is to create and grow our portfolios, in this case relationship, by making more deposits than withdrawals. We make emotional deposits through acts of kindness and love, and withdrawals through acts of cruelty or betrayal. Deposits increase our capital with others, while transgressions register as withdrawals to our emotional bank accounts. We’re human and will make mistakes; we are more likely to receive grace and forgiveness when our deposits exceed our withdrawals; mainly because over time we have established credibility.
Focusing on emotional deposits begins with recognizing the importance and value of our time. “Time management is important because of the brevity of our lives. Our earthly sojourn is significantly shorter than we are inclined to think. To live as God would have us live, it is essential we make the best possible use of our allotted time (GotQuestions.org). When we value time, we have a greater appreciation for it and are less likely to spend it in pursuit of goals that are not beneficial.
The next step is reflection. Reflection is defined as giving serious and careful thought (Cambridge Dictionary) to something. Through reflection, we conduct an “emotional audit” or self-examination; we examine our thoughts, motives, and behaviors to identify areas in our relationships that need change. The need for reflection is perhaps best described in “Ready Answer” (Forerunner, February 2006):
“Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.” We realize it is unwise to compare ourselves with others (II Corinthians 10:12), but there is no need to compare ourselves with anyone else if we seek God’s help in making the inner secrets of our hearts plain to us through His Spirit! Then, we can work on changing what God reveals that He is concerned about in us.”
We’re now ready to start improving our deposits to our emotional bank accounts. If you knew that you had a limited number of words in your lifetime (say 1 million), how would you use them? Research shows that how we communicate significantly impacts our effectiveness and the quality of our relationships. The Bible (Proverbs 15:4, MSG) tells us:
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.”
Research supports this perspective. The Harvard Business Review (Zenger and Folkman, 2013) studied the impact of negative feedback/criticism and positive feedback/praise. They report the use of a praise-to-criticism ratio can help improve our effectiveness and enhance our relationships. According to the research, the optimum praise-to-criticism ratio is 5.6 to 1; meaning that every criticism should be accompanied by 5.6 praises, feel free to round up to 6. The authors note that negative criticism/feedback “change behavior, certainly, but it doesn’t cause people to put forth their best efforts. Only positive feedback can motivate people to continue doing what they’re doing well, and do it with more vigor, determination, and creativity.”
Does this mean that we shouldn’t offer critique or criticism? No, in fact we are commanded to confront offensive actions or behaviors, but “do so in a gentle way” (Galatians 6:1). Our words shouldn’t “cut and maim”; they should “help and heal”. They should be beneficial to others (Ephesians 4:29, TLB).
During leadership training sessions, I would say that it only takes a minute to either build someone up or tear them down. I would ask leaders, which takes more time giving praise or documenting poor performance. No surprise: they always spent more time documenting poor performance. I believe that answer would be the same if we examined other aspects of our lives. Making the best use of your time, improving your effectiveness, and enhancing our relationships begin with choosing the words you speak. If all else fails, remember the advice given by Thumper, in the Disney Classic Bambi:
“If you can’t say anything nice; Don’t say anything at all.”