Overcoming The Biggest Energy-Killer In A Pastor’s Schedule

More energy is wasted switching tasks than anything else we do. Here's how to start getting a handle on it.

You can’t multi-task.

You try. You think you can. But you can’t

Neither can I, because no one can. All we can do is switch between tasks.

But switching between tasks is a massive energy-killer. Since most of us pastor small churches, and small-church pastors do so many tasks, we are constantly shifting between them.

This makes switching between tasks the biggest energy-killer for small-church pastors, by far.

Executives and efficiency experts tell us to assign most of those tasks to others, which is a great idea. But most of us can’t do nearly as much of it as we’d like. Switching between tasks is simply what life and ministry are like for small-church pastors.

So, what can we do to manage, if not rid ourselves of this nagging reality?

Here are a few ideas that have helped me:

1. We Can Plan Better

A lot of task-switching happens because we work reactively instead of proactively. We’re on other people’s schedules instead of ours.

There are a lot of things we can’t plan for days or weeks in advance. This makes it even more important to plan the things we can.

Events like sermon prep, meetings, meals, and sleep shouldn’t take us by surprise. Scheduling days or hours to get away from everything else to prepare for them is a good start.

2. Chunk Your Time

This is a big key. Our most important work can’t be done well in the cracks between other events.

Instead of trying to get ten things done every day, look at what they have in common and clump them into chunks of time.

For instance, most of us would be much better off if we set aside one time per day (two at the most) to answer emails and return phone calls instead of going back to them multiple times a day – or per hour.

Instead of squeezing sermon prep in bits and pieces over several days, take one or two chunks of time each week. You’ll think deeper, get more done, and it will take far less time and energy.

Even those little irritating tasks can be chunked. Plan a couple chunks per week in which you’ll do all of them together.

3. Look Ahead

In Small Church Essentials I wrote about the 3-2-1 Planning System which can add over 150 planning hours a year to the schedule of even the most hurried pastor by taking one hour at a time. It’s not easy, especially at first. But even bivocational pastors can fit in these three hours a week during the commute, lunch hours, or after the kids are in bed.

Every week, I take three uninterrupted hours to do nothing but think, plan, pray, and write, in the following order:

Three months out: Take an hour to think and pray about events and ideas that are three months away. Including sermon series, big events, scheduling special speakers, and what principles you want to build on. These are often starter ideas, “what ifs,” and crazy dreams.

Two months out: Take an hour to think and pray about events and ideas that are two months out. These ideas have gone beyond the “what if” stage and have been green-lighted. By now, dates and times are set, so start thinking about promotional ideas, recruiting volunteers, artwork, and so on.

One month out: Take an hour to think, pray, plan, and work on events one month out. This is when detailed work begins. Start promoting the event and brainstorming ideas for skits, video clips, special songs or sermon illustrations, set-up, teardown, and more.

From Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250

4. Don’t Forget Your Recovery Time

We need to plan as rigorously for time to pray, read the Bible, be with our family, rest, and recover as we do for work. Some of us never get a break because we allow our break time to get filled with everything else.

Jesus is our example in this. No matter what the demands on his time were (and they were significant) he always took time away.

5. Recruit Help

Don’t do this alone. Let your spouse, your volunteers, and your church leaders know what days and times will be devoted to extended tasks and recovery. Then ask them to help you guard those times.

When they see how it helps you, and by extension, how it makes the time you spend with them even better, they’ll be encouraged to help you even more.

Proactivity is the key. While we can’t plan everything, most of us can plan more than we do. Devoting more time to single tasks rather than constantly toggling between tasks makes everything better.

(Photo by Eric | Flickr)


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