…redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16.
How’s that for a verse out of context? Almost as good as “where there is no vision, the people perish” as a long-range planning verse or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as a motto for winning championships. But there is a valid application here. Time is a precious gift and in our lives in these evil days, using it wisely is essential.
I am going to state two facts that I will not bother to buttress or prove. If you do not accept either of these, just move on. They are demonstrably true, above question, and I know that as a fact.
1. Learning to manage time wisely is one of the keys to effectiveness in ministry (or any endeavor).
We have different gifts, different talents, and different natural abilities. Some of us are stunningly handsome and others of us look like CB Scott. Some of us can preach and others, well, remember what momma said about if you can’t say something nice! But we all get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Time is the most egalitarian of resources – we all have an equal amount. The difference is not how much we get but how we use the same amount as everyone else.
2. I am TERRIBLE at time management – always have been and probably always will be.
I’ve tried Day-Runners, day-planners, every form of software and system there is. I’ve seen some of these guys share their day management systems and my brain explodes a bit. One man shared his system online and I think baby Greek was easier to learn than his system. It worked for him and I’m sure he’s ten times more efficient and effective than I am, but if I have a complicated system of time management I won’t manage it.
Fortunately, last year (far and away the busiest I’ve ever had) was made easier by the discovery of new (actually very old) time management system that helped me get through the Pastors’ Conference schedule. I’d like to share the basics of that with you. It’s very simple. You need a pen and a piece of paper, though I’ve created a template that I use.
The Best (Simple) Solution I’ve Ever Found
No, I’m not selling anything, though I’d be glad to share my Powerpoint file with anyone who wants to use it. I print a monthly booklet every month to use the system. It is called the Ivy Lee system. Ivy Lee was this guy who went around to corporations a long time ago telling the CEOs, “I can make you much more effective.” He shared this simple system and got tons of followers. You can read about him on the internet.
Here it is in a nutshell.
Step 1: Make your to-do list for the day.
If you are a morning person, do it then. If like me, you are a night person, maybe you do it before bed, planning the next day. You think and pray through the things you need to get done in ministry the next day.
Step 2: Pick out the “Top 6” items on the list and rank them in order of importance.
What is the most important thing you have to do today? What is the next most important thing? Pick out the six most important things and rank them in priority order, starting with #1. This is called your Top 6 – your 6 most important tasks ranked in order.
Step 3: Start on #1 until it’s done, then go to #2, then #3, etc.
Work down the list from 1, to 2, to 3. Do the most important things first. After you’ve accomplished the Top Six, if you still have time keep working. If you don’t get all 6 done (I seldom do) at least you go home knowing you did the most important stuff.
That’s the Ivy Lee system.
1. To-do lists can be a little deceiving.
I’ll bet you’ve done it too.
- Added things you did to your to-do list so you could cross them off.
- Worked on the things that were easiest to do so you could get more items crossed off.
It’s great at the end of the day if you have a to-do list with 700 crossed off items, but if you left off the most important things, you may have not actually have done well.
2. Remember the “Tyranny of the Urgent.”
There’s a little booklet by that name – I think it’s from the Navigators. Here’s the gist.
“The urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent.”
If we do not prioritize our important tasks we will end up doing all the urgent things and ignoring the important stuff.
3. Don’t put your routine stuff on there, unless it’s a problem.
I wouldn’t put your devotional time or things like that on there unless you are struggling for consistency or starting something new. Actually, on the sheet I created, I have a checklist for two or three things I need to do every day to remind me of them – exercise, devotions, etc.
4. Don’t panic if life interrupts your schedule.
That will happen on the order of 365 days a year. Emergencies. Someone shows up at the office. You get a phone call. It happens. But if you are working down your list then that’s okay. Maybe you only get one thing done today, or two. But if they were the one or two most important things in your ministry today, then you had a good day – much better than if you crossed 15 items off your t0-do list but procrastinated on the stuff that matters.
5. This system is for the management-impaired, like me.
You high-functioning, highly disciplined guys impress me, but if I try to use your systems I just don’t make it. Brain-sprain. This system would work well for guys like me who aren’t highly organized, administratively-gifted, CEO-types. If your desk is cluttered, your calendar a mess, and your filing system chaotic, this kind of simplicity might be for you.
6. Don’t let failure compound in guilt.
I heard a term somewhere that describes me at times – “disappointed perfectionist.” I want to do everything write but I know I never do. A disappointed perfectionist is a perfectionist who gave up! We carry that guilt of “I didn’t get it done.” “I’ll try again next week.” We may work hard but it seems like the work never gets done. As you do the things that matter most, remember that perfection awaits heaven and you never will achieve that here.
Here is the hard cold reality of life as a pastor:
You will never once lay your head down on your pillow having completed all your work. You ALWAYS could have done more. Someone ALWAYS expected more out of you. Someone is ALWAYS disappointed in you and you will ALWAYS be frustrated that your to-do list is never done.
But you have to learn to live with that. Accept your imperfection and the fact that not everyone is going to love you. Hey, Pastor Bubba Bob, if they didn’t all love Jesus they aren’t all going to love you. Just keep plugging away.
7. Let God set your agenda.
Okay, continuationist alert! But it helps to be prayerful as you plan your schedule. My favorite leadership book is “Spiritual Leadership” by Henry Blackaby, in which he talks about the difference between working out your own agenda or working off of God’s. It makes all the difference. If your “Top Six” is yours, God is under no obligation to bless it, but if it is drawn from and reflects the heart of God, his power is there. I know that’s a little mystical for some of you, but I believe it’s true!
As you plan your day let the Lord direct your steps.
I am going to include a copy of the sheet I use for my daily planning here, just as an example. I also have a monthly and annual projects page I use for a little long-range planning. The “devo” on the page is something I do daily – an online devotional I write. Since it’s a daily responsibility I put it there. If this helps you, fine. It has helped me.