A well-known church leader used to enjoy telling Oakwood College students about a conversation he overheard his young son having with a friend. Asked what his father did for work, his son responded matter-of-factly, "Oh, nothing. My dad just preaches and teaches."
Many lay members suffer similar confusion about how pastors spend their time. And the truth is that some times we are confused ourselves. There is much more we can be doing and much frustration we can be avoiding if we know how to make the best use of our time.
Pastors attending the 1989 Annual Ministers' Conference at Oakwood were asked to list the three things they most needed help with. Time management topped the list.1
Effective time management be gins by asking three fundamental questions:
(1) "How do I currently use my time?"
(2) "What are my goals?" and
(3) "How do I plan to accomplish my goals?"
Keeping a time log
We cannot begin to manage our time more effectively unless we know how we have been spending it. Thus the first step in time management is keeping a record of time spent over a specific span. Using a form similar to the accompanying chart, log everything you do for the next week or two.
Once your time log is completed, assess the percentage of time spent in each activity. Then ask some hard questions. Are you really in control of your time? Are all your activities in the "must do" category, or can a few be eliminated? Can you achieve acceptable results by devoting less time to certain things?
Goal setting and prioritizing The next step in time management is establishing clearly defined goals. Most people drift through life without any specific goals before them, reacting to whatever is placed before them by people, events, or things. The goals you list should be your own, and they should be realistic, concrete, and achievable. Additionally, they should have a time frame.
So go ahead and make an exhaustive list of your goals.
Next, categorize your list under the headings "personal" and "vocational." Then decide which goals are definitely important, moderately important, and which are not really important. The very important goals become your A list, the moderately important your B list, and the unimportant your C list.
This accomplished, compare your stated priorities with your time log to see whether you have been focusing on what's really important. Obviously, you have some adjusting to do if your days are cluttered with B or C activities.
Important in time management is prioritizing daily activities. Plan your day in advance preferably the night before and then rank every duty according to its importance in fulfilling your goals. Every day include at least one activity that will help you realize your lifetime or long-term goals.
Begin each morning by performing the most important task. This provides a sense of achievement that will inspire you for the rest of the day.
The Pareto Principle
Effective time management can never be accomplished without giving attention to the Pareto Principle. Named after an Italian economist-sociologist, the Pareto Principle states that "the significant items in a given group normally constitute a relatively small portion of the total items in the group." 2 Out of this thinking came the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of value, benefits, or growth usually comes from 20 percent of items or participants. The remaining 20 percent of value is derived from the other 80 percent of your list.
The Pareto Principle has numerous and significant implications for every phase of life. Faced with a long list of things to do in any given day, most people tackle the simplest or easiest first, forgetting that 80 percent of value will come from doing just 20 percent of the things on the list. In other words, doing the two or three most important items on your list will probably help you realize 80 percent of potential value or benefits.
Two ways to beat procrastination
One of the most insidious pitfalls that plague us in managing our time is procrastination. This problem, according to Burke and Yuen, is "not just a bad habit but a way of expressing internal conflict and protecting a vulnerable sense of self-esteem."3 Procrastination poses serious problems for ministers who often have to perform functions they wish they did not have to, such as calling members who have been opposing everything they have been trying to do, visiting the sick in hospitals, preparing sermons. I know of a few pastors who habitually prepare their sermons Sabbath morning.
How can chronic procrastination be overcome? Bliss suggests some coping mechanisms, among them the salami technique and the balance sheet method.4
The salami method entails slicing up tasks into small, manageable parts. For example, you have been postponing calling that problem member, imagining that the experience will be unpleasant. You can beat procrastination by slicing up your task into the following segments: (1) write down the member's number; (2) set a time to make the call; (3) decide what to say; and (4) at the appointed time place the call. Doing an unpleasant task in incremental stages like this makes it easier to do.
The balance sheet method calls for listing on one side of a paper all the reasons you have been putting off the task and on the other side all the benefits you will gain by completing it. Your reasons for putting off the task will probably be lame excuses, such as "I don't feel like it" or "It's boring." On the other hand, the list of benefits will usually be longer and more compelling. Not the least of these benefits is the sense of relief and satisfaction received when an unpleasant and difficult task is accomplished.
Time—a valuable resource
Few resources at the pastor's disposal are as valuable as time. And everybody has the same 24 hours in each day in which to accomplish our goals. When we master the art of time management, both our churches and our families will benefit tremendously.
1. Annual Ministers' Conference, Oakwood College, "Responses to Questionnaire," 1989.
2. Edwin C. Bliss, Getting Things Done (New York: Bantam Books, 1976), p. 120.
3. Jane B. Burke and Lenora M. Yuen, "Mind Games Procrastinators Play," Psychology Today, January 1982, p. 32.
4. Bliss, p. 131.