No one knows the challenge of time management more than church leaders do.
Leading an organization as complex and evolving as a church requires an enormous amount of diligence. But more than that, it requires the ability to manage personal time, prioritize demands, and stay focused.
Church leaders also have the unique responsibility of setting an example for those whom they pastor. They are expected to have a healthy work-life balance, put God and family first, and still accomplish a wide range of initiatives.
A church leader’s list of responsibilities might include:
- Pastoring individuals, couples, and families–including one-on-one meetings, follow-up, and relational touchpoints (such as visiting a loved one in the hospital or going to a wedding)
- Administrative work–sending emails, making phone calls, and arranging meetings.
- Working on long-term projects, including books, building projects, and plans for new church plants
- Traveling for conferences, pastoral visits, and more
- Sermon prep
- Speaking engagements at regular services, conferences, retreats, and more
- And much, much more
All of this adds up to a wide range of tasks and responsibilities to juggle. The fact that many church leaders have limited or infrequent oversight only adds to the challenge of remaining focused and accountable.
What is Time Management?
Time management is the ability to effectively organize and utilize time.
The evidence of good time management includes:
- Less stress and anxiety, especially before meeting a deadline
- A more consistent feeling of being “in the flow”–a state of intense focus and satisfactory work
- The ability to accomplish realistic goals
- A healthy work-life balance
You can have great time management skills and still fall short of your goals. If you’re simply overburdened or have unrealistic expectations, you’re unlikely to succeed.
The evidence of poor time management includes:
- The constant sense of “being behind”
- The inability to concentrate when trying to focus on a task
- Stress and anxiety
- Frustration at not being able to stay on top of tasks–let alone accomplish long-term goals
If you’re over the age of about nine years old, you need time management skills. But for those with a wide-ranging spectrum of roles, responsibilities, and goals, time management skills may be more critical.
Time Management in the Church
For a pastor or church leader, effective time management produces a sense of balance and the bandwidth to set (and meet) short- and long-term goals.
Perhaps most importantly, time management helps leaders avoid burnout (Three-quarters of all pastors say they are “extremely” or “highly” stressed, and 90% say they work between 55-75 hours every week).
“Pastors have plenty of administrative or practical things that they have to take care of,” says Audrey Kelley, head administrator at All People’s Church. “They have pastoral responsibilities–everything from discipling people to dealing with crisis-type situations that they can't really plan for, such as visiting someone in a hospital.”
Kelley continues, “Teaching pastors are also responsible for reading the word of God. It’s not just daily time with the Lord–it's really studying the Word and understanding the context and history.”
With multiple types of work to juggle, knowing how to organize and delegate time is critical for pastors, ministry leaders, admin, worship leaders, children’s pastors, and more.
Here’s how to do more than just plan for time management success. Here’s how to achieve it.
Set SMART goals.
Like any organizational leader, pastors and ministry leaders are constantly setting goals. Producing motivation and momentum, goals are a critical part of time management.
But goals aren’t uniformly helpful. If they’re unrealistic or vague, they may be more likely to cause frustration and sap motivation by being impossible to accomplish.
SMART goals, on the other hand, can keep you focused, on task, and successful. They’re “smart” because they meet certain criteria:
Specific–The goal isn’t over-general. Rather than “Develop a heart for the homeless at our church,” the goal might be “Start a homeless ministry by the end of the year.”
Measurable–Smart goals are often quantifiable. Growing the church is a wonderful goal. Growing the church by 100 people is a specific, measurable goal.
Achievable–Goals should be something you can check off or accomplish. Advancing the Kingdom of God in a city is a wonderful goal, but it’s difficult to know whether it’s been “achieved.” There should be a distinction between concrete goals and big-picture vision pieces.
Realistic–Realistic goals are attainable. In general, churches are on a mission that only God can complete, by His power and grace. But the specific goals of a leader should be things that feel realistic–e.g., building a hospitality team, or starting a social media account.
Time-bound–Time-bound goals are especially helpful for effective time management, because they lead to scheduled action steps that lead to a desired outcome. An example of a time-bound goal could be “Raise up two new college ministry leaders by the end of the summer.”
SMART goals are a great start to good time management. But to achieve them, you need a few key tools and habits...
Track your time.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot,” says motivational speaker Michael Altshuler.
Unfortunately, many of us are “poor pilots” when it comes to our own time management. In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, less than 1% of 1,200 people were accurate in assessing their own time management proficiency. That included the ability to be aware, to adapt to change, and to “arrange” (i.e. plan or schedule).
To improve time management, awareness is key. Tracking time is the only way to get accurate insight into how well you actually stay focused and utilize your time.
While some may manually track their time using a notes-style application or even pen and paper, the only way to accurately capture how you use your minutes and hours is to use a digital tool (Toggl, Timing, or RescueTime are all popular options).
There are several benefits to digital time-tracking. First, you gain awareness of how your personal estimation matches up to reality. For example, you might feel that you worked significantly more hours than usual. But when you check your time-tracking results, you may discover that there were many gaps in your time usage.
Next, time-tracking allows you to identify when you’re most productive. You may learn that Tuesday afternoons are a period of accelerated productivity, or that you’re most effective at completing work before noon.
Time-tracking helps you to identify both strengths and weaknesses in your time management skills. It equips you to plan your day more efficiently and to remain accountable to your time usage.
Block out different types of tasks.
One of the greatest time management challenges faced by church leaders is being responsible for a wide range of work types.
It can feel overwhelming to have a pastoral meeting followed by an administrative meeting followed by sermon prep. Cap that off with a mid-week evening service, and that’s a full day that demands a wide variety of soft skills, brain function, and mental and emotional shifts.
Despite the fact that multitasking sounds like a skill, shifting back and forth between tasks has been shown to be detrimental. A study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that shifting between types of work requires additional time for the brain to “switch gears.”
To avoid switching gears–and sapping time and energy–you can create a more efficient plan by blocking out types of work into four hour chunks, or even entire workdays.
For example, you may want to set aside an entire day every week to work on a book, instead of just spending an hour on it every day. Or, you may want to set aside every Thursday morning to network with surrounding churches, follow up on emails, and make phone calls.
A related part of blocking out time is to schedule time to check emails. According to Harvard Business Review, the average professional spends 28% of the day checking their email inbox. For a pastor or church admin, it might be even more!
Appointing two or three times to check email every day can prevent wasting time on checking emails while still maintaining communication.
Try the pomodoro method.
Writing a book, preparing for a sermon, and studying the Bible all require great discipline to stay on task. For pastors or other church staff who may be doing this kind of deeply focused work, the most significant challenge may be to hone in on the task at hand without getting distracted by other “To Do” list items or demands for communication.
The pomodoro method is a unique strategy for accomplishing focused work. It intersperses short spurts of intense activity with even shorter breaks–typically 25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a five-minute break.
The method is ideal for those who work well under a bit of pressure, but also need frequent breaks. When combined with the time-blocking strategy described above, it can be a wonderful way for you to get a significant amount of work done in a single morning or afternoon.
Learn to prioritize.
Learning to prioritize is perhaps the most under-valued part of time management.
Without determining the value and urgency of different tasks, it’s easy to get swept up in low-priority, “urgent” demands...and never get around to finishing your real work. No one knows this better than the leader of a church, a ministry, or a department.
The “Eisenhower Matrix” is a methodical way to arrange and tackle priorities according to their importance and urgency. Named for former U.S. President and military General Dwight Eisenhower, the strategy organizes tasks into four different categories: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Unimportant, Non-urgent/Important, and Non-urgent/Unimportant.
While all tasks have their place, determining the worth of a task based on its level of urgency and importance helps you to respond well to new demands while maintaining momentum on longer-term projects.
Saying “no” can be a challenge for anyone that likes to make other people happy (In other words, most people). It can be a particular challenge in church, when expectations for getting a “yes” are high–and many people have an unusually high capacity to take on responsibility and multitask.
But saying “no” is a critical part of managing time well. Turning down opportunities that don’t align with goals is a healthy way of allocating time, energy, and focus. It’s also a wise way to draw boundaries around delegated responsibility for different roles and duties at the church.
Use tools to help with efficiency.
Don’t overlook the power of technology to make the best use of time. Church software tools, for example, can help churches create an entire ecosystem for accounting, reporting, scheduling, planning, and more.
Tithe.ly is an easy-to-use, cost-efficient management tool that can help church leaders to manage their time well with:
- Church management software for helping internal staff to manage and communicate with members, plan services, automate workflows, organize volunteers, and much, much more…
- A giving platform to make giving to church simple and convenient...
- A church app and website tool to make it easy to create an amazing website and app for members and visitors…
- Free church media that helps busy marketing teams (or admins) to create beautiful content for sermon series, social media, and more…
- And more.
Using a church software tool with time-tracking strategies can be a game-changer for church leaders. By making the most of technology and their own time, anyone on a church staff can step into their God-given work with more efficiency, effectiveness, and joy.
Time Management: It’s a Lifelong Pursuit
Time management is not something to be mastered overnight. It’s a lifelong journey that will evolve with different seasons. The most important thing to remember with time management is that failure is inevitable, but not the final word. Pastors, admin, and internal staff may fall short of their goals, but they always have another day to receive grace, refocus and realign, and try again!
To learn more about how to manage your time well with Tithe.ly, click here.