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21 Days to a More Disciplined Life: How to Make Time for What’s Important

Tonight we close out the 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life series. It’s been an eventful experience, to say the least. I knew I need to intentionally focus on developing discipline in my own life, but I had no idea how eye-opening and convicting it was going to be for me to spend three weeks blogging about it.

We Always Find Time for What is Important to Us

You see, for years, I’ve come up with excuses for so many deep-rooted bad habits in life. I’ve excused almost always being late and behind as the result of being busy and having so much on my plate. In reality, while I do have a lot on my plate, my lack of being on time and getting things done early is because I habitually procrastinate and don’t prioritize things well.

I don’t plan ahead like I should. I wait until the last minute. I do things that don’t really matter to avoid doing what is most important.

You would think I would know better, since I’m a huge advocate of goal-setting and budgeting when it comes to finances. But after I posted about doing the hardest things first, I realized that this was my main problem. I’m constantly avoiding what I really should do in favor of other “busy” work.

For example, it only takes me 15 minutes per day to keep up with the laundry and yet I’m always behind on it. However, I seem to find time for reading or blogging and eating. And if I looked back on each day, I can guarantee you that there was at least one (or five!) pockets of 15-minutes that I frittered away on something that really didn’t matter. So, in reality, it’s not that I don’t have time to do the laundry, it’s that I’m not making it the priority it should be.

Here are three things that have been tremendously helpful as I’ve been seeking to break my habit of procrastination and have better priorities in my day-to-day life:

1. Do It Now

Instead of spending all day feeling discouraged that I’ve not gotten to the laundry yet, I’ve been trying to just set the timer and get it done now. The same goes for so many other things. Rather than thinking: “I should call so-and-so” or “I need to order such-and-such”, just do it then. Most of the time, it only takes a few minutes (or less!) and then the task is no longer nagging you, taking brain space and energy. Best of all, it’s done!

2. Prioritize My To-Do List

I’m a huge list-maker, but I’ve been prioritizing each item on my to-do list in the last week. And then I’ve been doing my best to strictly adhere to it. I’ve noticed that not only am I getting a lot more done, but I’m getting the most important stuff done first. This means, that if I don’t get to everything on my list (and I pretty much never do in any given day!), I’ve at least tackled the most pressing stuff from the get-go.

3. Plan to Arrive Early

Instead of waiting until the very last possible minute, I’ve been trying to start getting ready to go at least 1.5 hours to 2 hours in advance. I’ll go ahead and get the necessary items laid out by the door, make sure I have everything I need in my purse, and get myself and the children ready early. I’ve yet to arrive any place more than a minute or two early, but we’ve not been more than a few minutes late to any event in the last week, so we are definitely making some headway! (Hmm, maybe I need to start planning to leave 3 hours in advance?!)

Where Do We Go From Here?

Our 21-Day series is over, but hopefully your journey towards more self-discipline is just beginning. I encourage you to go back and re-read through the posts, tackle any of the projects you didn’t get to, and keep challenging yourself to slowly develop habits.

I’ll be writing more on habits in 2012 as I’m planning to choose 12 habits I want to develop, one per month, and blog about my progress each month. In the mean time, I’m planning to finish Getting Things Done and also read The Now Habit in December.

Thanks, again, for joining me in this! Your accountability and cheerleading made such a huge difference for me!

What have you learned from this series? How has it made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear!

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  • Jeanine says:

    I have learned that your “Do it now” advice is absolutely right. Tonight I decided to get ready for tomorrow (pack bag, make coffee) the very first thing after the kids go to bed instead of the very last thing I do before I go to bed. This not only will have me on time tomorrow, but it ensures that I get to bed on time, too!

    Thanks so much for writing this blog. Your encouragement has really helped me.

  • I’ve learned.. that I am not alone!!! It was nice to hear and see that like myself, there are others that struggle with the same issues. I had never really taken the time to notice the things in my life that where keeping me from achieving what I wanted. I had gotten into a HUGE rut, saying yes to everyone, thinking I had to do it all. I was getting a cluttered mind!!! I have learned to prioritize better, which has given me more time with my family and friends. We all have our issues to tackle, but they can be conquered one “issue” at a time. Thanks for the great series, enjoyed reading it.

    • Janet says:

      My Granny always said learn to say yes to three things.
      3 big things like yes, I will try harder to be a great wife
      yes, I will try to be a great Mom, and yes I will try to be a great sister or friend etc…
      After that she said break it down into three yes for each day and you will see if you say yes for a child item, yes for a wife item and maybe yes for a me item you can actually do it all.
      Just remember the rules of 3’s.

  • I am so glad you did this series. While I did not reach my goal of physical exercise everyday, it definitely increased. I’d also already started a goal to blog every day this month and I am SO happy to say I did it! Sometimes we really are like Paul aren’t we? We know what to do but we don’t and we know what NOT to do and we do it!

  • Bonus! My library has “The Now Habit” on the shelf, picking that up tomorrow, thanks for the suggestion.

  • Great post! I look forward to reading the entire series. This past year, we went through a major trial that almost made me lose my mind and did make me lose control of my home. Now that we are on the other side, I am trying to regain control and am going to start with my priorities. I am a new blogger and it has been helpful in healing, but I have already gotten caught up in the trap of social media and blogging. I am going to focus on my calling and what is important first. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Lori says:

    Two tips for getting places on time (I learned these after years of being late, so if someone can learn from me, that’s awesome!):

    1. When you are late, you are not respecting the other person’s time. It’s like saying their time does not matter to you. ~ I heard that somewhere years ago, and it has resonated since then. I teach it to our children now.

    2. Back track. If I need to be there at 1:30, as we did yesterday to our drama production, I backtrack the time in my head: 1:30 arrival, so we’ll leave at 1:00 (20 minute drive and 10 minutes getting in/out car w/ 4 kids), 12:30 we need to be 100% ready, so at 12pm, everyone needs to start getting ready. If something will occur before 10am, we prepare the night before.

    Hope that helps a bit! ~ Lori

    • Kadee says:

      Lori, I could have written your reply! Your #1 is EXACTLY how I feel about being late, and your #2 is how I plan for when we need to get ready and be out the door.

    • Dipty says:

      Thanks Lori for the suggestion. I will remember that.

    • Nicole Z. says:

      Ditto, Lori! :0)

    • Jessi says:

      My biggest mistake is underestimating how long it will take to get my toddler out the door. at first glance its hard to imagine starting to get ready at 12 when you need to be somewhere at 1:30 and it’s only 20 minutes away, but when you have kids you know that’s being realistic!

      I never plan for the 30 minute sit on the potty before we leave…I really need to plan more time and not be frustrated when I can’t get her out the door right away!

      I hate to be late, but it has become a problem for us! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  • Rachel says:

    Wow, this was just what I needed to hear! The sentence that really resonated with me was “I’m constantly avoiding what I really should do in favor of other ‘busy’ work.” if I used the many 15 minute gaps that you mentioned for tackling to dos instead of checking Facebook yet again, I really might get a lot done! Thank you for this series. Definitely something I’ll be coming back to for review :).

  • Kara says:

    I really enjoyed this series and will be going back and re-reading it again and again. I am 37 weeks along and found it very helpful in motivating me to keep up with things around the house. As much as pregnancy can be a great excuse as to why I can’t do as much its just not practical when you have 2 older children and a husband depending on you for meals, clean clothes, and a clean home. This series helped me tackle that sink full of dishes each day with more purpose. It also helped me finally get my just turned 3 year old sleeping in his bed all night long instead of joining us midway through. Now I am going to enjoy these last couple weeks before the baby comes sleeping soundly all night. I will be coming back to the series after the baby comes home for sure! Procrastination is certainly something I struggle with as well and this series is really helping!

  • Lucky says:

    This has been such a great series, thanks! The best part, of course, was finding more discipline in my life at a time of the year when it’s dark outside and easy to just stay in bed or on the couch. I’ve made a lot of headway in a lot of areas.

    The second best part was finding out I’m not alone! I thought I was the only one who struggles to get my face washed before bed!

    I read and listen to podcasts a lot and something I’ve been reading/hearing a lot lately has been to make concrete goals and figure out the steps you need to do in order to get there. Rather than saying I want a raise or I want to be a better mother say I want to attend x training or I want to read to my kids every night. I feel like this challenge has given me the discipline in my life to make space in order to figure out what these goals should be for me and how I’m going to accomplish them. I have high hopes for 2012!

  • su says:

    Congratulations…this series was great. I am a huge list maker too and I enjoy crossing things off as I do them. You are not alone. We all procrastinate about certain things. My “frog” just might not be your “frog”. Here’s our new daily list: 1. Eat the frog! lol

  • chelsea says:

    This has been a really great series! I love the line about finding time for doing other things, like eating, instead of laundry. I was laughing out loud- its so true! I get to eat only after the children’s tummies are full 🙂

  • Dipty says:

    I am also dealing with the problem of not starting early enough to reach on time, especially dropping and picking up my son from school. I barely make it on time, running with my toddler son on hip and getting the older one in his class before the second bell rings. I too spend my time doing things that are not important at the time. Like you said, I too leave the hardest thing last on my to do list. Getting to places on time is my second new habit that I want start. Right now I am focusing on keeping my kitchen counters, stove and sink clean before going to bed and brushing/flossing my teeth at bedtime. Thanks a lot for your inspirational and motivational series.

  • Susan says:

    This series has been wonderful Crystal. Thank you. I’ve picked up a lot of good advice and tips from your posts and also from various comments. I’m looking forward to your 2012 series.

  • Amy R. says:

    This series has been such an encouragement and motivation. I’m pretty sure you were writing about me through most of it: I procrastinate, hate laundry (and housework in general), tend to do the busy work in place of what’s important, and generally have an overall sense that I’m constantly behind the 8 ball. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m practicing the mantra of Do It Now. My house is cleaner, my list is shorter, and I feel a lot less stressed about things.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I posted on my blog about your series, with a link for people to come here. My blog is at

    I think everyone should read these posts. Great job and thanks – I’ll be referring back to this series as I set my goals for 2012.

  • I agree with the “get it done now” mentality. I’ve been telling myself those words to both start the task right then, but also to complete it. For example, I was cleaning up my 3 year old “dumper” child’s room yesterday and I still had not made her clothes switch for winter or cleaned out clothes that were too small. Having done that task, I then had to put it all away in the appropriate bins in the basement. I could have just thrown them in the basement corner for another day (like in the past), but I literally said, “It will only take 5 minutes, then it’s done. Just do it.” Voila! It’s done. Thanks for the intentional motivation around my home to get a few things in a little less than chaotic state.

  • WICK says:

    A great reminder, and a lesson I’ve taken our teens through lately at Church. If something is important, we make time/resources available for it. 🙂

  • I think this may have been my favorite post you wrote in this series. I am constantly on/off the bandwagon of discipline in my daily routine. I am a huge list maker too, and when I fail to plan and make the list and maintain that focus throughout my day I waste probably hours on meaningless things.

    I add things immediately to the list when I think of them. I could possibly have developed adult ADD :). I will find myself just wandering around doing things as I think of them then something else pops into my head and I start that but never finish the first thing. So now, I just add it to my list and continue on the task I’m on.

    • beth b says:

      I can relate to your last point! I have to really watch the Do It Now or I end up running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off! Keeping a running list helps me a lot, especially with internet tasks. For housekeeping tasks Do It Now can be great, like the example above about putting the clothes away, but I have to make sure I don’t get sidetracked and spend way more time than I planned doing “just one more thing”.

      I’ve started setting the timer as much as possible both as a reminder as to how much time is passing and to determine how long tasks really take me. I read that in a Julie Morgenstern book years ago and it’s very helpful.

  • This series has been so helpful, not just in specific habits but in a whole new mindset. Thanks for being so transparent Crystal! I know you see them as shortcomings, but God has used the areas you lack (and I lack, too!) as an encouragement to me and others. It’s easy to see a blogger as having it “all together” but truthfully no one does. You’re just a special kind of blogger that actually lets us see it! 🙂 Thanks again!

  • Pam says:

    Great job!!! Getting up early is a habit I need to work on, but really it falls back to going to bed earlier – if I did that I think the rest would fall into line!

  • Lindsey says:

    These are great tips!!! Thanks for sharing… I always need reminded of ways to get things done.

  • Stephanie says:

    Whenever I have an appointment or somewhere I need to be at a specific time, I add 15 minutes and write that time on my calendar instead. For example, if my next doctor’s appointment is at 12:30, I’ll write down 12:15. By the time the doctor’s appointment comes around, I’ve forgotten I’ve added that extra time and I’ve given myself a cushion. My mother taught me this at a very young age and Because of this advice, I’ve never been late and I’m always there a few minutes early.

  • Monica says:

    Great series, Crystal! As a mom of older children, I’ve learned through the years to add 5 minutes per child to the get out of the door time. Something usually gets lost or someone isn’t ready, so this brings peace to my mind to have an extra time bubble. We still need it.

    Also, I’ve become a “bag lady” to keep like things together such as library books, Bibles and study books, piano teacher books ( lots of stuff to bring), and items that go with my errands. I have a friend that packed the diaper bag for each outing….while I never did that, I thought it was a good mindset because she did it early, when she had time, peace and quiet. I try to pack the bags when I think of things to bring and store some things there, so I can get as much as possible off of my brain. The bags also help to not have my clean brained family members put items away when I have set them aside to bring somewhere. Ahh, now I can think on my real life!

  • Anna says:

    Thank you for this interesting and useful series. I lost my discipline this week after the long weekend and when I lose my discipline my routine for kids goes out the window and I spend extra money when I should not. I had to stay up late but I sat down wrote a to do list and got started on the list immediately last night. Today I am tired but more disciplined and back into my routine again. Tonight I go to bed early. In the past I would have taken much longer to get my discipline back!!!

  • Merrilee says:

    Wow. Your comments regarding the laundry and procrastination are ringing in my ears. So true. I don’t seem to have a problem sitting down for 10-15-30 minutes to read/comment on a blog, but tackling that pile of items to be taken to goodwill or planning a menu and clipping coupons always get pushed aside. I’ve noticed of myself that activities that garner some kind of personal reward/recognition are easier for me to do than those mundane, unnoticed tasks. But I’ve also learned (or have been reminded of what I already know ) that my life is in general more enjoyable when I get those thankless, mundane tasks done and our home is running smoothly. So a smoothly functioning household is a reward in itself, even though I sometimes am convinced I’d be happier to be rewarded with cash or chocolate or the admiration of perfect strangers online. Such is my sinful nature. Thanks for this series. It’s been helpful for me to think about these issues, and encouraging to know that even you struggle with the same things I do sometimes. May God give us the strength and courage to change those areas of our lives that need to be yielded to Him!

  • Mary Jo says:

    Having a prioritized to-do list helps me tremendously. Thanks for the reminder! It’s a habit I need to get back into.

  • Missy G. says:

    I just want to thank you so much for this series. It could not have come at a better time. Also, I’m excited that you are choosing one habit a month next year to work on, as I was planning to do the same. It will be great to have inspiration and motivation through the process! Thank you so much for all that you do, Crystal! 🙂

    Do you have plans to convert this series into an e-book?

  • Crystal says:

    I have worked really hard to make time to do my crafts. I have done something crafty almost everyday. This may seem silly to some of you for this to be my goal,but for me it is a huge stress reliever! It helps me to be a better mom and wife. I even managed to get my Etsy store back open, which has been a goal of mine for a long time!

  • Kelly says:

    I must admit the hardest thing for me to make time for is school. I can make plenty of time for playing with my daughter and playing around on the computer (like I’m doing right now >.<) . But squeezing in schoolwork is hard. I'm taking online classes right now, unless I right something down, I only get reminders when I'm on the computer. I've tried writing down assignments I want to get done in a planner, so far I've kept that up for a day or two and then I lose my planner. It seems to work with a planner for a while but I just have a hard time consistently writing in my planner.

  • Teresa Cupit says:

    I have loved the Daily Docket you provided and have been implementing that this week. It has really helped focus me on the things that need to get done, as well as tracking my water intake and exercise. Love it! I keep a longer list in a separate notebook of the overall “to do” items but the docket keeps me on target for what needs to get done each day. I recently read that any daily “to do” list should have no more than 7 things on it because we aren’t capable of doing any more than that in a day. Combining that principle with the Daily Docket has been very effective for me! (If long-term items come to mind during the day, I jot them on the bottom of the docket to add to the “master” to do list.)

    Thank you so much for doing this series! I have just been introduced to your blog and have really been blessed by this and so much of your material. Can’t wait to get your new book! 🙂

  • Tina Griffin says:

    I would really love to print out all of your 21 days to a more organized life series but can’t figure out how to do it. Do you have a link or something where I can just print the info without all of the ads, etc.?


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