Hey, you got a minute?
Look, I know that you're busy. That's why I'm here. I'm pretty sure you're wasting 1-2 hours a day. And, don't worry, I'm not going to tell anybody. I'd just like to help you recover that time and put it to work for you.
I wrote a post on how to build a schedule that saves time. The question that I'm getting most often from that post is how I put this into action in my life. Well, I have some quirks in my schedule as a bi vocational pastor that may not translate directly into your life and work. Plus, I think there's a chance we could end up focusing on the details of my schedule rather than the principles you can put into practice for yourself.
So how about this - I'll walk you through my scheduling template on Evernote. Add in a few clarifying thoughts. And let you loose.
1. Have a set time and place for scheduling
Every Sunday afternoon I take an hour to plan my week. I use Google calendar because it integrates well between my desktop and mobile devices. After taking a few minutes to see what has already been scheduled (meals, meetings, family activities, etc.), I am ready to fill in the blanks using the template I created and stored on Evernote.
2. Batch days (or half-days)
My Evernote template includes a checklist that says:
- On Monday, I need to:
- On Tuesday, I need to:
- On Wednesday, I need to:
- On Thursday, I need to:
- On Friday, I need to:
- On Saturday, I need to:
- On Sunday I need to:
I have found that batching work by days helps me focus and increases productivity. The skills that I need to study for sermon preparation are different from the skills that I need to run staff meetings or counsel people. To get into the flow of sermon prep or administrative work, I need time to warm up those particular muscles and put them to work.
Here's what this might look like for you:
- On Monday, I need to: finish sermon research
- On Tuesday, I need to: meet with staff and develop leaders
- On Wednesday, I need to: write the sermon
- On Thursday, I need to: encourage people in our church (counsel, visitation, writing handwritten notes, etc.)
- On Friday, I need to: handle administrative tasks
- On Saturday, I need to: rest
- On Sunday, I need to: preach and get ready for the week ahead
3. Write down 1-2 wins for that day
Once you decide to batch your work - the kind of work you will do on particular days - write down 1-2 specific wins for that day. It might look something like this:
- On Monday, I need to complete all my research for the May 17 sermon on Ruth 1:22-2:1
- On Tuesday, I need to meet with staff and finish preparation for tonight's elder meeting
- On Wednesday, I need to write the May 17 sermon on Ruth 1:22-2:1
- On Thursday, I need to follow up on prayer requests, visit the Smiths and their new baby in the hospital and write thank-you notes.
- On Friday, I need to get my inbox down to zero and file my monthly expense report
- On Saturday, I need to get outside with the family because the weather forecast looks amazing
- On Sunday I need to preach on Ruth 1:22:2-1 and plan my schedule for next week
I want to be able to look ahead and believe that if I accomplish just those tasks, I will have been successful in my work. It's critical to understand that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.
By identifying the few critical tasks that contribute the most value to your church and scheduling them with very short and clear deadlines, you're setting yourself up for success.
4. Eliminate, automate, delegate everything else
So I know you're wondering what you do with everything else that you 'have to do' that isn't part of your daily wins. Here's what I do:
What tasks need to be eliminated?
If an activity will not help me win today, my first thought is to ignore it completely.
What tasks need to be automated?
If I can't eliminate a task, I want to find a way to automate it, so I don't have to take time away from my most important work. Automation can be accomplished by not only batching days but batching tasks.
Try to check email once per day (or even once per week). I also automate important things on my calendar like sleep, exercise, family devotionals - activities that are vital to my health and don't need to be left to chance.
What tasks need to be delegated?
After eliminating and automating, take everything else that could go on your schedule and delegate everything that does not demand your involvement. There will still be meetings and other activities that demand your involvement, but if someone else can do a task within 80% of your ability, let them do it.
Here is where using a virtual assistant is critical and a step I advise pastors and planters to take from day one. Technology affords the opportunity for someone outside of your church to do great work for you. And groups like EAHelp provide options that make hiring a virtual assistant cost effective and a wise investment.
5. Review, repent, and rest
Isaiah 30:15 reminds us that 'in repentance and rest you shall be saved.' There are so many ways that planning and scheduling can take us away from a life of humble dependence upon God. But scheduling and planning are not, by nature, an attempt to play God or keep ourselves from the messiness of life. The call to love under the rule of a sovereign God demands that we hold all of our plans with an open hand. There will be days, even weeks, where life will not go as planned.
That's why I suggest taking time during your weekly scheduling meeting to review the past week and ask two questions:
- Did I accomplish what I set out to do last week?
- Was I responsible to the people and tasks that God has given to me?
If you are paying attention, there will be very particular reasons to celebrate as you look back over the past week. There will also be places where you will need to confess that you chose a different path than the one God had marked out for you. Identify those and take the time to repent, making restitution to anyone you hurt by your failure to be responsible.
And rest in the knowledge that God is faithful when you are not faithful. See next week's schedule as an opportunity to follow Jesus again on the road to loving God and loving people with the life you have been given.
Where do you get stuck in your planning process?