Do you arrive at work hoping to tackle your to-do list, only to slog to your car feeling defeated? Do you look back on your days and feel disappointed at how much time you wasted—or rather, how much you could have gotten done?
Most of us would love to have an extra hour each day to tick off those pesky tasks that always seem to carry into tomorrow. This is particularly true of pastors because your very job description is to be available to your congregants, who aren’t always aware of your workload. With everyone pulling you in different directions, you find yourself stretched too thin with little time left for your personal to-do list.
Follow these seven productivity tips to maximize the time God has blessed you with each day:
1. Eliminate Distractions
We are constantly bombarded with distractions that interfere with our work (i.e. chats with coworkers, internet browsing, social media, emailing, etc.)
Make a list of your personal distractions and post it near your desk. Keep it visible so you can’t miss it. Be firm with yourself. When it’s time to begin sermon prep, do everything within your power to avoid the items on your list. If you think of non-work-related tasks you need to finish, jot them down for later.
If you find yourself becoming distracted, take a few minutes to refocus on your commitment to your ministry and your church. Then, get back to work. Eventually, it will become easier for you to focus each time you get distracted, which in turn makes it easier to stay focused.
I’m not promising that this will be easy, but it will be worth it! Though it might seem difficult at first, in time it will become routine and you’ll find it easier and easier to focus. It takes an incredible amount of self-discipline—but we are creatures of habit, and breaking unproductive habits is essential to getting more done each day.
2. Find the Right Motivation
For many pastors, finding inspiration to begin sermon prep is a major obstacle. It understandably gets difficult to find the motivation to start over with a new sermon every single week. Even with little-to-no distractions, you still struggle to write that first line.
The key to overcoming this mental block is to find the right motivation for you. Is it listening to an uplifting worship song? Is it reading a commentary? Is it taking time to talk with God about where He might lead your sermon that week? Make a list of activities that spark your creativity, then refer to your list when your motivation is lacking.
After that, simply get to work. Don’t worry about whether or not it will be perfect, or if you’re on the right track. Getting the first few lines down is the hardest part, and from there you can build, edit, and tweak. Find the motivation, and just start writing!
3. Create a Productive Work Environment
The overall environment of your office has a huge impact on your productivity. Your body and mind will function best when they are relaxed and comfortable. When you start out your morning in a dimly lit office, while sitting in an uncomfortable chair, you’re less likely to want to stay put and get work done.
Contrary to what most people believe, setting up a productive workspace doesn’t need to be a huge investment. Simply tidying up and rearranging has the potential to give your space the new feel it needs. Little things like proper lighting or an ergonomic desk chair and keyboard can dramatically improve your comfort, which in turn increases your productivity.
Set up an office that feels comfortable and inviting. You want it to be a place you enjoy spending time, rather than a place you’re forced to spend time. Tailor it to your style, and make it a space you’re proud to call yours. You’ll find that you’ll have a much easier time staying motivated with a clean workspace.
4. Organize Yourself
If you are constantly misplacing files and emails, you might need to take a day to thoroughly organize your office. You probably feel like you don’t have time for this, but it will save you lots of time in the long run when you actually know where everything is.
Find an organization system that works for you and stick to it. Create labels for your emails, use an online backup service for emergencies, and keep a notepad handy for times when you need to quickly jot something down. Purge anything you don’t need, as it will just get in the way when you’re trying to find the things you actually do need.
Being organized might seem like a hassle in the moment, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run. You’ll also likely be surprised by how much more productive you feel in a neater, more organized space.
5. Prioritize, Prioritize, and Prioritize
Not having a sense of priorities can land you in a vicious cycle of last-minute time crunches. You get tied up in the things you have to do each day to barely meet deadlines, rather than ever getting to the things you’d like to do. You might even find yourself dropping the ball more often than you’d like.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”
Don’t let time get away from you! Get through as many tasks as you can, and then make a to-do list at the end of each day for the next day. Systematically prioritize your list, focusing first on the most important tasks or the ones that you dread the most. And don’t just create the lists; force yourself to follow them, even when you don’t feel like it.
To help keep yourself on track, make it a habit to develop specific deadlines for each task. Be strict with yourself and make sure the deadlines are scheduled well in advance so you have time for unexpected delays. Start with the tasks that are due first, and enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done on time.
6. Know Your Limitations
God’s work never stops; however, you must remember that you are only human and you have your limitations. Granted, there will be times when you have to overload yourself, but if that routine becomes a habit, it’s the perfect recipe for burnout. Your ministry includes a lot of service and spontaneity. But there are also times you must decline requests.
Set healthy boundaries and be strict with your work/home balance. Set aside time for family and rest. Everyone will benefit from this decision, including your congregation. When you take care of yourself, you’re able to better serve them as well.
It’s easy to start feeling guilty about saying no every once in awhile. But in order for you to serve your congregation to stay motivated, you need to rest, recharge, and spend quality time with your family. Practice saying no in polite but firm ways, and do so when a request is unrealistic.
7. Outsource and Ask for Help
A pastor’s job involves multiples roles; however, as I just said, this doesn’t mean you have to say yes to every task that comes along. Learn to ask for help from family and church members, particularly if there is a task that’s outside your skill set. If the heating system needs to be fixed, find out if a church member can fix it or knows someone who can. Remember, the church is the body of Christ and the members are there to support and uplift you too.
Your time is most valuable being spent doing what you do best—doing things like preaching, counseling, and leading your congregation. If people are willing to help out, let them! Chances are they enjoy giving back to the church, and it’s more beneficial for everyone when you spend your time wisely.
God has blessed everyone with the same 24 hours each day. It’s up to you to decide how effectively you’re going to use them.
Time management is not so much about fixing a timetable for each task of the day, but more about learning how to get the same tasks done more efficiently. By making use of these simple tips, you might be amazed at how much more you can get done each day—as well as how much better you feel at the end of a productive day.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
Above all, seek God in prayer and ask Him how He’d like you to use your time. Only He can help you truly master your day.
P.S. If you would like to order a copy of Pastor Productivity Maximizer—or any of the three books in the Pastoral Leadership and Church Administration Made Easy collection—you can do so on Amazon at the following links: Get Pastor Productivity Maximizer, get Sermon Crunch, get Pastor Email Power.