One of the myths that we often buy into (especially those of us who are slightly ADHD) is that we can juggle multiple tasks at the same time and do every one of them with excellence. The problem is, we can't. We're simply not meant to. The book The Myth of Multitasking, by Dave Crenshaw, points to a study by Vanderbilt that said there is "no piece of neurological evidence to suggest that the human brain is capable of taking on more than one task at a time." Instead, Crenshaw uses the term "switch tasking" to describe what we do, where we move from task to task, even subconsciously.
Don't believe me? Try this. Write down a simple sentence, "Winter weather is no fun." Try timing yourself. Wrote it pretty quick didn't you? Except instead of writing the sentence, after each letter write underneath it a number. So W, then underneath it 1; I, then underneath it 2, and so on. Took a little longer didn't it?
As pastors we think we can juggle and balance a dozen open windows on our computer, replying to every email and Facebook message as they come in, checking our texts, studying, writing, answering phone calls, and handling office visits.
Guys. Stop it. We're doing stuff halfway instead of giving our excellence to everything we do (cf. Colossians 3:23).
Instead, let's embrace time budgeting. You can set it up however you want that works for you. But budget/block your time where you're focused exclusively on a single task at a time. That means you close your email. That means you don't compulsively check social media. It means you schedule when you return calls, when you answer email, when you commit to your sermon/lesson preparation and study, when you are open to visits.
Here's a few tools to help you shape your time budget:
1. Eisenhower Decision Matrix - This is a way of seeing if something is urgent or important. Most of the time we camp out doing things that are urgent but not important, so we're not able to devote ourselves to the most important responsibilities we have. That's where the D word comes in - Delegate. The Eisenhower Matrix helps us see what we need to Do, and what we can Delegate.
2. Pomodoro Technique - Honestly, this is as close as I'll ever get to a tomato. It works though! Taking your day and building in "brain breaks" allows you to stay fresh throughout the day, and keep you focused and on task when you need to be dialed in.
3. Blocking Time - If you use a digital calendaring system, this is an easy way to break up your day and then float around your tasks as interruptions/emergencies arise. Time blocks are similar to Pomodoro, but serve more as boundary lines for what you're planning to do during the block.
4. Limit Visit Time - Chuck Lawless advises using standing as a way to communicate your need to end a visit. Sometimes longer visits are important and needed. But most of the time they're unnecessary and wasting time. So make sure to communicate your availability (30 minutes, an hour, etc.) and use body language to communicate.
5. Prioritize Your Preparation Time - One thing we can't avoid in ministry is that Sunday comes every 7 days. And you can't stand in front of God's people and blame your lack of preparation on being busy. You must be ready, each and every Sunday, to share God's word, whether you're a preaching pastor or a ministry leader with teaching responsibility. So prioritize your time. Communicate to your team and especially your assistant when this time is. Emergencies happen, so be flexible. But when you're devoting yourself to preparation, devote yourself to preparation. Study hard. Read hard. Write hard. Because on Sunday God's people need what you have to say.
What have you found to be a useful way to manage time and focus on
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.