Confession: I’m very bad at time management. I’m not an expert by any means. Everything I’ve learned about it, I’ve learned the hard way.
Not too long ago I learned the importance of carving out blocks of time to accomplish weekly tasks. During what has been the busiest season of my ministry life yet, it has been a lifesaver; and I’d like to share the concept to hopefully be a benefit to others in ministry who are just as bad at time management as I am!
The basic idea is this: if you have a task that must be done every week, rather than simply doing it when you get a chance that week, block out a specific segment of time on your calendar to get that task done every week. Don’t just set a reminder to do it a certain day. Carve out a chunk of time by setting start and end times, just as you would for a meeting.
For instance, every Wednesday from 9:30-12:00, I have a calendar appointment to work on current music arrangements. Whether it’s a choir anthem or opener, a song someone has written that they want me to notate, or an arrangement for our college’s tour groups, I always have arranging work to do, so I have carved that time out each week as my time to do it.
Some benefits to working in blocks of time:
- It can help you not to overcommit yourself. Overcommittal results from (among other things) thinking you have more time than you actually do. Carving out blocks of time lets you visually see just how much time you need to get a week’s worth of work done, which helps you know when you need to say no to the extras.
- It reduces stress. If you know that you have a block of time carved out on Tuesday to study your message, then you don’t have to spend Monday worrying about it.
Some tips to help you get started:
- Be rigid. Consider this an “appointment with yourself,” and treat this appointment just as you would treat any other appointment like a staff meeting or lunch appointment with a church member. We have the tendency to view things that involve only ourselves as less rigid than those that involve other people. As a result, those personal tasks can get relegated to our “leftover” time. Unfortunately, there will be weeks in the ministry when you simply do not have “leftover time.” You will only have time to do what you’ve scheduled. Therefore, it is crucial that you schedule those tasks that must get done as appointments. If someone asks you if you can pick up an extra task during that time, apologize but tell them that you already have an appointment. Obviously, sometimes urgent things will come up. When deciding whether a matter is urgent enough to break your appointment with yourself, ask yourself, “Would I miss a staff meeting for this?” If the answer is no, I recommend keeping your appointment.
- Think larger blocks. It is not necessary to schedule tasks that will take a few minutes on your calendar; it would look rather ridiculous for your calendar every week to say “Turn on sound system” from 9:00 a.m – 9:01 a.m Sunday morning. A good rule of thumb is if it takes 30 minutes or more of your time, set a calendar appointment; otherwise, just set a reminder or to-do list item.
- Consider spreading out. It may be that you need to carve out more than one block of time during the week for the same task. I would definitely recommend this if it’s something that will take several hours to accomplish (studying for messages, for example).
- Move on! If you carve out 9-9:30 as your time to write a bulletin insert, and by 9:30 you’re not quite done, move on to the next task. You can come back to the insert later during unoccupied time. You may even carve out a weekly block as “Complete Unfinished Tasks.”
- Don’t fill every minute. Leave some time in between your task-blocks for time to do extra things, time to unwind, or time to finish uncompleted tasks. You don’t want to wear yourself out, and you don’t want to be so full schedule-wise that you don’t have time for people (you’re in ministry, after all)!
- Have a Weekly Review. Make one of your weekly blocks of time a “Weekly Review.” Look at the previous week’s tasks — did you carve out enough time to get them done, or do you need to change how you schedule those blocks of time for the upcoming week? Look at the upcoming week — is there anything out of the ordinary scheduled, for which you must carve out a block of time to prepare? A retirement center sermon or a youth activity to set up for? This weekly review time is crucial. I have found that when I neglect my weekly review, I always regret it, because something sneaks up on me that I didn’t carve out time to prepare for.
It will take some time to get the feel for how rigid you need to be, how long your blocks of time need to be, and what you need/don’t need to block time for. However, once you get the hang of it, I hope you’ll find it just as much a help as I have.