We want to get a lot done. Not only are we responsible workers doing good things at our money-making jobs, we have a family business to tend, now that Jesus has called us into the Kingdom of God! Our limited time is organized around the big project of redemption that comes with being our true selves in Christ; our daily jobs, our human family requirements and our sense of mission are all defined by the good work we are assigned by our Leader. We all need to be adept time managers, since the time is short and the days are evil. The people called out to lead the church have a big challenge when it comes to managing the workweek, so this is especially for them.
The pastors are always struggling with managing time, as are all the church’s leaders, since their project is so large and the demands are so variable. So we often appreciate advice from people who give advice on these things. One of the blogs we often run into is by Michael Hyatt, former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers and a Sunday school teacher in Nashville. I decided to re-do one of his posts today to offer some basic help with managing time so we can feel less breathless about the big things we want to do together. Here we go:
Are there ten hours of unnecessary work sucking the life out of your week? Here are seven suggestions Michael Hyatt thinks might work for you if you applied a little thought and effort. How can we shave off some workweek hours that could be better used elsewhere?
1. Limit the time you spend online.
The web is probably most people’s #1 time suck. We can mindlessly surf from one page to another with no clear objective in mind. Before we know it, we can eat up several hours a day. The key is to put a fence around this activity and limit our time online. Set a timer if you have to. This is also true for email. Unless you are in a customer service position where you have to be “always-on,” you should check email no more than two or three times a day. What’s more, don’t get anything pushed to your phone so it doesn’t push you around unless that is the essence of what you do. Turn off the ringers and bells or just turn off the phone until it is time to check up on everyone!
2. Touch email messages once and only once.
Email is great for group projects (like building an authentic church), but how many times do you read the same email message over and over again? The information hasn’t changed — reading it again is probably just procrastinating. Try making a personal rule: I will only read each message once then take the appropriate action: do, delegate, defer, file or delete it. Hyatt describes these in more detail in another post.
3. Follow the two-minute rule.
Keep a short “to do list” (never longer than about thirty items) because you do everything you can do immediately. If you need to make a phone call, rather than entering it on your to-do list, just make the call. If you can complete an action in less than two minutes, just go ahead and do it. Why wait? This “bias toward action” will reduce your workload.
When we don’t do things promptly, we end up generating even more work for ourselves and others. The longer a project sits, the longer it takes to overcome inertia and get it moving again. The key is to define the very next action and do it. We don’t have to complete the whole project, just take the next action.
4. Rebel against low-impact meetings.
Don’t create them or attend them. It seems like we have too many meetings when the meeting organizer isn’t prepared, the meeting objective isn’t defined, or we can’t really affect the outcome one way or the other. Every meeting should have a written objective and a written agenda. If we don’t have these two minimal items, how do we know when the meeting is over? When the meeting is done we should feel energized and assigned, not worn out.
5. Schedule time to get work done.
This is crucial. As the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” If you don’t take control of your calendar, someone else (or something else)will. You can’t spend all your time in meetings or being available for “emergencies” and still get your projects finished. Instead, you need to make appointments with yourself and be unavailable to whoever else would like to schedule your time. Go ahead and put the work time in your calendar. Then, when someone asks for something, you can legitimately say, “No, I’m sorry, that won’t work. I already have a commitment.” And you do—to yourself!
6. Cultivate the habit of non-finishing.
Not every project we start is worth finishing. Sometimes we get into it and realize, “This is a waste of time.” Fine, then give yourself permission to quit. Try this with reading. Most books are not worth finishing – many could be cut in half and we wouldn’t miss a thing. Many articles are summarized at the end and that’s all we need – or read the subheadings! The key is to read as long as you are interested and then stop. There are too many great things to read to be spending time bogged down in the merely good ones. And remember that project I mentioned that was languishing undone on the to-do list? How about declaring it dead and starting it over right? Or just leave it to someone else.
7. Engage in a weekly review and preview.
Part of the reason our lives get out of control is because we don’t plan — or, for Jesus followers, we don’t pray. Hyatt says: “Once a week, we have to come up for air. Or—to change the metaphor—you have to take the plane up to 30,000 feet, so we can see the big picture.” We know that we have to do better than that! We have to develop a deliberate habit of prayer to breathe or see at all! We want to pray without ceasing! But the rule he is shooting for with his work schedule makes practical sense. He says: “I review my notes from the previous week and look ahead to my calendar. I have written elsewhere on this topic, so I won’t repeat myself here.” We need to review and reschedule as a rule, but following rules without the Ruler enlivening them is a delusional waste of time.
If we are responsible for many people and the work of the kingdom of God, it will take some good time management skills. The jobs we do for money and career focus will need to stay in productive boundaries and the mission we are on together as the people of God will need to stay on track. We will create less anxiety for ourselves and be able to handle the anxiety of others if we scale down our hours to a manageable level by cutting out the wasted motion and developing a few good habits.