Different people prioritize different things.1 To a large degree, that’s a good thing.

It means that different people act in different ways. It means that whole swaths of things happen that wouldn’t if everyone only ever prioritized the same things (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–31).

But to put it mildly, the world doesn’t always work as it should. Sometimes, that means other people will have (or you will find reason to think they have) different expectations for what you should prioritize.

These real or suspected differences in expectations about where you should be spending your time can then easily result in social pressure.

And that social pressure is there ready to serve up a healthy portion of guilt and shame if your time budget differs from the norm it decrees.2

1. You will prioritize.

If you don’t create a budget for your finances, someone else will.

That “someone else” might be the group that designed the impulse buy area at a favorite brick-and-mortar retailer. Or it might be the marketing department that put together that advertisement campaign for that slick technology company.

The point is culture constantly suggests mutually exclusive options about where you should spend your money.

The same is true with your time. As Greg McKeown has rightly observed,

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.3

The only trouble is that “someone else’s” values might not be yours.

The “someone else” might think you should spend your time one way. Or you might at least think they think that.

But if you haven’t budgeted your time to decide what you think you need to prioritize, you won’t know whether going with the flow helps or hurts your values.

And if you don’t know what helps or hurts, there’s a good chance you may get pulled along in the wake of the social pressure coming at you from “someone else.”

2. You will give an account.

On the other hand, on the last day, none of us will be able to pass the buck to “someone else.” We’ll each be held accountable for the choices we ourselves have made (cf. Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10).

Those choices will include how we decided to spend our time—whether those decisions have been intentional or by default.4

So the real question is not “How can I avoid running counter to the social pressure headed my way?”

But even assuming that it is headed your way, the question is, in the end, “Who would you rather disappoint?”

If “someone else’s” values are different from what you’re convinced yours should be, let that “someone else” be more disappointed.

Let yourself, instead, be more likely to hear that the judge thinks you’ve done well (cf. Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

Conclusion

If you’re at all connected to other people, they’ll make requests, present needs, and show opportunities to you for things you can do with the time you have.

When it’s the right thing to do, saying “yes” to helping (and following through!) is an excellent and commendable way of showing kindness, among other things.

And if you’ve put the work in to budget your time, you’ll have a better sense of when saying “yes” is, in fact, the right thing for you to do.

On the other hand, saying “no” to a commitment might be less comfortable in the moment.

But that “no” might be what’s necessary for you to devote yourself to something more important. And when it is, it’s also a necessary exercise of self-discipline, among other things.

It’s a delicate balancing act. But when last I checked, both kindness and self-discipline were fruits of the same Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).

And if you carefully work through how you need to prioritize your time, you’ll have a much better idea of how you should be exercising both your “yes” and your “no.”


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 10. 

  4. For related discussion, see McKeown, Essentialism, 33–40, 49–62; Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, expanded ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). 

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