Tips about time

The difference between the mediocre and the efficient may well be in how well you manage your time.

Don Reynolds is an assistant to the General Conference president for special projects and director of Christian Leadership Seminars.

My thoughts are running after birds' eggs, play, and trifles, till I get vexed with my self. Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me studying. I own I am ashamed of myself. ... I am determined this week to be more diligent."

Such was the frustration expressed by a 9-year-old future president of the United States, John Adams (as related in John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage). Young Adams, addressing his father, concluded: "I wish, sir, you would give me in writing some instructions with regard to the use of my time."

Religious leaders of the 1990s might not find themselves hunting birds' eggs frequently, but we certainly can relate to John Adams' turmoil in trying to manage time. It's something like trying to manage the wind. Time is not a substance that is subject to our will. It comes our way every day, whether we ask for it or not.

Time is the dimension within which we live, move, and work. And all of us have the same amount: 1,440 minutes every day. Unlike money, time can't be stored for future use. We cope with our crowded schedules one day at a time.

Many of us aren't doing so well. Witness this quotation from a survey of Roman Catholic priests in a 14-state area: "If a time study were conducted of priests, such as is done for people in business, it would be found that we are operating at about one half of our potential." No doubt a survey of Protestant and Jewish clergy would reveal a similar need for better personal organization.

Getting organized

If you can't organize yourself, you will be possessed by your watch, your calendar, or the people whom you are trying to serve. Mastering the art of get ting things done in an organized manner must become a way of life for leaders. Few people are born proficient in this art; we must learn it. Many of us never do.

What really counts? It's not how much we do with our time that counts it's how much that really gets done. Our goal must be doing the right thing right and doing it right the first time. This involves prioritizing the things we do. Maybe it's what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote: "So be careful how you act.... Make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good" (Eph. 5:15, 16, TLB).

Give yourself a checkup

Many of us are unaware of the many little ways we squander time. If you have questions about that, take a break from reading this article and do the 25-point checkup on page 18.

All done? Look over your answers. If there is a "no," review the subject and determine what you can do to correct the deficiency. The price of effectively man aging ourselves is eternal vigilance, but the rewards are well worth it.

Getting rid of time wasters

Time has an urgency attached to it. Jesus said, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work" (John 9:4). The great pioneer missionary Robert Moffatt felt this when he described time in relationship to winning people: "We shall have all eternity in which to celebrate our victories, but we have only one short hour before the sunset in which to win them."

Sensing the lateness of the hour helps us make the best use of our time. The urgent versus the important Balancing the urgent with the important is our ever-present concern. Generally speaking, the urgent has vital short-term consequences, but the important has long-term consequences. I think of Peter Drucker's observation: "More people are interested in doing things right than in doing the right things." Here's where efficiency and effectiveness come into play:. The efficiency expert says, "Do the job right." The effectiveness expert says, "Do the right job right."

The following grid might help us.














Beginning in the lower left corner with quadrant A, the nonurgent and unimportant, we find leaders who are caught with the "shuffles." They don't really know where to turn to escape the trifling minutia that demand attention.

Administrative and pastoral leaders often face such situations. Here are the demands of the trivial, the unimportant, the inconsequential, the irrelevant. You know, the puny problems. Sometimes the junk mail.

Quadrant B boils down to the urgent but unimportant items. Someone did a survey on a leader's urgent telephone interruptions while in personal conference with someone else. The results: 70 percent of the telephone calls were less important than the issues involved in the personal conversation.

You've probably heard about the 80/ 20 rule. It's a general principle of life. Fund-raisers report that 80 percent of donations come from 20 percent of the people. Of the phone calls you get 80 percent are from 20 percent of your contacts. Have you noticed? And according to the 80/20 rule, we tend to spend 80 percent of our time on what produces just 20 percent of the results. Apparently we devote most of our time to that which might be urgent but often turns out to be unimportant.

As leaders we must work toward turning this 80/20 ratio around. Let's spend our time on things that bring the greatest results.

Now back to our grid. Quadrant C calls for the urgent and the important. At first this may seem to be a good place to be operating. What's wrong with doing the important? Nothing. But if the important item is always in the urgent position, you've got a crisis.

There are times when crisis leader ship is the way to go. If there is a fire in the house, that's urgent and important. But who wants to be putting out fires every day? There is a better way to manage the work we do within the time frames we have.

This brings us to quadrant D, with its nonurgent but important elements. If you as leader can truly deal with the important before the important becomes urgent, you are a winner! You will not only save time, but save the need to manufacture energy bursts that frustrate you and everybody around you.

How do you get into this fourth quadrant? You organize and prioritize your life. Good planning won't rid you of all your hassles or "lightweights," but it will help you evaluate where you may be operating from in the many leadership situations. If you spend most of your time on the important and not the urgent, you will accomplish much more than many leaders and thus be saving a whale of a lot of time.

Here are some hints that can help us make the best use of time:

1. Be industrious but not overanxiously busy.

The Bible says "a relaxed attitude lengthens a man's life" (Prov. 14:30, TLB). Solomon's analogy about ants has much to teach us on this point. They busily but calmly do whatever needs to get done.

2. Avoid spinning your wheels.

Merely keeping active is not the best way to get things done. Beware of spinning your wheels, getting nowhere. Christ's advice to one busy servant of His illustrates the point: "Martha, Martha, you are fretting and fussing about so many things; but one thing is necessary. The part that Mary has chosen is best" (Luke 10:41, 42, NEB).

Be like Mary. Among all the things clamoring for attention, keep focused on what's most important.

3. Do it now if possible.

Postponing something that can be done immediately wastes time. For example, if a memo in your hands should be processed immediately but you set it aside for later action, that's inefficient as well as stress-producing.

4. Use your secretary.

I know a departmental director who insists upon opening his own mail. Sure, he has a secretary who could open it and prioritize it into first class, memos, junk mail, or whatever. But he seems to love hearing that letter opener zip through those envelopes one after the other the whole stack of them! Perhaps this man wants to do what he likes instead of what he ought putting second things first, allowing pleasures to dictate priorities.

So make good use of your secretary, if you have one. Many pastors don't. We ought to encourage church boards and conferences to provide them secretarial assistance. Helpers are available people are living longer today and retiring earlier. We need to tap into this growing pool of talent.

5. Use your time twice.

During your travel time you can listen to audiocassette tapes. Or fill them with your own dictation a great time to answer your mail.

6. Chart your energy cycle.

Some people are "morning people." They are ready to go when their feet hit the floor at 6:00 a.m. Others well, don't talk to them for the first 30 minutes lathe morning! They don't reach their peak of productivity until later in the day. Chart your own energy cycle and work accordingly.

7. Settle trifles quickly.

It's surprising how much time this can save. If it doesn't make any particular difference which way it goes, settle it quickly! Which route should we take? Little or no difference settle it now!

8. Eliminate the things you shouldn't be doing.

"Delegate" is the word here. Farming out is part of your job. And when assigning a task to someone else, also give that person the responsibility to handle it.

9. Group your telephone calls.

Suppose you're in a heavy planning session, either alone or with someone. The phone rings often. You and your secretary have agreed on when and how you want your calls screened. Your secretary knows what's an emergency that deserves interrupting you, and when to say, "He[she] wants to talk to you but can he[she] call you back when he[she] is free?" Now you can group all these phone calls into a time frame from, say, 11:30 to 12:00 or from 4:30 to 5:00. You've just saved yourself a bundle of time.

10. Schedule regular meetings.

This can save everybody's time. The whole committee should know from month to month when staff meetings will convene. If you unexpectedly summon people to meet, they have to adjust their own schedules. That's not always easy, and they don't like it. Granted, some meetings can't be anticipated. But for those that can---schedule them!

Furthermore, you don't have to meet just because you are scheduled to. If there isn't an agenda, cancel the meeting. No one will cry too much!

11. Plan for the unexpected.

In your daily schedule, program some time for the unavoidably unexpected things that always happen. You will have fewer stress symptoms, and maybe even fewer ulcers.

12. Make a "to do" list.

Here's a good habit to get into. List what needs to be done for the day and for the week, and then prioritize---attack the major duties first. Ask yourself, "Which elephant will I go after today?" Then you won't find yourself wasting time stomping the ants---those trivial details. Some people make a career of hunting ants instead of elephants. Why? They get a quicker kill, and thus a higher body count. But what a waste of that one precious resource we all have: our time!

Time is irreversible, irreplaceable, inelastic, and keeps on happening. All of us have the same 60 minutes in an hour, the same 168 hours each week, the same 365 days each year. What makes us effective is getting organized and managing ourselves well. 

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Don Reynolds is an assistant to the General Conference president for special projects and director of Christian Leadership Seminars.

January 1992

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