“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34
I’ve been working on a new course on how to keep an effective to-do list. And this week, as I was working on the daily lists section, I was reminded of Jesus’ words quoted in the passage above.
“Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
In that verse Jesus wasn’t saying we shouldn’t think about tomorrow, we’re just not to worry about it. A life of faithfulness requires diligence, after all. It requires some degree of planning for tomorrow.
“Look to the ant, thou sluggard!” (Proverbs 6:6ff).
So planning for tomorrow is important. Having lists of projects and tasks you hope to do is important. But when we spend a lot of time looking down the road we can lose focus on the bit of road that’s right in front of us. We can be tempted to become discontent or anxious.
Plan But Don’t Sin
I have plans for the year, the quarter, the month, and the week. I try to hold those plans with an open hand (James 4:13–17). But I often sort of project myself into those future plans, and I’ll start obsessing over them.
So by keeping these lists of plans, to-dos, and projects I’m planning for tomorrow, which is good. But I’m also worrying about tomorrow, which is bad.
What to do?
I’ve been using to-do list apps for a long time. But I’ve found opening the apps during the day can often invite anxiety about tomorrow. When I see all my unfinished tasks and projects staring at me, I can feel my heart start to race. This is not good. It’s not good because I’m inviting sinful anxiety, and it’s not good because it keeps me from being fully focused on the work that’s right in front of me.
Focussed on Today
It’s great to plan, but when it’s time to work, we need to stop thinking about tomorrow and fix our attention squarely on today. As time-bound creatures, we can only actually live and work today.
Right now is all we know we have. When Jesus said the day’s troubles are sufficient He meant you’ve got enough to worry about with what’s right in front of you. Put your attention on what needs doing today.
I’ve found one very practical way to keep my eyes fixed on the work in front of me, while not neglecting the value of long-term planning: I keep my plans for the day physically separate from my plans for the future.
The Daily List
I use and love the app Things for managing my projects and tasks, and the app has a “Today” menu that filters only the tasks that are due today. But there’s just too much temptation to look at all the other projects when I have the app open. So I’ve found it more helpful to keep my daily to-do list entirely separate.
Here’s my daily process:
- Each morning I open up Things to view all of my projects and tasks
- Next, I choose the items I’m going to work on today
- Then, I copy them by hand into my paper notebook
- Finally, I close Things and don’t look at it again until tomorrow
This simple process has helped my worry-prone mind to flee the temptation to fret over future work.
While it is good to cast our gaze toward the horizon of long-term plans, when it comes time to work, faithfulness requires that we put our heads down and focus fully on the task at hand.
Remember, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”