Imagine that outside your front door at this very moment is everyone who, in the last week, has sent you a text, an email, called you on the telephone, written you a letter, spoken to you about seeing them for a pastoral visit, invited you to a meeting and those you have chosen to spend time with….
How far around your neighbourhood would that queue stretch and how long would it take you to see them if you saw them one after the other, even without a break?
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the demands you and others place on your use of time? Maybe the full weight of the issues you face in making the best use of your time are masked by the technology you use to manage your problem or perhaps you are working far too many hours to cope with all these demands on your ministry?
A Time for Everything
The writer of Ecclesiastes 3 v1-6 tells us there is a time for everything, describing the endless ebb and flow of actions that can sweep us up in an endless flurry of activity that leads to stress. There is a time for everything, but that does not mean we have to do everything NOW, as much as we or others might want us to do so. Nor should we simply succumb to all the demands others place on our time. Although we cannot manage time, as we are not in control of its passage, time management skills enable us to manage the way we and others use our own time. As a servant leader we need to role model a healthy use of time for our own benefit and for those to whom we minister.
10 Top Time Management Tips to manage your time better
1. Review how you use your time.
Spend a week keeping a diary of your use of time, (including coffee breaks, telephone calls, travel time etc.) and with whom. Then review the diary, looking for recurring patterns and highlighting where you have not used your time as you would have liked and/or as effectively as you could. E.g. if you split your day into morning, afternoon and evening: do you regularly work all three sessions? Would it help if for all or part of the week you only worked 2 of those sessions per day?
2. Review your diary with a trusted friend
Discuss the various areas in and then agree to take steps to address a couple of the issues it highlights.
3. Prioritise your use of time.
Steven Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” introduces a simple four box time management model to help us use our time effectively. On one axis is “urgent” and “not urgent” and on the other what is “important” and “not important”. Our issue is often twofold: firstly, that we spend our time meeting the demands of others in what they see as urgent and important. Secondly, that in failing to deal with the important but not urgent tasks, that the tasks soon become urgent and lead us into feeling and being overwhelmed.
Populate each quadrant of the diagram with your view of what fits where. Next decide, and agree with others what are the important but none urgent issues for you to be an effective leader and resolve to spend most of your time on these. Where would regular hospital visits or home communion come? What about the article for the church newsheet? Personal retreat?
4. Set expectations
Set expectations about response time and considerations of urgent and none urgent issues. My experience in working with ministers is that when people use the phrase “this needs doing urgently”, this can mean anything from in the next 10 minutes to the next 3 days”. When we and others understand what we all mean we can respond appropriately and prioritise our time effectively.
5. Take a team approach
Talk to your co-workers about your joint use of time and the challenges you each face and how you can support one another e.g. do we all need to be copied into emails about the redecoration of the church hall? Sifting through which emails to read or not all takes time when we have large numbers of them.
6. Use Meetings effectively
Do meetings have to happen the way they always have? Do you have to be there for all of the time or just the part that needs your input or when you need to hear vital information? Can other technologies help reduce the time and frequency of your regular meetings? Can you have an on-line discussion of some agenda items before the deacons meeting?
7. Don’t let technology control you
Take control of the technology. It is easy to respond to the ring of the telephone or the bleep of the mobile phone or the ping of the email arriving in the in box. Turn off the bleep of the email and only check your emails twice a day (see also “Taming the Email Dragon” ). Turn off mobiles during meals, use an answer machine or call divert on a mobile phone when you should not be interrupted. Would we pause in the middle of a conversation with a bereaved couple to respond to a text message? Why do we then allow other situations to be interrupted by the call of technology?
8. Manage interruptions
Research suggests it takes approximately 8 minutes to recover from being interrupted when you are in the middle of a task. Be ruthless with time, but gracious with people when handling interruptions and try to keep interruptions to a minimum. Find a time and a space where you won’t be interrupted, use technology or another “gatekeeper” to help e.g. your wife. Often when we are struggling with the task we find our own interruptions to distract us from the difficulty of the task e.g. that third cup of coffee, social chat with a colleague.
9. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination: “putting off the doing of something that should be done—intentionally, habitually and reprehensibly”. (John Adair). Do the worst jobs first – once you’ve got them over with you will feel a sense of relief and won’t be dreading them for the rest of the day/week. If it’s a big job that you are putting off, break it up into bite size chunks: it’s easier to think of repainting one room in a house than having to repaint the whole house.
10. Does it have to be me?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “If I don’t do it, it won’t happen or be done as well”. Allocate some of your tasks, meetings to others. Might some of them be a development opportunity for others? It may take longer to do this at the outset as you have to explain what is needed but is a worthwhile time saving in the long term.
How much of your use of time is driven by your personality and that of others? Do you thrive on being with people generally and certain people in particular? Does sermon preparation get crammed into your remaining time?
Do you have to push yourself to leave the solitude and preparation time spent in the study for pastoral visiting?
Whatever your personality, time spent with a coach reflecting on how our personality impacts on our use of time, supported by the completion of personality inventories that highlight our own issues, can be extremely helpful.
- Commit to completing your time diary
- Set up an appointment with someone to review it together
- Try out one of the tips and see how it works for you: Today!
Image: Alan Cleaver 2000 Flickr.com