When it comes to being more productive, and in turn more effective, many people first think of buying a gadget. There is a theme with every new gadget that says, “You need to buy this, no you must buy this gadget because it will make you more successful, more athletic, and better looking.” A promise to a better life can be yours for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
I love gadgets as much as the next guy. And if I had endless resources I would be an early adopter of a lot of gadgets. I have been guilty not only of buying gadgets I really could not afford, but also believing the myth that this gadget will be the solution to my productivity and organization issues.
They never were.
You and I do not need another gadget to get the right things done. We do need to learn to count our days and wisely use each one (see Psalm 90:12). Continuing from part one of the Low-Tech Solutions For High Impact Pastors I want to offer three ways—learned through much trial, error, and listening—as to how to be more effective with your limited time.
First, know when you work best. Each of us works better at different times of the day. Some are morning people; others are night owls. While I am convinced that you can build the habits you desire, there also seems to be a hardwired preferred rhythm that differs from person to person allowing them to be more effective with different tasks at different times of the day.
For myself, this translates into breaking most working days into two parts. One part is preparation the second part is for people. I know that in the mornings I am able to think more clearly and write better than I will that afternoon. I block out my morning hours preparation. Whether preparation is for the upcoming sermon, an article, schoolwork, or whatever needs to be prepared, it gets scheduled in the mornings. My afternoons are then blocked out for people: hospital visits, counseling sessions, meetings, outreach, discipleship, emails, phone calls, and any privileged pastoral appointments.
Any pastor reading this knows that on any day, at any time, the schedule for the day can get radically changed. No schedule should be so tight that there is no margin to adjust for emergencies or unexpected blessings. But knowing when you work best at what tasks is a wise step in counting your days so you can give your best for the kingdom at the moment you are best.
Similar to knowing when you work best, create an ideal schedule for the week. If you were king for a day and could control every interaction and appointment, how would you build your week? Where would you give your time on Monday? How would you structure your Thursdays? Where does a time of Sabbath fit into your week?
To create your ideal schedule for the week take a piece of paper or use a spreadsheet software to create a column for each day of the week and rows reflecting hours of the day and create your ideal schedule for the week. Be sure to build in time for your family and friends and some margin for the unexpected. You may find with this exercise, as I did, that you are trying to squeeze more activities into a week than there is actually time for.
No matter how well you schedule things life is going to happen. There are going to be some weeks where your ideal schedule is going to get tossed: a funeral, an emergency life threatening surgery where you need to sit with a family, your hot water heater goes out. There are always will be the unexpected that will demand your attention. However, creating an ideal schedule is a wise step in counting your days so you can give your best for the kingdom at the time when you are best.
The third strategy is batching. Batching is grouping similar tasks like phone calls and emails and addressing them in one sitting. Batching is helpful for your effectiveness because when you stop the deep work you are doing to address a phone call or answer the ding of your email then you not only lose the momentum of the work you were doing but when you return to it you lose time refocusing on what is was you were working on. Batching similar tasks together verses addressing them as they arise helps you to be more effective with the limited time you have.
I have had days when there were some specific tasks that needed to be accomplished. I would start working then I’d receive a non-urgent phone call. I stopped my train of thought and what I was doing to answer the phone only to find when I finally went back to what I was working on, not only could I not remember what I was thinking about it took ten or fifteen more minutes to get back into the rhythm of that work. Then the phone would ring and start the cycle again. Every pastor, every person has had days like that.
Practically, how does batching work? Batch your email by answering it once or twice a day. If you have the luxury of having an assistant give them a list of always-urgent people who can always get to you no matter what you are doing. People like your spouse, your children and their schools, your parents, and in-laws. Typically 90-95% of everything else can wait.
If you are your own assistant, use your voice mail and the “do not disturb” feature on your phone if you have one. Those urgent people can still get in touch with you and everyone else can leave a message for you to return later that day. Be certain if you say you will return the phone call, return the phone call. Returning phone calls is a simple win to build your integrity. Phone calls that do not leave a message are not important and do not get returned.
Batching does not ignore those important matters but groups them together to be addressed in a more effective way. Your time is limited, you will be more effective with your time if you batch like tasks together.
When Nehemiah was being pressed by those set against him and was not yet done with what God had put in his heart to do, he received an invitation to a meeting. He responded to the invitation by saying, “I am doing important work and cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3, CSB).
You may not have enemies pressing against you and your work, but your work is too important to let others dictate your schedule. It is okay to say “no” and “not right now.” Knowing when you work best, creating an ideal week and batching like tasks together are three low-tech solutions for high impact pastors.
Note: There have been many people and resources that have helped my personal organization, which remains a work in progress. The four biggest helps to me have been: Getting Things Done by David Allen, the incredibly resourceful blog of Michael Hyatt, Biblical Productivity by C.J. Mahaney, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.