For many of us, the most serious challenge in competent time management is neither finding a block of time to take a sabbatical nor making the effort to create a healthy daily schedule on paper. The most serious challenge is adhering to the schedule we say we have.

The first element in competent daily self-management is knowing and meeting your own needs for adequate exercise and rest. An increasing body of medical research is showing that adults need eight to nine hours of sleep to function well. Doctors are virtually unanimous that we all need a minimum of 30 minutes’ exercise every day. If we fail in these two simple aspects of self-care, we will damage our effectiveness in virtually every area of our lives.

I tend to be an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person. It’s relatively easy for me to get to bed and then get up, exercise, and get to work in the morning. That may not work for you. You may like to stay up late and hate any activity before 11 a.m. If your natural rhythm is to be a night owl, look for ways to organize your time to make maximum use of your evenings. For example, you may be a person who should do your daily devotional reading and prayer at night rather than subjecting God to your grumpiness in the morning. You might even combine exercise and devotion. I knew one seminary professor, who happened to be deaf, who would turn off his hearing aids and walk three miles from his home to and from campus every day. He accomplished prayer, exercise, and his daily commute all at the same time. At a minimum, in the context of your own tradition’s practices, it’s essential to build in time for your own personal relationship with God.

The very nature of pastoral life works against keeping a schedule. The phone is always ringing. Someone is dropping in. Sudden crises or opportunities can interrupt the day. It’s frighteningly easy to get to the end of a day without having accomplished anything you intended to do. For me the simple technique of making a list helped greatly. During my devotional time each morning, I would jot down those items that I believed needed attention during the day. As each was attended to, I crossed it off the list. At the end of the day, I carried over unfinished items to the next day’s list. The process gave me a sense of accomplishment and helped alleviate that feeling of “never being finished” which often plagues the pastoral life. Simple techniques from the business world can also be helpful. The One Minute Manager, for example, offers a number of ideas that can be adapted to the administrative areas of ministerial life.1

Even with the best of management, of course, a day or a week will often get away from you. There’s no way to plan for the week when three homebound seniors die within 36 hours. One key to responsible time management on a continuing basis comes from managing the time blocks in your week. Think of the week as pastoral care expert Wayne Oates does in The Minister’s Own Mental Health.2 Oates divides the week into 21 periods—morning, afternoon, and evening for each of the seven days. In a typical 9-to-5, 40-hour job, work would consume 10 of the 21 periods. Acknowledging that pastors often work when others don’t, Oates suggests that the rule of thumb for a pastor’s normal week would be to work no more than 13 of the 21 periods. If circumstances require you to work 15 of the 21 units in a given week, why not take off an extra two units the next week to keep your average at 13? Approaching your work week with this kind of sliding scale both allows the necessary flexibility to deal with situations as they arise and keeps in mind the goal of adequate rest, recreation, and time with family and friends. Somebody, sometime, has to mow the lawn, do the laundry, clean the house, and buy the groceries!

If you’re having trouble getting your schedule under control with Oates’s time blocks, you might find it helpful to look at your time use in smaller increments. For example, take a two-week period and keep track of every 15 minutes of your time at work. Then take a hard look at how you used that time. Did you spend excess time talking with others in the office, surfing the Net, or playing with PowerPoint? How could you discipline yourself to free up more time for productive work?

This Test Is Worth the Time!

Good managers of time tend to know that they do well with scheduling. And poor time managers tend to know how badly they do. But if you’re not sure how well you’re doing, here’s a brief quiz to help you think about your time-management skills. Mark the following statements true or false for you. The more you answer with “false,” the more your time-management skills need a tune-up.

  1. T/F   My sermon is always substantially finished before Saturday.
  2. T/F   I am rarely, if ever, late for meetings.
  3. T/F   I visit members, those in nursing homes and those who are homebound, on a regular schedule.
  4. T/F   I take my day off weekly, except for genuine emergencies.
  5. T/F   I have a regular daily time for devotion and prayer.
  6. T/F   My secretary knows the day I prepare my sermon.
  7. T/F   I think that I spend most of my time on the most important things.
  8. T/F   I’m confident that I visit hospital patients often enough during their stay.
  9. T/F   I almost always attend my children’s school and sports events.
  10. T/F   Our family takes at least two weeks’ vacation every year.
  11. T/F   I seem to have enough time for myself.
  12. T/F   My sermons are usually planned several weeks in advance.
  13. T/F   I sleep eight hours a night.
  14. T/F   I exercise half an hour or more several days a week.
  15. T/F   My spouse and I set aside time to be with each other.
  16. T/F   Church people feel that I’m accessible.
  17. T/F   I am home four or more evenings per week.
  18. T/F   My desk top is cleaned regularly.
  19. T/F   I list the tasks I hope to accomplish each day.
  20. T/F   I get adequate time each week for study and prayer.
  21. T/F   I try never to do things someone else could do just as well.

Time management is not an exact science. Nor is it the same for each person. But good time management can make the difference between a successful, fulfilling ministry, and one that seems to splash about aimlessly in the shallows. Most important, time management is a skill that can be learned, and learning it is worth the time!

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1. Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, The One Minute Manager (New York: Berkley Books, 1981).
2. Wayne Oates, “The Healthy Minister,” in The Minister’s Own Mental Health (Great Neck, N.Y.: Channel Press, 1961), 16.

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Featured Resources

AL297_SMThe Hidden Lives of Congregations: Understanding Church Dynamics by Israel Galindo

One of the Academy of Parish Clergy’s top ten books of 2004

The Hidden Lives of Congregations provides one of the most far-reaching looks into the invisible nature of faith communities written in recent years. For seminaries and divinity schools, it provides a standard text for getting a solid start in congregational practices; for experienced pastors, it provides support for renewing ministry; for lay leaders and committees, it offers insight to deepening mutual ministry. Israel Galindo has written an indispensable manual that leaders will return to repeatedly for new wisdom and guidance on the unseen mechanisms that drive congregational life. >

AL298_SM Paying Attention: Focusing Your Congregation on What Matters by Gary Peluso-Verdend

In this inspiring volume, Gary Peluso-Verdend issues a clarion call to congregational leaders to refocus their church’s attention on the core matters of Christian faith—the Word, the example of Christ, and an intentional embrace of theology and spiritual practice—to renew the congregation’s vision and to center itself again on God’s call. With study questions at the end of each chapter and an imagined conversation between people practicing theology in their congregation, Paying Attention provides an invaluable companion in a congregation’s journey toward purposeful, attentive faithfulness.

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