Intentional Living

Intentional living is talked about so much these days that it has become a cliché. It certainly sounds good to be committed to living your life intentionally. Who could argue that being reactionary is better than being intentional? Yet most of us spend our hours reacting to the seemingly urgent chaos each day throws our way. Many go into work with little or no plan for the day, much less plans for the month or year. Beyond work, we give little thought to the direction of the rest of our hours or the direction our family is headed.

The difficulty comes when life throws so much “stuff” at us that we cannot imagine how to live intentionally; we are too busy “putting out fires”. It would be nice if life would slow down, let us catch our breath and get ahead of the game, but this never seems to happen.

Therefore, the question remains: how do we begin to shift the balance between the reactionary life we live and the intentional life we desire?

I love the illustration of the teacher filling a bucket with rocks in front of his class. He begins by filling the bucket with three large stones and asks the class if the bucket is full. They reply yes. He then pours in another bucket full of small pebbles. Again, he asks his class if the bucket is full. Feeling tricked, they now concede that the bucket is full. Then he reaches under the table and pulls out a pail full of sand and pours it in the crevices between the pebbles. He asks again, “Is the bucket full?” The students are now on to his game and hesitate. Next, he pulls out a pitcher of water and pours it into the bucket. Finally, he asks his students the moral of his illustration. They respond, “It’s amazing how much can really fit in a bucket.” “No,” he says, “the moral is that the large rocks, the most important rocks, would have never fit in the bucket if they hadn’t gone in first.”

And so it is with living intentionally. Living intentionally must become the first priority, the largest rock. When we put the large rock of intentionality into our days first, we are then surprised to find out how much can actually still fit in the days.

So, how do we practically put this into practice?

Prioritize time for reflection.

Reflection is the father of intentionality. We need space to be able to discern what we “intentionally” want to do, and this requires time to think. Each day and week ought to start out with a clear plan. If life is too crazy for that to work, step back and look at the month and figure out how to get out in front of the craziness.

Schedule time to think and plan at the beginning of each day.

In fact, consider this planning time your pre-day, almost like brushing your teeth. Once you have a plan that specifies your priorities, you are in a better position to live intentionally.

Have only a few priorities.

When we list twenty things to do, we inevitably have to spend energy throughout the day deciding what comes next. This gives us room to rationalize procrastination, especially regarding the hard or unpleasant things to do. When we list no more than three priorities, we are forced to focus on those few priorities as the day begins to get crazy.

Regularly step back and look out.

We cannot plan our days well unless we know where we want our weeks, our months and even our year to go. In fact, I encourage people to dream out twenty years. As Stephen Convey encourages, “Begin with the end in mind.” If we have a sense – even if it is not crystal clear – of where we are headed, the planning of the day becomes much easier and more productive.

Start small.

Begin tomorrow morning with twenty minutes to think about your day and what you want it to be like. Write it down, and then do your best to work through your plan. Continue doing this for one week, and see if things don’t begin to look up. Then create a system to make sure that every day begins with reflection until reflection becomes your life habit. Watch and see what happens when we put the huge rock of intentionality into our buckets before anything else.

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