Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

I’m going to be honest: time is my weakness. I’ve already been late 3 times this week. Often, I have a hard time focusing on what’s in front of me. I believe my generation (and especially the generation to follow) are going to have to fight distractions and teach ourselves to focus more than any other. With social media, fast-paced TV, our phones at our fingertips, texting, and constantly scrolling and seeing something new and fresh, it will take more self control to sit and focus on just one thing for a long amount of time.

Friends, I do not have it all together, but I want to keep learning.  I am not always early, and I often find myself distracted. However, I am striving to live fully in the moment, to say no to distractions, to do my best work and to rest well and often. While I’m not perfect, I do have systems in place that help me manage my time well in my work and home. Over time, I’ve learned a few tips that hopefully will help you too. If you’re like me, you’re ready to be one of those “early people!” You’re ready to finish your day feeling accomplished, rather than incomplete and rushed. We can do this, so let’s dive in together!

I have to start with this rather long excerpt from one of my favorite-ever books, Boundaries. Please stick with me here and read this. You won’t regret it! :


“Many people feel that their time is out of control. They are “eleventh hour people,” constantly on the edge of deadlines. Try as they might, they find the day – every day – getting away from then. There just aren’t enough hours to accomplish their tasks. The word easily doesn’t seem to be part of their personal experience. Some of the time binds these strugglers deal with are these:

  • Business meetings
  • Luncheon appointments
  • Project deadlines
  • Church and school activities
  • Holiday mailings


… The problem often stems from one more more of the following causes: 

1. Omnipotence: These people have unrealistic, somewhat grandiose expectations of what they can accomplish in a given amount of time. ‘No problem – I’ll do it’ is their motto.

2. Overresponsibily for the feelings of others. They think that leaving a party too early wil cause the host to feel abandoned.

3. Lack of realistic anxiety. They live so much in the present that they neglect to plan ahead for traffic, parking the car, or dressing for an outing.

4. Rationalization. They minimize the distress and inconvenience that others must put up with because of their lateness. They think, ‘They’re my friends – they’ll understand.’

The person with undeveloped time self-boundaries ends up frustrating not only others, but himself. He ends the day without the sense that a ‘desire realized is sweet to the soul’ (Prov 13:19). Instead, he is left with unrealized desires, half-baked projects, and the realization that tomorrow will begin with him running behind schedule.”


Does anyone else identify with this excerpt as much as I do? I read this book 2 years ago, and these pages stood out to me most. I’ve been making changes in my life, and it feels good to end a day knowing that scripture to be TRUE: “a desire realized is sweet to the soul!”

If you are ready to take hold of your time, I would suggest trying the following exercises. I’ve worked through each exercise in the past 2 years, and they have been invaluable to me! If I may make another suggestion, do not try to tackle all of these at once. Try one per week, or one per month even, and see how it works for you. I can confidently say that each of them WILL be worth your time!

1. Track your time for a month

Last year, I read 168 Hours and it had such a profound impact on my life. Laura (the author) explains that the very first step to take hold of your time is to simply record how you are currently spending it. Although it seems daunting at first, it is actually quite simple! All you have to do is write down how you spend your time in 30 minute increments. You can see how I tracked my time for an entire month below. I highlighted my “work hours,” so I could realistically see how many hours a week I was working. I could also total my time for exercising, sleeping, hanging out with people I love, reading, etc. It was so enlightening to me! She warned us that we often tend to think we work much more than we actually do. That proved true for me. Here are a few takeaways that I had after doing this exercise:

– I thought I was working 50-60 hours/week, when I worked an average of 40 hours/week.
– It’s important to bundle all errands together once/week to save time driving. Driving can really add up.
– I was spending much more time with friends that I thought I was! We regularly ate dinner with friends and spent time in ministry at church.
– I wanted to spend more hours/week exercising.
– I wanted to spend more hours/week sleeping.
– I wanted to spend less hours/week driving.
– I wanted to be more intentional with how I spend my leisure time.  More baths, walks, and dinners at home. Less piddling at home, TV, and driving.

Here is a Time Log Download if you are up for the challenge!


2. Map out your ideal week

This post by Michael Hyatt inspired me to do this for myself, and it’s a game changer. I see in the “big picture,” so creating time blocks was immensely helpful for me! Here is a view of my ideal week. I’m currently in the process of updating it now. As a wedding photographer, it is helpful to update it seasonally. I would encourage you: update it when you need to! It’s like a time budget. It won’t work perfectly the first few months, but you’ll be able to make it work for you after a while if you are committed to trying it. When I do stick to my ideal week, it feels wonderful. But keep in mind: it’s called an IDEAL week for a reason, and life is not always ideal. Life happens! Allow for grace and change. Don’t set your plan so strictly that you don’t allow for the Lord to bring things your way if He wants to.

Nancyray-ideal week

3. Plan out each day by the hour

I love Whitney English’s Day Designer and Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner for this reason: You can map out your day hour by hour. Talk about making the most of your day! Every morning, I sit down and write down my top 3 priorities for the day. Then, I write out what I’m going to do hour by hour in order to accomplish those priorities. Here’s my example for today:

No. 1: Blog Organization in Time
No. 2: Clear emails before the weekend
No. 3: Pack for Georgia

6:00 – Up! Coffee and Scripture and Prayer
7:00 – Read current book
8:00 – Prep studio / email clean up
9:00 – Consultation with Callie + Bride
10:00 – Blog
11:00 – Google Hangout with Amber Housely
12:00 – Lunch + UPS store + library (errands)
1:00 – Emails
2:00 – Emails
3:00 – Emails + Prep equipment for session
4:00 – Take care of Boaz and Winston / ShootQ maintenance
5:00 – Drive to session
6:00 – Engagement Session
7:00 – Engagement Session
8:00 – Dinner / Pack for Georgia
9:00 – Pack, catch up with Will
10:00 – Bed!

When I sit down and plan out my day at the beginning of my day, it keeps me on track to accomplish what I need to. Tomorrow, we leave early for a family wedding in Georgia. I want to make sure everything is planned and accomplished before we leave! For example, I am confident I’ll enjoy my weekend and be fully present with my family if all of my emails are caught up, and if I’m packed tonight instead of rushing around in the morning.

4. Try my Email Ninja Game!

Call me crazy – I don’t care! It really helps me knock out some emails, y’all. I call is my Email Ninja game. Here’s how you play:

Step 1: Grab a colorful post it note. Write the current time and number of emails in your inbox, then put the sticky at the bottom of your computer screen so it’s constantly in front of you.
Step 2: Put on music (Soundtracks only: no words! The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack is my favorite email and blog writing music). Turn off all social media and distractions. The only reason you are allowed to get up from your chair is to use the bathroom. THAT’S IT.
Step 3: Answer as many emails as you possible can. Delete all junk mail without even reading the content. Be efficient and as fast as possible. Once you answer an email, FILE it so it’s out of your inbox.
Step 4: Grab that same post it note, and write the current time and number of emails in your inbox at the end of your email ninja game.

If your inbox is at zero, you WIN!
If you reached a goal you set for yourself in a certain amount of time, you WIN!
If you got distracted with social media, you LOSE.
If you got a snack, then started folding laundry, then decided to vacuum, you LOSE. (Been there, done that.)

352d1c7a457d11e3ac3e22000ae91479_85. Work hard, Rest well.

This last point is the WHY behind all of this. It is the most important point of all, actually. It’s the reason I’m passionate about managing my time and resources well! I believe we were created to live life to the full, to give our everything to our work, then to throw ourselves into good and true rest. To be face to face with family and our loved ones – not distracted with work undone or iPhones or Instagram. This can be so difficult in today’s world, but it’s worth fighting for!

Work Hard! How often do we say we are “working,” when really we are distracted, trying to tackle too many things at once, and looking at Instagram or at an online sale during work hours? I’ve been there, friends. It’s still a struggle! But one thing I know to be true: I love the feeling of coming to the end of a day, knowing that I worked hard, stayed focused, and accomplished all that I could for that day. Working hard allows us to truly appreciate good rest.

Rest well, friends. That means taking a weekly Sabbath, turning off social media, reading a book, getting outside, allowing your mind time and space to think and relax. Its good for the soul! This is not always easy to do, especially for entrepreneurs like myself, because there is always work to be done. Can I get an amen? It’s so hard to shut everything down for a day, but when I rest well, I can accomplish more fulfilling and focused work. When I work hard, I can rest well and be 100% present with those I love.

Have you tried anything I’ve listed above? Or is there an exercise you are going to try? I would love to hear!

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This post was perfectly timed for me. So many great gems to pull from and APPLY.

Thank you for sharing. I look forward to mastering my day, rather than the distractions mastering me.

[…] first heard about creating an ideal week from Michael Hyatt. (You can see my pre-babies ideal week here!) It is brilliant and quite helpful, but to be honest, it’s a bit more difficult to live by […]

[…] my Ideal Week idea. I saw this years ago on Nancy Ray’s blog, and thought it would be a perfect small step in the right direction to helping me with many of my […]

[…] – Baby Ray Announcement – My Morning Routine – Kaitlin & Clay's Wedding – 5 Things I Learned from NRP (guest post from intern Jamie) – Organization in Time […]

[…] I spend my time. At work, I’m using Toggl, but I’m thinking about logging all my time like Mrs. Nancy Ray does so beautifully. Anyone ever tried […]

Loved this, thanks for sharing your wisdom! 😀

So great Nancy! I read 168 Hours because you posted it on Social Media and loved it. I also remember your ideal day example at MTH March 2013 — very inspired by the concept of extending it to an “ideal week”- thanks so much for the awesome post.

Hello Nancy. (This is Annie — my nickname, just in the very beginning stages of a mini blog/name makeover). This is a fantastic post. I really am loving this organisation series. I gravitate towards the ‘on time’ end of the spectrum. I learnt a long time ago to factor in all elements of getting a job done, so as to stay to time. So often we do overestimate what we are physically capable of (and that the bus will run to time, the stars will align etc.). Also, I am a personality that likes to take due time in doing whatever task. That desire for “something new and fresh” you highlight is such a modern pull. I’m currently calling myself a ‘distraction ninja’ (to pinch your terminology). The other week I turned off email pop up alerts on my work computer; already I can tell my productivity has improved. Thank you for the rest reminders. I think it’s all too easy to forget about that these days… there is always something we can do (or rather, something we THINK we should do). Good luck with your ‘ideal’ weeks ahead xo

Thank you so much for posting this, Nancy! As a senior college student with three jobs, almost every week I feel like I haven’t completed what I wanted to get done because I’m always catching up. I’m definitely downloading that time calendar!

Can you describe your ‘File’ system in your email ninja. Thanks for the encouraging post!

It’s too long to explain in the comments, but I might tackle my entire email system in another post! Thanks for the suggestion!

These organizational posts are wonderful, Nancy!! Our pastor taught a series called “The Broken Clock” & challenged us to track our time for a week. Incredibly eye opening to see how long/much something takes!

Love this post! Great ideas. I need to track my hours as I am clearly reading blogs during work. I have been trying to schedule my ideal work day schedule but so much comes up that I find it hard to stick to. I also underestimate how long things will take all the time, so I think tracking my time for a couple weeks will be very beneficial. Thank you!

I JUST ordered 168 Hours 20 minutes ago! Along with Boundaries and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. So encouraged and excited by this post. Thanks for the link to the time log, I’ll be needing that!

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