Dec 2, 2009

Alban: Taking Control of Your Time


Taking Control of Your Time: It's All About Priorities

by Bradford Agry

Being busy and fully scheduled doesn't always mean being productive. Too often we unknowingly become victims of what I call the "tyranny of busy-ness."  We often are rapidly accomplishing things and crossing off  projects on our various lists yet not always getting the bigger picture as to how these various activities really add up to reaching our larger goals. What happens is that we become passive about our time and its management and react to what comes our way versus strategically looking at what we really need to be doing and planning for it.

A very crucial skill in time management is sorting out how important various projects—both short and long term—are so that adequate time is given to each. This means striking a balance between attending to immediate deadline-driven work and projects which have a longer time horizon yet need to be worked on bit by bit. Obviously, if we only spend our days simply reacting and "putting out fires," we will never get to many other important projects that impact our organizations.

So how do you insure that you get to this important work? A good place to start is to make "appointments with yourself" for projects that are important, yet not urgent. Certainly, every day there will be unplanned interruptions that are often unavoidable. Many times in the scope of things these items may not necessarily be important but need to be tended to immediately. The trick is to leave space for these tasks but also hold fast to time for working on the more important ones. If you have a project due in a month, plan ahead by breaking the work down into a series of smaller chunks. By working in these planned smaller "work parcels" you will allow time for changes in direction down the line. What's more, you won't be forced to be behind closed doors for four days straight at the end and unable to handle the demands of your other day-to-day work.

If you know the priorities, the other half of the equation is figuring how to optimally schedule your time to accomplish them. I advise clients to have a weekly plan and then a daily one which is adjusted accordingly. To be a better time manager, start with a simple diagnostic exercise. For a week, keep a detailed log of how you are spending your time in 15-30 minute increments. Pay attention to things that could have been avoided like an unimportant meeting or spending too much time on "busy" work such as low priority e-mails. Look to see what your overall goals and priorities for that time period were and how much of your effort went toward them. This is a very explicit way of figuring out which activities were perhaps getting short-changed and which may be getting too much attention.

Your calendar is a finite universe. Learn to prune activities that are less important to your job and your organization's mission. This may involve delegating or re-assigning tasks to others, sharing parts of the work, or perhaps making them a lower priority. If you and your colleagues are in agreement as to what the shifting set of priorities are, then all can plan accordingly. By explicitly making room and intentionally planning for the crucial items, you will begin to shift from being a purely reactive scheduler to a more proactive time manager.

Ministers Managing Time

by Ronald D. Sisk

Managing your time as a minister just may be the single most difficult issue you face. The problem of managing ministerial time has a long and not always hopeful history.

The minister's need for Sabbath rest, time away from the job, and personal and family recreation was virtually ignored until the middle of the 20th century. Relatively little thought was given to ministers' need for a life apart from their work. At that point, a number of cultural factors came into play, including changes in the secular workplace leading to an expectation of more balance between work and family life. In Christian circles the pastoral-care movement began to emphasize the need for ministers to be emotionally and physically healthy themselves in order to lead their congregations toward health.

Counterbalancing these factors that have moved toward support for ministerial time off is the persistent cultural expectation that a minister should always be available to the congregation. Nobody would fault parishioners for wanting their pastor with them at a time of devastating grief. Nor does anybody fault a church board for wanting the pastor present when important decisions are made, or the homebound for wanting the pastor to visit regularly. Nor does anyone deny that the pastor needs to socialize regularly with members of the church. Nor can one blame a family in crisis for wanting the pastor present in a time of need. The issue of ministerial time management grows out of this inevitable tension between the legitimate demands of congregational life and the legitimate need of ministers for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

I contend that time management is best addressed sequentially, through a series of touch points that punctuate a minister's relationship with a congregation—times when mutual expectations and intentions can be shaped and spelled out. Those touch points include the negotiation of an initial contract; the establishment of a ministerial schedule; the observation of contractual vacations, holidays, and sabbaticals; the minister's daily self-management; and times of congregational change. For the most part, it is the skill with which we ministers address the issue at these critical points that determines our competence as time managers.

The problem of how you're going to manage your time as a pastor begins before you ever enter the parish. Most churches don't think of themselves as "hiring" a pastor. They think of themselves as "calling one. And they assume that serving as their pastor will be the consuming passion of your life. They're correct. But that doesn't mean they have a right to your attention 168 hours a week. What is required for competence in time management is the kind of mental toughness that recognizes that none of us is indispensable to the kingdom of God, but each of us is indispensable to our family and to our own mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.

Time management is not an exact science. Nor is it the same for each person. But good time management can make the difference between a successful, fulfilling ministry, and one that seems to splash about aimlessly in the shallows. Most important, time management is a skill that can be learned, and learning it is worth the time. 


Adapted from The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well  by Ronald D. Sisk