Productivity for Pastors – Know Thyself

Hands on inside of computer screen

I’ve struggled over the years to find new ways to be productive. I’ve always had a sense I could be working smarter, and thus have more time and mental bandwidth left over for things that matter. Perhaps that’s where you are. Or, maybe you feel a bit sluggish these days and could use a kick-start. It could be that you are humming along just fine, but are open to new ways of being productive. Or, you may be dreadfully disorganized. This week’s of posts are designed to help those in ministry be more productive, but there may be some helpful stuff in here for people in all vocations.

The life of a pastor is different than all others when it comes to time, task and emotional management. When you wake up in the morning, you never know what may be coming your way–good, bad, or ugly. What’s in your day-planner really represents the day you plan to have, but does not necessarily represent the day you will have.

Thus, it’s easy for time to slosh out of the sides of the day, or to get pulled off task by lesser things, or to stick rigidly to a task that should have been abandoned to attend to some call of ministry. If a minister doesn’t have a good sense of what’s important and what’s not to go with a system to process interruptions and new ideas/opportunities, they will be less effective in ministry and more pre-occupied and tense in family life.

I myself am still very much a work in progress, but I’ve studied the field quite a bit and experimented with all of the major systems out there. What I’ve found is that maximizing your productivity “in the office” and joy factor at home begins with understanding yourself, your ministry context and your family’s needs. However, it begins with the self.

I didn’t know how much more productive and less pre-occupied I could be until I read David Allen’s outstanding book, Getting Things Done. He writes of the “mind like water” concept:

“In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.”
-David Allen

I realized that I kept trying to manage my life in my head, make appointments in a rigid time framework that rarely applied, or hated interruptions because I was trying to stay on task. What I failed to realize is that ministry is full of interruptions and things that take longer than you expected that you can do nothing about. Rather than embrace that, I employed a time/task management system that worked well in the business world where meetings run from 1pm-2pm, projects have hard deadlines, and the average week is more predictable. Ministry mandates the ability to respond to emergencies and crises, but execute on some hard deadlines. No matter what happens in a given week, 10am Sunday morning is coming. So, I embraced what is, not what I wished was.

I also learned over time that I actually like high-challenge environments with lots of moving parts and yes, even interruptions or curveballs. So, I changed my system. I morphed from a Franklin-Covey guy into a GTD guy. It’s freed up my mind, it allows me to work on what I can at the right time and when the context is right. It’s more fluid, and it’s highly adaptable to almost any work-style.

But, it’s not for everyone. It’s terrible for people that have a lazy bone. It’s may not be for some people, especially people who are really OCD about time slotting things. Something like Franklin Covey’s or Julie Morgenstern’s time management systems might work better for you. If you are in a country church, your life rhythm is different than urban churches. The size of the staff and church also matter. But, the first is to know yourself.

How are you wired? What pace do you prefer? Are you time-conscious? Is your ministry more a series of “to-do’s” (like for an associate minister or church administrator) or project-based? How do you respond to interruptions? What are your life goals? These are all questions that would be good to ask before reading the next posts.

To help you get to the bottom of it, here’s a great article from Life Hacker entitled, Build Your Own Productivity Style by Remixing the Best.

Note: this post adapted from a previous post.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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