Dealing with the Fear of Organization and To-Do Lists – Episode 13

Duration 20:44

A listener Emailed me a question about feeling a sense of dread and overwhelm whenever he started trying to get organized.

The obligations were so many. The tasks were piled high. The stress was mind-numbing.

He sensed that there were spiritual issues lurking in the background – so how could he pray and meditate on scriptures to effectively overcome this?

In this episode, we take a look at how the seriousness of our sin and the power of the gospel mean that we’re given certain promises when we face overwhelming stress and nervous feelings as we try to be productive, to get organized, and to steward our time well.

Feel free to add to the discussion below the transcript:

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski (Creative Commons)

Full Transcript

Welcome to the Life of a Steward Podcast. From Biblical instruction to systems and tips to motivation and inspiration, we look at time management from a Christian perspective. We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.

In this episode, we’ll answer a listener question about a feeling of dread and overwhelming stress that comes when thinking about getting organized and writing all of your tasks down. We’ll look at the spiritual side of this issue as well as an often overlooked practical tip.

Thanks for Sharing

Hello. This is Loren Pinilis from Life of a And welcome to another episode of the Life of a Steward Christian Time Management podcast.

I apologize if my voice sounds a little off today. My kids recently had colds and although they don’t like to share their toys, they apparently don’t mind sharing germs.

And as a corny segue – speaking of sharing, my hope and my prayer is that this podcast and everything from Life of a Steward would be used by God to minister to you. And if there’s anyone you think would benefit from that, then please share this with them. Whether that’s sharing over facebook or twitter – or Emailing friends – or whether it’s just mentioning Life of a Steward in a face to face conversation with a friend who’s struggling with a particular issue.

The highest compliment you could give me is to share this material, and I’m humbled and grateful for you participating with me in that endeavor. Thank you.

Fire Your Questions at Me

I wanted to tackle a listener question I received recently. But before I get to that – I do want to say if you have any question that you’d like me to answer in a podcast or a blog post or even just over private Email, I’d love to help answer in any way I could. You can Email me at or go on to Life of a and click on Contact at the top of the page. Or you can message Life of a Steward on facebook or talk to me on twitter. Shoot me your questions, and I’ll do my best.

Doug’s Question

Doug Emailed me recently with this question:

I was saved at about age 11 and have recently come back to God and church.  I have always had a problem with becoming overwhelmed if I have too much to do, mostly because I got in trouble if I forgot, which I always seemed to do – and the emotional baggage has just stayed with me.  Every time management system or solution wants you to write everything down.  When I do this I always have a bit of a panic attack and forget things.  I also get so overwhelmed and depressed because my list seems so insurmountable that I just quit before any good can come of it.

I know intellectually that if I just keep doing it I’ll eventually get on top of it, but I have a real weakness here and can never follow through.  Your blog has given me greater insight into the biblical and Godly aspects of this, but I’m still coming up short.  Can you offer suggestions on how I should prepare myself through prayer and study, such as what, specifically to pray for and what verses to study or meditate on to get my heart focused and pointed in the right direction?  I’ve never had any success with being organized and I know that the devil really uses that to keep me from serving and living like God would like.

Wise to See the Spiritual

Thanks, Doug, for your question. I think it’s great that you’re getting back into church and yearning to grow spiritually – I praise God for that. I also think it’s great how you see the issue framed in spiritual terms – and emotional terms.

You talk about how it’s a deep-seated emotional issue for you – that there’s lingering pain from your upbringing surrounding this issue. You realize that it’s keeping you from a fully fruitful life and you’re searching for the answer by prayer and meditation over the word.

Doug, wow. Before I get started, I just wanted to encourage you – you’re so far along. To diagnose this issue and to address it like you have – that shows such a maturity. That’s great.

What is the Real Issue?

I think the first point to address is defining this as a spiritual issue. If you’re reluctant to write things down, if you’re afraid when you write things down, if you’re overwhelmed when you write things down – is this merely just a personality trait that doesn’t matter? Is it preferred practically to be more organized – it’s better to do it a certain way, but it’s not really a sin? Or is this a spiritual battle where one course is righteous and another one is sinful?

Is Being Disorganized Sinful?

I don’t think that it is sinful in and of itself to be disorganized. But you said in your letter “I’ve never had any success with being organized and I know that the devil really uses that to keep me from serving and living like God would like.”

So you’re feeling a sense of conviction. You’re sensing that there’s more to this issue than just practical preference.

I believe, and I’ve written about this before on the blog, that wasting time is a sin. Because wasting time is indicative of a heart that is sinful. You waste time because your heart is not in the right place.

You seem to hit on the fact that the same thing is happening to you. You sense that getting organized and writing things down would make you more productive but powerful emotional issues keep you from taking those steps.

Love God and Love Others

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied in Matthew 22:37-39 – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Being productive and stewarding your time well is a way of practically living out that love. You are given tools at your disposal, information such as how to be more productive and to get organized, tools that are designed to help you to display more love to your fellow man and towards God.


But when you’re given that choice, you ultimately choose the path of comfort. Rather than tackling that pain, you short circuit the process and focus on the discomfort you’re feeling. The overwhelm. When making that decision, you have opted for an idol. You have made comfort and leisure idols in your life.

That’s the bad news. Wasting time or deliberately choosing a path that you know is not being the best steward of your time – that’s sin. That’s serious.

But there’s good news.

You’re Justified

The first part of this good news is that Christ has already paid for your sins. You stand right now in the eyes of God justified through faith in Christ.

It is a good thing for you to be heartbroken over your sins. It is a good thing for you to realize that you can not even possibly come close to measuring up to God’s standard of perfection.

But don’t let the heartbrokenness over your sin lead you to despair and to depression. Don’t go to the other extreme and swear that you’re going to change and you end up adopting a very proud and self-sufficient approach to stewarding your time.

Resist the urge to make yourself feel better by lowering the bar and pretending that God’s standards aren’t as high as they are. You are sinful, but his grace and mercy cover that sin. You don’t manage your time perfectly. I don’t manage my time perfectly. No one does. No one has ever done that except for Jesus.

Let the Brokenness Lead You to the Cross

Don’t sugarcoat that grief. Don’t lessen it by saying that’s just how everyone is. It’s a good thing for you to grieve over your sins and it’s a necessary first step – just don’t stop there. Make sure that you take your grief over your sins to the cross.

Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And there he means blessed are those who realize the depths of their sins and are broken because of it.

1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Even Failures Work for Good

And you may be saying “but there are so many times I messed up and I’ve failed so often and I’ve already wasted so much time…” Then lean back on Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

That means that our sovereign God will work your past out for good. He promises us he will. I don’t know how he’ll do it, and I don’t understand how he can – but I know that God says he will.

So take some time to swim in that for a while. That every sin you’ve ever committed is forgiven. Every second you squandered – it’s forgiven. Everytime you chose comfort instead of working for the kingdom – it’s forgiven. Not only that, but it’s turned around for good.

Part of that good may be that this gives you a deeper understanding of what it means to truly be a good steward of your time – or what it truly means that you’re forgiven.

Cliché for a Reason

It gets so cliché – we hear it all the time. Christ died for my sins. I’m forgiven. It’s cliché for a reason. It’s so powerful that we need to remind ourselves of it again and again and again. But you have to get that down before you can really tackle the rest. The love and gratitude and worship that is generated when we think about that gospel truth – that love and gratitude and worship is what’s going to fuel everything else that we do.


But there’s more good news that comes when you acknowledge that your poor stewardship of time is a sin. And that good news is that the Holy Spirit will then be there to defeat this in your life.

God’s desire is for you to look more and more like Christ – to become increasingly sanctified. So I can tell you on the authority of the word of God that, if it’s a sin issue you’re dealing with, it is absolutely God’s will that you overcome this.

You had asked about some specific scriptures you could meditate on or specific things to pray for – I think that when we frame this as a sin issue – then a whole world of scriptures opens up to apply to this situation. Because we’re not looking for some token scripture on being organized – we’re looking for scriptures that talk about fighting our sin.

Strength for the Temptation

A great scripture passage to stand on here is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Christ will give you his strength. Christ will undergird this process and guarantee that you have the strength you need to have victory over this area in your life.

Another scriptural promise is 1 Corinthians 10:13

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

So right there – God is absolutely going to give you the strength you need to resist this sin. That is a take-it-to-the-bank promise.

Peace in the Weaknesses

You mention one of the feelings you have is being overwhelmed when you start to write down your task lists and to process all of the obligations that you have.

There are great scriptures out there such as 2 Corinthians 12:9 – this is Paul speaking here about what God has said to him –

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Just as Applicable to the Small

These scriptures are there to inspire and comfort us when we’re facing a firing squad. When we’re facing persecution. When we’re facing cancer. When we’re facing major trials.

But I think a lot of the time we narrow these verses and pretend that they only to apply to those major problems. That somehow we’re cheapening the value of those scriptures if we apply them to our smaller worries or fears.

But I don’t believe that’s true at all. I think it magnifies the power and the mercy and the tenderness and the love of God when we properly realize that he’s there to support us and comfort us and give us peace in the midst of something as large as cancer and in the midst of something as trivial as a busy Monday afternoon.

Pray Honestly

So I hope those scriptures give you some specific concepts to meditate on. As far as things to pray for specifically, just pour out your heart. There’s no magic formula, there’s nothing off-limits.

I would pray “God, help me to get organized. Help me to productive. Help me to not be overwhelmed. Strengthen me so that I can deal with this. Show me practically how to deal with this.” Just let it flow.

My one encouragement would be that you focus on, and I believe from your Email that you’ll do this – but I would encourage you to focus on changing who you are inside. Changing your character. Not just the external habit of being organized or not, but moreso the heart that manifests itself in being organized or not in your case.

A Parting Practical Tip

I did want to leave you with one practical bit of advice to augment the spiritual discussion.

If you feel overwhelmed when you write down all of your obligations, maybe don’t write them down.

You mention that every time management book you read encourages you to do that – and to be honest, I am also one that thinks the approach I’d most often recommend is to have an inventory of your obligations – that doesn’t mean that it’s right for you to do.

I believe there is room for variance in your personality style and what approach to productivity you should take.

Maybe you start with writing down just a little and slowly transition into more and more. Maybe you start with a calendar of appointments and major deadlines. Then add in a tickler file. Then a little more and a little more.

Maybe just try a simple to-do list for you, and if it works – stick with that for a while.

You and the System Have a Relationship

I do think it’s wise to pick an approach that you will make you the most productive. But I think it’s essential to recognize that your system is just one part of the equation. The other part is you. There’s a relationship between you and your system.

I heard a personal trainer was asked “What’s the best form of exercise for weight loss?” And the answer is “the exercise that you’ll actually do.” If you hate running or swimming but love playing tennis, then go with a form of exercise that you actually like and will stick to.

It’s the same with this. It doesn’t matter if keeping a detailed inventory is technically received as the best approach – because you’re not doing that, it’s obviously not working for you. Find something that will. Acknowledge that there’s a relationship between you and your system – and find something that matches you.

I think it’s admirable to work on changing yourself and developing yourself spiritually like we talked about for most of the podcast – but don’t be afraid to think that maybe the system needs to be changed as well.


You know, Doug, let me do this. Let me pray for you and also for those out there who are struggling with the same or similar issues.



Well, good luck, Doug, and keep me posted. And if there’s anything I can do to help further, let me know.

If this has been helpful to anyone else listening, let me know – or if you have any other questions related to this or completely different questions, feel free to Email me at or you can comment over on Life of a Steward and join the discussion there.

Until next time, this is Loren Pinilis from

Remember: We want to make the most of our time, not to make much of us but to make much of him. Not to earn anything but because he’s already earned it. Join me next time where we’ll look at more time management tips from a Christian perspective as we seek together to live the Life of a Steward.

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