Pastor's Pastor

Making the most of your time

Some helpful tips to help you manage your time

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The same commandment that instructs us to keep the Sabbath also tells us to work six other days. If God is so interested in our use of His holy day, He also wants us to utilize effectively our ordinary days.

Even though the Christian ethic strongly emphasizes the sanctity of time, I observe far too many pastors failing to organize their time for maximum productivity. If you find your self too busy, the following suggestions may help.

Organize tomorrow tonight.

Before you go to sleep, invest a few minutes in planning. List every thing you hope to accomplish tomorrow. Place a priority number by the most important item and relegate to every task a relative importance. When tomorrow arrives, attack your top priority until it is accomplished. Only then move to the next item. You may not accomplish everything on your list, but you will finish the most important.

Get a notebook.

Record your daily "to do" list in a notebook that you always keep with you. Write memos, messages, and other data in your notebook rather than on scraps of paper. If information is important enough to write down, it is important to preserve it where you can find it. Keep all information in the same notebook appointments, agendas, addresses and phone numbers, etc. Initially, it may seem awkward not to reach for a scrap of paper, but you will quickly value your ability to retrieve data after your handwriting has grown cold!

Account for your time.

Keep a log of what you do for three weeks in quarter-hour segments. You will be surprised both by your wasted time as well as by how much you accomplish in short periods. Remember, no day is typical for pastors; so don't expect your log to reflect any "typical" days. Instead, recognize the challenge of making the most effective use of untypical time.

Plan your time.

Set a weekly schedule in which you divide each day into three segments---morning, afternoon, and evening. Make sure to set some time aside for your family and personal duties, and then schedule what you intend to do with the balance of your segments. Of course, emergencies may arise, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning will also help you manage two major time-wasters---phone calls and mail.

Tame your telephone.

Don't let others determine your day. Other people can totally direct your time as you respond to their calls. As they set your agenda, you are reacting rather than acting. If possible, get a volunteer or machine to screen your calls. Then answer those that really need a response all at one time rather than responding to each one at the moment someone else thinks you should talk.

Handle paper only once.

In dealing with mail, you can choose to act intentionally rather than haphazardly react to the postal carrier's schedule. Nothing demands that you open your mail every day. Choose a time weekly when you open accumulated letters. Try to dispense with each piece as you read it. If a report is requested, get the details now. Respond while the item is fresh. You will work more quickly now than when the letter is "cold." Never type a formal reply if a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter can suffice.

Discard every thing possible. If you cannot bear to throw paper away, try this four-step process:

A: answer everything possible at the moment you read it.

B: box anything that you don't immediately handle and store the box in your closet. The papers are there if you need to retrieve them. When the box is full, start a new box and discard the first box by the time you start a third box. If you haven't needed an item in the months it has taken to fill two boxes, you likely will never need it.

C: clip any creative items you want to file and preserve them in a "to sort" box until that time when you plan to file sermon-starters or other ideas.

D: discard everything else. Toughen your resolve and throw it away. Never keep any information that someone else is responsible for maintaining. You can always get what you need from them.

Do two things simultaneously.

Listen to cassette tapes as you drive. Shave as you shower. Memorize Scripture as you exercise. Read as you ride the bus or train. Organize and sort items on your desk as you talk on the phone. Jot notes or plan program outlines while you sit in committee meetings.

Begin meetings promptly and end on time.

If you wait for your committee to arrive before you begin, they will show up late the next time too. Start meetings on time. Include a special feature or important item early, and you will train attenders to be prompt. Do everything possible to end promptly. While consensus is a worthy objective, limit the time each per son can speak on an issue. Long speeches seldom share more information. They just waste time. Once major points have been noted, ask if anyone has something to contribute that has not been noted and then call for a decision.

Steal minutes.

Sometimes you are at the mercy of someone else's tardiness, or you are waiting for an appointment. Keep a book with you at all times. You would be surprised how quickly you can read a chapter. You can read many psalms in one minute. Many chapters of Scripture can be read in five minutes. Don't waste these opportune moments.

Waste some time.

Plan to give yourself some fallow days. This is not really wasted time. Your mind becomes most creative when you allow it to wander and wonder. Your best ideas will come when you are relaxed and not pushing to finish a list task. "Down time" is essential for optimum performance.

Establish reasonable expectations. You will never accomplish everything you could devise to do. So don't be frustrated when you fail. You will never regret accomplishing less in order to give quality time relating to your family and your God. In fact, the time you spend with Jesus and your spouse will make all your other time more productive!

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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