Are You Letting a Checklist Ruin Your Focus?

Are You Letting a Checklist Ruin Your Focus?
Ellis and I are not really birders.
But we love going to the Leona Turbull Birding Center in Port Aransas, Texas when we are spending about a month in mid-winter there. We never knew there were so many different types of ducks, gulls, pelicans, and other water birds.  

This year we were able to see whooping cranes (big binoculars required), which is really amazing since there are very few left in the world.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a zoom lens big enough to get photos of them.

One day while we were enjoying the display of God's amazing handiwork,  I told Ellis that I would bring a list of birds next year and carry it with us so we could keep track and see how many different birds we see in our regular visits during our vacation.   
He said, "Why?"

Instead of launching into defense mode and my reasons, I didn't respond.  Atypically, I mulled over his question for a few days.  I eventually came up with a good reason - a good reason NOT TO.


The Positive Side of Checklists

For many of us, a checklist is a way to keep us on track and focused on the right things.  This is especially important when there are competing priorities.   Whether for work, home, church, or other organizations, the larger or more complex the project, the more a detailed task list is essential.  

Perhaps your only lists are a prayer list and a grocery list.  Even so, those guide you to pray for needs that you're aware of and spend your money more wisely by ensuring you get the things you know you need.
I highly recommend a list as a great tool, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

I'm a list maker.  One of my spiritual gifts is administration, and one of my Clifton Strengths is arranging.  I love coming up with a plan down to the detailed tasks that must happen to accomplish an objective.
Even more gratifying than MAKING the list is CHECKING OFF the list.  Is anyone out there with me?  What satisfaction as the list gets shorter!  In some list apps, you can have completed items fall off the list.  Not me. I want to see them crossed through for the rest of the day! 

You can see that making a list of birds that frequent this habitat and checking them off as we encountered them would be right up my alley!


The Downside of Checklists

What I realized in my analysis of my desire to have a checklist is that I would miss a lot by focusing on the list.   I would have my head down looking for the next one on the list that doesn’t have a checkmark.  Then I’d be intent on looking for that bird.
But in looking for one bird at a time, I would miss a lot.  
There is so much to see at the bird sanctuary in Port Aransas! It is a wonderful way to experience and more fully appreciate God's creation.  If you love to celebrate diversity, a bird sanctuary is for you!  The colors displayed and the variety of behaviors keep you entranced for long stretches of time.
I could have missed some of that by going to the center with a plan in place.  I wasn’t there to study or achieve a particular goal.  We are retired and need to be taking the time to linger and enjoy the experiences that either weren’t available or couldn’t be cherished in the busyness of our working lives.
The flexibility of simply enjoying is worth celebrating and savoring.

A Common Checklist

Maybe you'll understand if you have ever pushed through a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan feeling accomplished that you got the reading for the day done and feeling guilty and overwhelmed when you didn't.   Let's face it, reading the Bible through in a year takes a good-sized time commitment each day.
I absolutely recommend reading through the entire Bible.  It is the word of God and is how we can know Him and His plan.  It is the best way to ensure we are “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as the writer of Hebrews admonishes us.
Of course, there are many more benefits to learning God’s Word.  It encourages and challenges us as we see that plan beginning in Genesis and being consummated in Revelation. Paul gave Timothy an important list of the profits of learning The Word in His letter to Timothy.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work   2 Timothy 3:16-17
We need to be in the Scripture every day!  But my experience in pushing through to finish the entire Bible in a year is that it keeps me from approaching the word with a great desire to know what God wants to reveal to me during that time.   This was true especially when I worked and had children at home, but can even end up being the case in my less hectic retired life.
Unlike a project in which the timeline is critical, the goal of Bible study is knowing God better not only by studying His book for us but also by spending time WITH Him.

Linger With the Word

Definitely read the Bible! All the way through. Multiple times in your life.  Just don’t impose the one-year threshold. Savor those passages that speak to you in a different way than the last time you encountered them.  
Stop to dig when a question arises or when the Lord prompts you to sit up and pay attention.
Give yourself time to explore good resources that help you understand the culture, the different literary styles, and the other nuances that can enhance your understanding of God’s intention.
Carve out some minutes each week to memorize, hiding His word in your heart so that you will "not sin against HIm," (Psalm 119:11). Knowing the truth is the only way to recognize when the truth has been exchanged for a lie in our culture.   

Watch for a post in the near future about more of the benefits of studying God's word and ways you can do that.
Linger in the Scripture every day with the goal of intimacy with our Savior and being like Him.
Lisa Harper summarizes this so well as she ends each of her podcast episodes, “Knowledge about God pales next to intimacy with Jesus.”

Other Risks of Checklists

Some other areas I can easily overlook if I am too focused on my task list are:

  • Spending time every day really communicating with Ellis
  • Being available for unique ministry opportunities that come up - whether helping with sick grandkids or reaching out to those going through a difficult time
  • Praying at the surface for the things on the prayer list; tossing the name and the situation up and moving quickly on
  • Lingering with friends over lunch
  • Seeking out opportunities to share the glorious Gospel

Don't Get Rid of Your Checklists!

I hope you don't plan to get rid of your checklist. There remain many benefits to keeping priorities in order.

Pray for guidance each day as you approach your list.  

Be flexible with things that can be moved to another day to make room for the unexpected.

Before you move a task out to another day, consider whether it really needs to be done at all.  Sometimes I just throw things on my checklist not really considering their priority.  If you move it more than a few times, it may need to be dropped.


Lord, help us to be disciplined enough to make and follow the checklists when they are appropriate.  And give us soft, pliable hearts ready to lean in, listen and obey as we dive into the depths of your Word and all that it has for us.  Thank you for your Holy Spirit who will teach it when we are ready to learn.