How can pastors maximize their effectiveness when it comes to time management? Eric Daniel shares three practices to help pastors work more productively and address time management challenges.
“Pastor, I know you are busy….”
The statement is well intended but should never describe our life and ministry. What happened to the unhurried pastor? Can the pastor, with no time available, carry out this great work of caring for others? Caring for people is our purpose not a badge of busyness.
Pastors do have much on their plates. I have held the title for 28 years. We often work long hours. It is hard, draining work: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. However, the single parent is busy. Contractors with crews and deadlines, doctors with life threatening surgery schedules, and college students who never do homework, they all claim to be busy. I even hear retired people say they are busy. Of course, we all feel busy.
Perhaps being busy is more about attitude and time management than volume of workload. Pastors lament often about lists of unread emails and unreturned phone calls. As the pressure increases, so does the guilt and the temptation to ignore the problem. The problem only gets worse as the incomplete tasks pile up. “I love my pastor, but don’t expect her to return your call.” I would like to offer up three practices to help solve work productivity and time management issues that face pastors.
Get it out of your head.
The first practice is to write everything down: big and small. Get it out of your head and onto paper. The human brain has a capacity. You choose what information it holds. It can manage your to-do list, usually forgetting a thing or two in the process, or it can manage your creativity and dreams for the future.
Writing tasks down creates a win-win situation. You are freeing capacity in your brain and giving yourself the opportunity to prioritize them for accomplishment. It is subconscious, but your brain is experiencing stress until the things it is keeping track of are completed.
When I first started the work of pastor, I used 3 x 5 cards to record tasks, quotes, and other bits of information. As time progressed, I moved to a day planner and then to smart devices. I am constantly adding items to my task list for two reasons. First, I want to free up space for my brain to think about the most important things. Second, what gets written down and reviewed, gets done. Don’t allow the stress of undone tasks to drain your energy for the most important tasks of each day.
10 minutes, do it now.
Another practice is accomplishing small tasks when you get them. Do not handle twice a task that will take less than 10 minutes to complete. There is one exception to this rule. If you are engaged in work that should not be interrupted, then do not pause to accomplish a 10-minute task. Sermon preparation, creative work, or meeting preparation is work that should not be interrupted by viewing these less than 10-minute tasks.
Time management books teach us not to look at email throughout the day. Set aside an hour at the beginning and end of your day to process email. Don’t waste your time looking at an email for five minutes in the middle of the day only to reread it later that afternoon when crafting a response. If you are going to look at it, then respond and move it out of your inbox. The goal should be to empty your email inbox every day by either filing email in appropriate folders or adding them to your to-do list. A few emails can be kept overnight if they are simple tasks. A word of wisdom: for every email you send, it will produce two more in return.
Take time to review your calendar. Mark off creative work time in hours. Make time at the beginning and end of your day for task work. Experiment with workflow. What is the best time for you to push through quick tasks and desk items? What is the best time for you to focus on thinking work?
Separate your lists.
Finally, put items that need to be done today on your “Today’s Task List.” It is a mistake to keep one to-do list with everything on it because it creates unrealistic expectations of self. I made this mistake for a long time, which resulted in me feeling anxious or unsuccessful even though I had accomplished many important tasks. Then I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I discovered how my management of to-do lists, unanswered email, and phone calls were creating a sense of busyness and feelings of guilt. I had high productivity each day but did not feel like it because of overplanning. I was setting up every day for emotional and psychological failure. David Allen introduced me to the art of creating separate task lists.
I now have a task list for today and then for projects, personal, administrative, people follow up, etc. The items on the “Projects List” almost never make it onto my “Today List.” I will bring over only the individual task that needs to be done today to move the project forward. I get them done and feel the success, even though the large project still looms on a separate list that I only consult when planning my weeks and days.
You can go overboard on making and managing lists. It is important to not make your system of organization so complicated that it becomes a burden. I would encourage you to experiment. Try a system. Work the cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Adjust. Above all, only put on your “Today List” what needs to be done today and create other lists to track long range projects and dreams.
The pastor should be known as a trustworthy, faithful person, who gets work done and is unhurried. The church needs the pastor ready for anything, with both mind and heart free to live the Gospel.
- Some Practices to Improve the Use of Your Time by Ken Willard
- People Too Busy to Serve? Teach Them to Steward Their Time by Ann A. Michel
- Why Excellence in Ministry Matters by Michael White and Tom Corcoran