I just walked through one of the busiest seasons of my entire life. 5 months ago, my wife and I sold our house in Georgia and moved to St. Louis, MO where I took a position as Children’s Pastor at a local church. On top of all the craziness associated with uprooting one’s family and moving halfway across the country, we stepped in to one of the most intense seasons of the church calendar–the holidays.
In addition to the week in and week out routine of a church, the holidays bring about an added dimension that, in all honesty, can be difficult to navigate. And this is even after you’ve been at a place long enough to find your feet and get established a bit. Special events, increased outreach, parties and gatherings…the list could go on and on. And I, along with my family, found myself in the throes of transition from our move all the while attempting to learn a new rhythm at a new church and a new job with a different set of volunteers all during the holiday season–you get the idea.
I knew something had to change in order for me to make it. Sure, it would have been easy for me to work 14 hour days and burn out from the get go and establish an unhealthy pattern for life and ministry–and as crazy as it sounds, that was a temptation. But I chose a different path. I made a few subtle changes, and that has truly changed my approach to my weekly routine and the productivity I am getting out of it. And I believe that, were you to make similar changes in your approach, your productivity can increase as well, and you can establish and maintain healthy patterns for your future. So here’s what I did:
1. I let myself off the hook. In ministry, there’s always more to be done. There’s always another message to write or lesson to prepare. There’s always another volunteer to contact or meeting to schedule. There’s always another event to plan for. And no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it all done. So I started drawing the line. I realized that the stuff I don’t get done today will always be there tomorrow, and I can worry about it then. And then I set a time, and when that time comes each day, I leave and go home to my family. After all, I want to give my wife and kids the best of me, not the rest of me.
2. I started to focus on completing the important things first. In your job there are many things that are non-negotiable. These things have to happen in order for you to get your job done. But there are some things that are luxuries. These are things that would be nice if they happened, but they aren’t integral to the current success of your job. I realized that by focusing on checking off all the non-negotiables on my list, I got more done in less time, and I can take what time I have left over and put that toward some of my luxury items. I’m currently taking this a step further by figuring out how to utilize volunteers to complete some of the non-negotiables (or even luxury items for that matter) on my list so that I can have even more time to focus on the things in my job that only I can do.
3. I created a weekly workflow calendar. I made a list of all the things I currently need to accomplish each week and combined/compartmentalized each of them as much as possible. Then I outlined the time in my schedule each week when meetings regularly took place, allotted time for lunch, etc… After that I built in time blocks in 30 minute increments in which I tackle all the weekly tasks and to-do’s from the list I made previously. Some things I have scheduled to last 30 minutes, while other time blocks may be for 2 hours. But I’ve planned my work and I work my plan. I inserted everything into a spreadsheet, color coded the time blocks, printed it out and hung it on the wall in my office so it’s always right there in front of me. When an email comes in, I don’t immediately answer it–I have time built in at the beginning, middle and end of each day for that sort of thing. If I need to call a volunteer, I have time scheduled for that. And I even have some flex time built in here and there to tie up the loose ends of projects that may not get completed or to compensate for those impromptu “meetings” when somebody stops by to discuss last night’s basketball game or to bounce an idea off of me.
Is this system perfect? By no means. In fact, I’m discovering that some of the things on my weekly schedule need to be given more/less time. Some things need to be shuffled from Thursday to Wednesday. As I continue to grow and develop my team, some things will be able to be removed altogether opening up space for other things. And I’m evaluating and tweaking all of that going forward. But what I do know is that those who fail to plan plan to fail–so I’ve decided to make a plan and it’s increased my productivity tremendously. And sometimes, you just have one of those days and nothing works out the way you’d hoped. And that’s ok. But this way, I have a plan in place to help me recover, and as I work on that plan, I find I’m better because of it–both on the job and in my home.
What are some things you’ve done that have helped increase your productivity?