It's About Time: Tips & Tools for Using it Well

Like you, I'm busy. 

Being a pastor can be a hectic calling. Between preparing sermons, planning events, discipling, counseling, visiting, and leading, you can feel pulled in a hundred different directions. Many weeks you find yourself putting in long hours. Some days you can not leave “work at the office.” If you’re like me and you’re pastoring a smaller church, you’re wearing numerous hats and keeping many balls in the air (sorry for mixing metaphors…but you get the idea).

One disclaimer before I dive in: I’m no time management guru or productivity maven. Many are far more organized and vast throngs are infinitely more intelligent and diligent than I am. I’m a pretty average pastor dealing with pretty average responsibilities with pretty average skill.

So, without further ado, here are eight tools and one reality that have helped me more faithfully to use the time graciously allotted to me: 

1. A Routine  

It really helps to have certain tasks assigned to certain days. Every Sunday is church (duh). I take every Monday off (some people prefer days later in the week). Tuesdays are split between administration in the morning and studying in the afternoon. I lead our mid-week small group on Wednesday evenings. Thursdays are my people days. Everything else is studying. The “big rocks” are givens just about every week.

2. Clear Priorities  

My pastor growing up put it simply: “Preach the Word. Love the people.” Devoting myself to the Word of God and prayer are my priorities. That means it’s totally fine to delegate away cutting the grass, preparing for communion, or training the new guy for the sound booth. It’s appropriate for the bulk of your time to be devoted to studying God’s Word and discipling/serving people. That’s basically what pastoring is all about.

3. A Calendar 

All appointments and events go on the calendar. I’m an Apple guy, so everything syncs between my MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and watch. To make the best use of the calendar, I limit it to appointments that involve other people and have a specific time (e.g. “Meet John for Lunch at Noon at Panera”). Don’t try to use the calendar for task management; it will get too busy.

4. Task Management Software

I use Todoist for task management. All projects are broken down into tasks, and routine tasks (e.g. Translate Sunday morning’s passage) are set to repeat every week. All tasks are assigned to a project and given a deadline. I’ve got all projects divided under the different areas of responsibility I have Family, Church, Personal, and Social. Under “Church” I have sub-categories for “Preaching,” “Administration,” “Planning,” and “Pastoring/People.” Under preaching, for example, I have task lists for Sunday AM, Sunday School, Sunday Night, and Wednesday night. Under Sunday AM, I have individual tasks, like “Translate Text,” “Read Commentaries,” and “Fill out Application Grid.” Doing this might seem unnecessary, but it keeps me sane by giving me a workflow for every sermon, every event, and every administrative area.

5. Church Management Software 

There are tons of Church Management software tools out there. We use Breeze because it fits the needs of our small, but growing church. Breeze helps significantly with planning events, communicating with the church, and having one place to find information like addresses, and phone numbers. Having everything in one place that is accessible from my laptop, iPad, and phone is amazingly helpful

6. Logos

Few tools have revolutionized my life like Logos. It’s put warehouses of tools into my little garage. I’m certain that I’m only utilizing like 1% of the program’s potential, but the tools I do use are amazingly helpful. I can now study just about anywhere, which is great because I hate the office. Most of the time, I’m hanging out in a coffee shop somewhere. I can’t say that it’s sped up my sermon prep, because now I have more resources to employ and more rabbits to chase. But I spend less time thumbing through BDAG and more time thinking about a word’s particular usage in the broader scope of the Bible. 

7. An Alarm Clock

Hands down, the most helpful discipline I’ve built into my life in the last few years has been getting up early-ish (usually around 5am). This gives me time to linger in the Word for my own soul, read stuff that I want to read, go for a walk, and pray. Few things will spur productivity throughout the day like the sense of accomplishment that comes from knocking out the most important things at the beginning of the day.

8. Screen Time Limitations 

I’m a squirrel. I love distractions. They’re like a bag of potato chips—I can’t ignore them. I had my wife set up screen time limitations on my devices (shared across all devices) that limit my ability to access time-wasters like Facebook, Twitter, the news, etc. until after work hours. If I know I can’t access them till later, I’m way less distracted. I’m not great at managing my focus, but setting up Screen Time has helped a lot. Frankly, I often wonder how productive I could have been if I’d lived in the pre-internet age, but this is the world in which I live. Oh, and items 3-6 on this list are all tools of technology.

9. Eternal Awareness

I’ve long been haunted by verses like II Corinthians 5:10. We will give an account for how we use our time. Sure, I’m accountable to my wife, my elders and deacons, and my church; but ultimately, I’m accountable to God. One day, I will give an account for how I used every second. This thought is a heavy one. It’s lost on a vast sea of trivialities. It’s a somber melody easily drowned out by the din of daily life, a thought easily crowded out by the many unruly guests of mindless entertainment and constant scrolling, but it is true nonetheless. When the unruly guests leave and the din dies down, we are left with ourselves facing eternity. 


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