My essays about healthy relationships with God, others, & yourself.

Category: Personal Reflections (Page 1 of 10)

These are the things God has been teaching me.

Two of my favorite words

Communication is an essential ingredient to healthy relationships.  Today, I want to share two powerful words I added to my vocabulary decades ago that have kept my relationships healthy.  I hope these two words will help you too.

But first, one word NOT to use.

When we use the word why with others it almost always backfires, resulting, not in connection, but rather in defensiveness, pushback, and negative interactions.

  • Billy, why are you always so disrespectful to me?
  • Sally, why can’t you leave your brother alone?
  • Jake, why do you refuse to come right home after work?

There are at least two reasons to avoid why:

  • We often use why as an attack and not as an honest question.  You can see this in the illustrations above.  We might not be asking a real question–which is disingenuous–but instead might be declaring our conclusions, having already made assumptions about what’s going on.
  • For many of us, the word why is a “trigger word,” instantly making us feel we are under interrogation.   Interrogation puts us in fight-or-flight mode and naturally makes us defensive.  Why makes us feel like we’re on trial and being in the courtroom makes us anxious about being punished.  And we’ll do just about anything to avoid punishment.

To avoid creating such a scenario, I suggest replacing why with two powerful words that I learned decades ago:  observe and curious.    Here’s how they would have worked in the above illustrations.

  • Billy, I’ve observed you rolling your eyes and heaving a heavy sigh whenever I ask you to help around the house.  I’m curious, what is it about my request that is causing you to react in that way.
  • Sally, I’ve observed that when your brother comes into the room you often say unkind things to him until he cries and runs out of the room.  I’m interested to know what is causing you to treat him that way.
  • Jake, I’ve noticed that you’ve been coming home later and later.  I’m curious to understand what might be making you so slow about coming home after work.

Think of the significant and meaningful conversations that would inevitably result from each of those three scripts.

Observe and curious (or their equivalents) are not words of interrogation, they’re words of understanding; they take us to the classroom, not the courtroom.  When someone notices me and is curious about what’s going on with me I feel honored, not threatened.

OBSERVE simply states the facts we’ve perceived (without judgment).

CURIOUS  shows our interest in understanding the other person.

Avoiding why and using these other words forces us to be honoring rather than suspicious.  We’re suspending judgment, giving benefit of the doubt, gathering perspective, and demonstrating teachability.  It shows that we’re interested in knowing the other person more than accusing them, condemning them, shaming them, or manipulating them.  These words force us to delay judgment until after we’ve gained understanding first.  They help build relational bridges of connection rather than walls of opposition.

In short, your life will be changed by replacing why with observe and curious.

Do I observe some skepticism about that?  I’m curious to know what would prevent you from trying!


[Note: in case you’re curious, this is a revision of a post I wrote back in 2007, and I’m as committed as ever to these powerful words!]

Why I ran 60 miles on my 60th birthday.

This past Monday was my 60th birthday, and as is my custom for milestone birthdays, I decided to run my age while raising money for a good cause!

Thanks to everyone who cheered me on during the day and to the crowd who came to see me run my final mile.  It was a special treat to have my daughter Brenda and grandson Jimmy there at the end (see picture).  They came all the way from Africa!

The iGYM was kind enough to host this birthday run of mine.  (I’ve been a satisfied member there for seven years).  I ran 5 miles on each of their 12 sturdy treadmills, totaling 60.   I started at 4 am and God graciously gave me the strength to finish 15 hours later,  just after 7 pm.  I logged a total of 100,011 steps that day!

But it wasn’t easy.  There were moments during the run when I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish.  At about mile 50 I was so weak and sore that I feared I couldn’t run another mile.  The day after, Tuesday, I was so sore and swollen I could hardly move!  Today (Wednesday) I’m still rather sore and it’s clear I’m going to lose at least one toenail.  Ouch!!

So was it worth it?

Absolutely!  I did all this because I want to raise donations for a new non-profit in the Cedar Rapids area called CareNetworkCR.

What is CareNetworkCR?  It’s a ministry that makes churches more effective by networking them together to care for the needs of our community.  We serve as a hub, connecting people with legitimate needs to area churches that are best equipped to meet those needs–materially, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

The CareNetwork ascertains the real needs of people and presents suitable churches with care plans that are verified, manageable, and unduplicated.  Our motto perfectly describes what we do:  Helping churches help people.

I’m so passionate about what the CareNetwork does that I joined the board and then they selected me to be their chairman!

At the end of this post, I’ll link to an interview I did where I describe how I first saw the need for this over 30 years ago (half of my lifetime)!

How did the Fundraiser do?

My goal was to raise $6,000 for the CareNetwork, which would be the equivalent of $100 for every mile I ran.  As of today (Wed), we’ve raised $5,325.90, which is about 89% of the total.  I’m hoping readers of my blog will want to pitch in and help bring the total over my goal.

How can you donate?

Either go to our our website at or visit our Facebook page, where you can also learn more about this important new ministry.

Thanks to those of you who already have donated, or who will support us in this great effort!



As promised, here’s the video interview I did where I describe how I first saw the need for this type of ministry over 30 years ago.

Something Special for Mark

Our life improved when we got rid of the paper grocery list on our refrigerator and instead started sharing an online *Google Doc that we always can access from our phones.  That way, when either of us might happen to be near a store, we’ll know what current things could be picked up there.  On one simple page, we have running lists for things to get at Aldi, Walmart, Hy-Vee, the Dollar Tree, Menards, etc.  Once purchased, we delete the items so the other spouse knows the items were obtained.

This has been such a blessing, preventing us from 1) being in a store trying to remember what it was that we had written down and 2) keeping us from each buying the same thing unknowingly.

One day, just as a joke, I wrote “Something Special for Mark” on the Aldi section of the list.  Always good at following directions, Cindy added to her 25-cent “rented”  cart some little treat she knew I’d enjoy.  Even though it was intended as a joke, I was surprised at how much her thoughtfulness meant to me

And I noticed something else.  Unlike the other items purchased that day, Cindy hadn’t deleted my joke from the shopping list.  Almost automatically, I quickly added “Something Special for Cindy” on the list.   And now, months later, those are the only two items that perpetually remain on our shopping list.  Now, when either of us goes to the store, we instinctively look for something thoughtful that we know the other would enjoy.

It’s just a small thing, but it makes a big difference.   A little thoughtfulness goes a long way!  I recommend you put a surprise for your spouse on your shopping list!


(*I’m sure there are shopping list apps that do the same thing as our Google Doc without having to type and erase so much.  If you have any recommendations, please put them in the comments!)

…and shockingly, I’m also Beloved.

In my last post, I made the statement that at my core I am fundamentally flawed, a vile sinner, a wretch, even an addict.

Today, I’m going to make the exact opposite claim–that I am Beloved–precious, set apart, cherished, spotless–a Saint.

Sinner and Saint.  Addict and Beloved.  I’m a contradiction of terms!

I’m not the only one to observe this seeming contradiction.  Martin Luther used this Latin term to describe Christians:  “simul justus et peccator,” one who is simultaneously just (righteous) and a sinner.   This is possible only through a concept called the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

R.C. Sproul explained it like this.

When God looks at [the Christian], He sees the merit of Christ. He has covered your nakedness. He has clothed you with the righteousness of Jesus. So that the moment you have faith, the righteousness of Christ is transferred to your account. And you are at one and the same time just…or righteous by Christ’s righteousness. But what else are you? You’re still a sinner. Christians still sin.

Before further unpacking these seemingly contradicting identities of the Christian, I need to explain two contrasting attributes of God: His Justice and Love…

  1. I have no problem with the doctrine of the Justice of God.  I would expect a Holy, Righteous God to display judgment toward every puny creature who insults His Holiness, just as I would have no qualms if you swatted a mosquito who offended you. 
  2. I find the wrath of God to be a very logical and rational belief.   The thing I find illogical is God’s Love
  3. Shockingly, God delights in loving His creation, even those who have insulted Him.  It’s easy to love the lovely, but love is most profound when it is applied to those who deserve it least, e.g., loving one’s enemies.  Such love for the unlovely is unexpected, counterintuitive, sensational, rare, and unnatural–indeed, God’s agape love is a supernatural kind of love.  I write about it a lot!  
  4. The obstacle is that our Just God can’t have a Love relationship with sinners until the sin barrier is removed. 
  5. This dilemma is solved in Christianity’s Gospel (i.e., “the good news”) message,  in which God sends Jesus to die on our behalf, satisfying the wrath of God required by his Justice and transferring to us the righteousness of Christ which enables us to experience His Love.

Back to our identity.  What I appreciate about Christianity is that I can readily admit what I know to be true–that I’m an imperfect, floundering,  undeserving, wretched sinner.  And yet–here’s the surprise–I’m loved anyway!  Despite me!  I deserve the wrath of His Justice, but Jesus took care of that so I can experience His Love, i.e., the riches of his kindness and grace!  Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  All that’s required is faith.

A Sinner and a Saint!  A Christian mustn’t give up either of these labels.

  • If we view ourselves as Wretches-only, we will be self-loathing, living in a shame-based belief system where we are constantly being scorned for our deficiencies, never good enough, and never able to gain God’s approval–as if Jesus didn’t do enough.  Sadly, some people live this way–missing God’s grace, mercy, abundance, and joy.  They deny his Love.
  • However, if we view ourselves as Beloved-only, we ignore the reality of our sinfulness.  Such Christians view themselves as wonderfully awesome–as if God were lucky to have them on His team.  Their puffed-up pride puts them in the place of God, presumptuously expecting God to grant them whatever favors they demand from Him.  They deny his Justice.

It’s only through understanding that we are Wretched, Yet Loved Anyway, that we can live with a right view of His deity and our humanity.

So I’m ok living in contradiction with the terms Sinner/Saint or Wretched/Beloved.  On this side of heaven, I will struggle with sin, but even so, He continuously treats me as His Beloved.  He sees me as I am in Christ and as I will fully be one day, clothed with his righteousness.  And that makes me exceedingly and humbly grateful!

And it makes me want to be a little less wretched, loving Him back, not out of guilt, penance, or obligation, but solely out of profound, humble, gratitude.

I’m Mark and I’m an addict…

I went to my first NA meeting a couple of days ago.   NA stands for Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program for those addicted to drugs.   The meeting opened with everyone introducing themselves around the circle, stating their name, followed by the words, “…and I’m an addict.”  In unison, the group members matter-of-factly responded, “Hi so-and-so.”

I was at this meeting because some of my counseling clients had suggested it would be good for me to see firsthand the value of groups like this as support systems for struggling people.  Unsurprisingly, I was the only one who said, “I’m not an addict,” when it was my turn.

That they were so quick to call themselves addicts was unsettling to me as I’ve always balked at labels like “addict.”  I would have rather they said, “I struggle with addiction,” (focusing on their behaviors) rather than calling themselves an “addict” (which speaks to their identity.)

But I’m starting to rethink my view on this.  Although many of them had been clean for a decade or more, these were people who had a clear understanding of their vulnerabilities and potential for relapse and were not afraid to admit their inherent weaknesses.  There was a palpable sense of humility in the room.  There was no judgment here; only knowing looks that communicated, “We’ve all been there, buddy.”  This was a group of flawed people who identified as such.  There was no pride, no condescension, no raised eyebrows.  In this room, everyone was on an equal plane.   Except me.   I wasn’t an addict.   Or so I thought.

But now after a couple of days of reflection, I realize that those precious people were on to something.  They had a more accurate view of their own nature than I did.  Because–truth be told–I am an addict too.

No, I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol or porn or sex or any of the standard vices we think of when we think of addiction.  But I am addicted to sin in its various forms.  I’m addicted to pride, ego, comfort, attention, acceptance, accomplishments, gluttony, extremeness, efficiency, productivity, and recognition.  In short, I’m addicted to myself.   Being a sinner is my identity; I’m not merely behaviorally challenged.

I’m so glad that my new NA friends helped me see that I’m also an addict.  I’m always at risk of acting out of my sinful nature; indeed, relapse is always a potential with me.  And, like my fellow addicts, I realize that my sin struggle will be lifelong, persisting until heaven.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”             

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

In this parable, Jesus points out that God forgives the one who humbly identified himself as a vile sinner, but not the “good” Pharisee, who merely focused on his proud behavior management.   My NA experience was like being in a room of humble, broken, tax collectors.

A final lesson learned from the addicts was that there is no chance of improvement on our own.  A foundational principle of NA, AA, or any 12-step program is that avoiding relapses requires the help of one’s “higher power.”

In my next post, I’ll explain my belief that the God of Christianity provides the only real solution for our sinful addiction to self.

People are just like Silly Putty

I loved playing with Silly Putty as a kid.  Its consistency is so strange that it seems to originate from another planet.  It’s so unnatural–sometimes it acts like a solid and other times a *liquid.  I still find Silly Putty so amazing that I even keep a container of it in my counseling office!  Partly to play with, but mostly to demonstrate to my clients how people are just like Silly Putty.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become SOLID.

If you take Silly putty and roll it into a ball, you can throw it on the ground and it will bounce back up, just like a superball.  In fact, the harder you throw it, the resistance increases, causing a bigger bounce. Amazingly, no matter how hard you throw it, it doesn’t change its shape at all!  It stays exactly the same.

People are just like this–I know I am.  If you treat me roughly, I will instinctively resist you.  Abrasiveness, criticism, and confrontation don’t produce growth, but instead put us on the defensive.  When we feel attacked, our brains immediately go into “fight-or-flight mode with self-protection as our natural response.  We don’t learn, change, or grow when approached with harshness, shame, or blame.

How to make Silly Putty — and People — become LIQUID.

In contrast, if you are gentle with Silly Putty, it behaves like a liquid.  If you lightly press and ever-so-gently tug it, it soon becomes so pliable that it almost runs.

People are just like this.  If you want to help people change, adapt, grow, or understand your concerns, you have to be gentle with them.

Proverbs 15:1   A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Galatians 6:1   …if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…

Scripture asserts that tenderness is the path to great transformative power.  And it’s not only true, but it works!  In my counseling office, I’ve seen firsthand, that gentleness is the pathway to genuine, lasting change.

So if we desire to be influential in helping people change for the better, let’s approach that task with great gentleness.

*Silly Putty, according to Wikipedia contains viscoelastic liquid silicones, a type of non-Newtonian fluid, which makes it act as a viscous liquid over a long time period but as an elastic solid over a short time period.

Complaining more may improve your relationships

My in-laws will never forget the day–years ago–when I suddenly stood up after a big family gathering and declared to everyone, “You people do something I don’t like!”  Even I was shocked that I had said such a thing!  We had just finished our meal and I had been unexpectedly triggered by something.  There was no going back now, so  I continued my complaint, “I don’t like it when you Hooblers stack the dirty plates after a meal because then I have to wash both sides of every plate!  That causes me extra work, which I don’t like!”

We had the Hooblers over for dinner again today, and, as they were handing me their plates one at a time, they once again recalled my dramatic outburst that day so long ago.  We laugh about it every time!

Complaining improved my relationship with my in-laws!

But what if I had used Criticism instead of a Complaint?  Aren’t they about the same?  Not at all.  I find it helpful to make a clear distinction between Complaints and Criticisms.

Complaints are honest expressions of things we wish were different.  They primarily utilize “I” statements and their intent is simply to create awareness about what would improve things for me.  The focus is education.

Criticisms, in contrast, are harsh judgments of a person’s character.  They primarily contain “you” statements and they often utilize excessive negativity, sarcasm, and loaded questions.  Their intent is character assassination, revenge, and vindication/victimization.  Criticisms point out a person’s faults, make assumptions about motives, and frequently use the words “always” and “never.”   They often resort to blaming and shaming, finger-pointing, and scapegoating

What if I had utilized Criticism instead of Complaint at the dinner table with the Hooblers?  Imagine what different result would have occurred had I had suddenly stood up after dinner and said this:

“You people really love making my life harder, don’t you?  You’re always trying to make more work for me and you don’t even care about the fact that now I’m going to have to put in twice as much work to clean up your messes.  You never think about anyone but yourselves do you?”  Well, I’m sick and tired of you coming over here and treating me like your slave. ”

I can guarantee there would have been no laughter today had I approached them back then with harsh Criticism.  Hurt and emotional distance? Likely.  Laughter?  Not a chance.

To be fair, it’s worth noting that as far as the dishes go, using either a Complaint or a Criticism will likely produce the same result.  A Complaint would sensitize relatives on how they can be a blessing to the host.   A Criticism might keep in-laws from ever coming over for dinner again!

[Side note.  If Criticism has been the pattern in your relationship, it’s likely that your genuine Complaint may be interpreted as a Criticism.  This is because you have conditioned the other person to brace for impact.   In that case, you will have to add extra sweetness to your Complaint to make your motives clear and to avoid misinterpretation.  You’ll need to go out of your way to include positivity, prior to your Complaint, saying: “I love you so much and I want to share something with you that I think will help us get closer.”]

Finally, there is a third option when frustrations arise:  Concealing our feelings.

Like Criticism, Concealing feelings is another poor option.  Stuffing our feelings and pretending we’re not bothered by something may seem charitable, but it’s also dishonest;  it denies reality and erodes transparency.   Wearing masks brings neither closeness nor connection.  It is much better to disclose our true feelings, which demonstrates self-respect as well as respect for others–those we care about deserve to know how their actions affect us!

So let’s neither Conceal our frustrations nor Criticize others.  Instead, let’s  Complain more for healthier relationships!

I credit learning the difference between a Complaint and a Criticism from a book by Dr. John Gottman, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” an excellent marriage book that I recommend for couples.   How we speak to each other makes a world of difference if we want to have healthy relationships.  

Something even better than Better-Than-Sex-Cake

I still remember where I was when I first heard about Better-Than-Sex-Cake.   I was in my late 20s at my mom’s aunt’s house in New Jersey.  The description of this dessert left an impression on me that remains–almost thirty years later!  My great aunts’ portrayal of the coveted confection literally made me drool:  rich chocolate cake, drizzled with gooey caramel, chocolate-covered toffee, and topped with frozen whipped cream.

Now to be honest, I’ve never actually tasted Better-Than-Sex-Cake, but from everything I’ve heard, it must certainly qualify as the best delicacy on the planet!

Recently I’ve been pondering: what if there was something in the universe even more delightful than Better-Than-Sex-Cake?   That would be amazing wouldn’t it!   Wouldn’t you want that?

I sure would.   And I believe I know what it is.   C.S. Lewis points us to it…

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Lewis asserts that there exists something infinitely better than mud pies or chocolate cakes.  This “infinite joy” that he talks about is nothing but God Himself!  What if we were to experience a delight in God that surpasses all earthly delights?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  The Bible describes the Creator of the universe as One who wants to delight those who trust in Him.  Psalm 37:4 says,  “Delight yourself in the Lord, And He will give you the desires of your heart.”   Is God really delightful?  Many people live as if He is not.

It occurs to me that God is the One who created the pleasure sensors in our brains and the neural pathways that allow us to experience pleasure through our five senses.  He also created all the pleasures themselves, including the ingredients for Better-Than-Sex-Cake, not to mention the activity that inspired the cake’s name.  Wouldn’t it make sense that the Creator of these earthly delights is more desirable than all of them combined?  The Giver of gifts is greater than the gifts themselves.

Thinking about this reminds me how much I need to improve in finding pleasure in God.  To those like me who trust in Him, He offers unconditional love, kindness, forgiveness, patience, peace, and purpose. He gives me meaning in this life and hopeful assurance for the life to come.  He treats me quite the opposite of what I deserve.  What could be more desirable than that?  I find, like C.S. Lewis, that I have been far too easily pleased.

Time spent with Him through His Word and through prayer should become more delightful to my soul than any earthly pleasure.  Relishing God Himself ought to literally be the highlight of my day–every day.

And if it’s not the highlight of my day–which I’m ashamed to admit is most days–that means that this is something I really need to work on!

Scrapping the Honey-Do List

Recently I did something that has made my life much more enjoyable.  I scrapped Cindy’s Honey-Do List–permanently!   Since getting rid of it, my life has improved considerably.

For you singles reading this who may someday get married, let me explain what I’m talking about.  A Honey-Do List is a list that your spouse will make for you and leave in a prominent place for you to see.

Usually, the list will contain household projects or chores that you won’t care about whatsoever (otherwise you would have already done those things and there would be no need for a list.)   To you, most of the things on your list will seem needless, irrational, frivolous, or a waste of time and energy.   Your spouse has likely gotten tired of nagging you about these things and is hoping that putting them in list form will motivate you to action.  This will rarely occur.   And if you ever do accomplish the projects on your list, you will likely do them with much grumbling and eye-rolling.

Except for the nagging part (Cindy doesn’t nag), that’s how it’s been with me for the past 37 years of marriage.  That changed a few months ago when I discovered an easy way to scrap Cindy’s Honey-Do List and be free from its burdens.   Why didn’t I think of this sooner!

Before I scrapped them, Cindy’s Honey-Do Lists would often contain things that I considered to be a total waste of time.  Things like:

  • Paint the deck where the old paint is peeling.
  • Rake the unsightly leaves from the yard.
  • Put covers over the air conditioner unit and grill.
  • Shovel the 8 inches of snow off the driveway so the ladies’ group can get to our front door.
  • Unreasonable stuff like that

As you can see, pretty much everything on Cindy’s list was totally ridiculous.  Surely,  you can sympathize with my reluctance to comply with such frivolous tasks and can understand my incessant eye-rolling about such matters!

So how did I shake free from this oppression?  Let me tell you the story.

Late last fall another ridiculous item appeared on Cindy’s Honey-Do List–Check the gutters for leaves.   In Cindy’s “irrational” way of thinking, leaves could blow on the roof, get washed into the gutters, and clog the gutters, causing water to stop flowing down the gutters, turning to ice in the gutters, causing ice dams to form, causing water to leak through the shingles and into our house, causing untold damage and destruction.  As I said, ridiculous!

As usual, I protested in my head, appealing to logic and common sense as my reason to resist.  The tree in the front doesn’t have that many leaves and it doesn’t even hang over the roof.  We’ve never had ice dam problems in the 33 years we’ve lived here.  The risk of me falling off a ladder far surpasses the risk of having our house destroyed by a theoretical ice dam.   It’s cold outside.  And on and on my mind went, looking for any way to opt-out.

And that’s the moment when I had my epiphany about completely scrapping Cindy’s Honey-Do List.

This profound thought hit me.  What if reframed Cindy’s list from…

Things That Need to Be Done  (which, of course, we will disagree on and which I will stubbornly resist)

and instead, think of it as a list of…

Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy  (which no one can disagree with and which I actually find motivating)

This new viewpoint literally made a world of difference for my attitude.  I literally rushed to the garage, grabbed the ladder, set up the ladder, climbed the ladder (putting my life at risk by the way), and looked up and down the gutters (confirming my prediction that there were no leaves).  And then I climbed down and put the ladder away, and rushed inside to announce to Cindy, “Honey, you’ll be so relieved to know that there are no leaves in the gutter to be concerned about.”

Loved wife.  Big kiss.   Happy home.

What made the difference?  When I looked at her list as a list of things that need doing, it was hard to avoid questioning whether those things were actually needed or not.  It caused contention about who’s opinion was more correct and whether the things were truly needed.  It set us up for a tug of war battle.   But when I looked her list as being  measurable ways to show her love everything changed.  It was akin to identifying Cindy’s extra love languages.

Ever since that day, we’ve scrapped the Honey-Do List at our house.  The new list is on my dining room table as I write this.   At the top, it reads:  “List of Things That Would Mean A Lot To Cindy.”   I think I’ll quit blogging now and go find something to check off!

How to decide what to do next.

(note:  I originally posted this in 2018, but wanted to post it again because this tool continues to be a help to me and my clients who are working on better self-management.)

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”   (Eph 5:15-16 ESV)

I want to share a free app that I have found to be extremely useful in helping me “make the best use of my time” as I manage my own life.  It’s called WhatsNext? by the Corporate Coach Group.

I don’t usually promote products, and I’m not getting a commission, but this app has helped me so much that I want to pass this resource along!

Most “task manager” and “to do list” apps have you assign a priority level to each task (high, medium, low, etc.)  That’s a start, but it doesn’t really help you prioritize which of your “high” level ones to do first.  If there are 10 things in your “high priority” list, how do you decide in which order they should be done?  Funnest first?  Most difficult first?  The ones that would make God, or my boss, or my wife the happiest?

This app solves this problem of real-time decision-making, and makes it easy to determine which–of all the things that I could do today–should I do first, then second, third, etc.  It’s not designed for long range strategic planning or for managing all the tasks that could be done, but it works perfectly in making decisions about the handful of things I could do today.

To use the app, you simply plug in the five or eight or ten things you could do today.  Pressing the “prioritize” button then brings them up two at a time and compares each one with each of the others.  So instead of looking at 12 things and saying, “where do I start?” you simply compare two and say, “If I had only time to do one of these two things, which one would I want to have accomplished at the end of the day?  In other words, which task is most important for me to do–today?

When finished comparing all the possible combinations, the app gives you a list of all your tasks in order, so you simply begin working on #1, then #2, etc. You don’t have to give it any more thought!  And if you don’t have time to finish them all, no problem!  You did the most important things first, so you can sleep well, knowing you did the most important things with the time you had.

The app allows you to save multiple lists, such as “Things I could do on my day off” or “Home improvement projects I could do.”   And for adding tasks on the fly you can either insert them one-at-a-time into a previously prioritized list or you can run the program again.

The lists can even be backed up to the web and can be emailed too!

Here’s the link if you want to give it a try.


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