Time Management for Busy Pastors, Part 1

Pastors who struggle to finish their work each week often don’t have enough to do, so their workweeks become filled with “busy” but low-priority tasks.

  
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“It seems like I’m always working on my sermon on Friday and Saturday when what I really want to do is be with my family. I don’t know how the week gets away from me.”

This young pastor was sad. As I talked with him, it became clear that he hadn’t been equipped in seminary for the practicalities of ministry. Seminary is very helpful for learning about biblical studies, theology, and even theoretical ministry, but seminary does not teach the important but intangible things of ministry such as interpersonal skills, leadership development, and time management. 

The pastor I was talking with needed some guidance on how to structure his week. He was a good preacher, but he was struggling to contain the overflow of his week and manage the different “buckets” of his week better. He knew it was affecting both his performance and his family. He was disappointed that many Saturdays were spent writing and preparing his lessons instead of spending time with his kids. 

I remember struggling with some of these same things in my early years as a pastor. The work of a minister is very often solitary, and the solitude in an office setting can create many distractions. I would do helpful things, like prayer-walking through the church building, photocopying lesson sheets for children’s Bible classes, and reading books about ministry. But these “good things” were keeping me from focusing on what really mattered, and I still found myself going home on Friday with half a sermon to finish on Saturday.

When I became frustrated with not getting my work done during my regular workweek, I began to read and learn about time management. Over the years, I’ve refined my understanding of time management from a tactical, process-oriented approach to more of a values-driven approach. Time management can be anything from blocking out time in your calendar to accomplish certain tasks to making a list of the top three things you need to accomplish that day, doing them, and repeating that process. 

One misconception about time management is that there is a “one size fits all” approach. But I encourage you to think about what works best for you. Are you highly structured and maintaining a tightly-held calendar would be ideal? Do you feel too constrained by keeping a calendar? Perhaps a “prioritization” approach would be helpful for you.

In the second part of this article, I will share with you three “building blocks” that, if implemented, will help you begin to manage your time better.  

But before I get into the building blocks, I want you to take a few minutes and complete an exercise for self-awareness. Make an honest assessment of how well you already do with managing your time. Write down, for each of your last five workdays, as best you can, how you spent each hour. Write down everything you did during the hour. And then, track your next five workdays in real-time, keeping a running log of your activities. This will give you a dead honest look into how you spend your time. 

For example, your previous Monday might look like this:

  • 9-10am -- arrive at 8:55, check email, read sports website, read Bible and pray, journal

  • 10-11am -- finish journaling, check weather for the week, check email, wander into sanctuary to see if it is picked up or not, get mail

  • 11am-12pm -- tidy up office, check email, read blogs, make a list of people to follow up with this week

  • 12-1pm -- begin prep for lessons, interrupted by phone call, check email, browse Bibles and books online

  • 1-2pm -- put on Christian music to help focus, check email, read a theology book

  • 2-3pm -- online video call with other ministry colleagues

  • 3-4pm -- finish video call, check email, make a to-do list for tomorrow, try to pray

  • 4-5pm -- watch sports highlight videos, tidy up desk, check email, leave at 4:35pm

Does this outline look anything like your day? If it does, I am not writing this to cast judgment or to shame you. In all honesty, I have had many days, working alone in a church office, that looked like this. Good intentions become interrupted and regaining focus is difficult. 

My point in sharing an outline like this with you is to help you honestly examine where your time is going. We often do not realize how much time we waste, or give to low-priority, “easy,” tasks. We end up rushing through the day and as we’re closing up to leave the office, we feel dejected about how little we accomplished. 

Do this exercise with integrity. This may seem counter-intuitive, but pastors who struggle to finish their work each week often don’t have enough to do, so their workweeks become filled with “busy” tasks like email, web browsing for fun that gets justified as “cultural research,” and excess reading. These pastors struggle to schedule their week, or even to leave the office, and end up working into Saturday despite having spent the majority of their week in their office, alone.

I want to leave you with this tension this week. Another thing I’ve found is that pastors are often looking for tactics and new tools. Instead of giving you the three time management building blocks I have for you this week, I want you to wrestle with your use of time, how you use it, and where you could grow in better managing your time. Next week, I will give you the three building blocks.

To prepare for next week’s article, do the following exercise:

  1. Write out a daily agenda that details what you did each work hour of each of those days, as best you can recollect.

  2. Track your next five workdays and detail what you do each work hour of each day.

  3. What do you learn from this exercise? 

  4. How do you use your time?

  5. What success do you already see?

  6. Where and how do you need to grow?

As always, let me know how I can serve you in this.

Love First,

Jeremy

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If you’d like to connect further, here are some ways we can do so:

  1. Let’s schedule a 15 minute call just to get to know each other. Schedule a time here and let’s connect!

  2. Let’s connect over a powerful coaching session where we can explore your questions and challenges and find clarity and purpose. This special session can be scheduled here at my newsletter-subscriber rate of $100 for 60 minutes.

  3. Read either of my books on pastoral and church health and drop me a note with any thoughts or questions.

  4. Listen to my podcast, Discipleship Conversations and let me know what you think!