A while back I was fortunate to have a conversation with an overwhelmed pastor. Not only is he serving as a bi-vocational pastor while attending seminary he is also working a full-time job while being a good husband and father. In the conversation, he said this, “I keep forgetting things. My wife says I need to get a calendar, what do you think?”
I think he has a very smart wife. He needs to listen to her.
To be fair this pastor, a man with a wonderful testimony, was saved and then called into ministry later in life. He was very successful in his previous career. That career though required a different skill set and personal organization strategies than he needed to be an effective pastor/student. He needed to learn a different set of skills.
When a pastor learns to develop their personal organization skills he becomes more effective in ministry. There are some tools and skills, not exclusive to ministry, that are extremely helpful in aiding the pastor’s personal organization.
In this two-part series, I want to share some low-tech solutions for high impact pastors. Solutions that through much study—mixed with a lot of trial and error—I have found to help increase my own productivity and effectiveness. I hope they are helpful to you.
Get a pen and paper.
One of the most helpful exercises is to take a pen and paper and conduct what many personal organization coaches call a “mind dump.” In this exercise, you write down everything you need to do within a given period of time. For example, you may on a Sunday evening take twenty minutes to write out everything you need to do and places you need to be during the next week: attending a parent-teacher conference, writing sermon, a counseling session. Anything you have to do that week, write it down.
When creating this list resist the urge to organize your thoughts. The goal of this is a free-flow exercise to get everything that you need to focus your attention on and is clogging your thinking out of your mind and onto the page. Limit your time to fifteen or twenty minutes. When you’ve dumped all your thoughts, go back over the list and circle the key things that need to migrate into your schedule.
Yes, such a list could be typed. There certainly is software or an app for that. What I have found though is that I am too much of a squirrel chaser. The brief moment it takes for the computer to boot or the app to open is just enough of a distraction to derail the process. For me, the collision of pen and paper generates a greater flow of ideas.
Conduct a weekly review.
Once a week, usually Sunday evenings or Monday mornings, schedule about an hour, sometimes longer, to review the previous week, plan for the next one, and live for tomorrow.
After a time of prayer, the first step is to Clean Up From The Previous Week. This action looks like going through all those places where paper receipts, letters, news clippings, etc, from the last week get stashed and either filing or eliminating them.
I also take the time to clean up my email. Throughout the week I practice a “touch it once policy” when it comes to mail and email. My aim is to only touch the paper—or in this case email—one time. Otherwise, I only move things around so at the end of the day the stack that began on one side of the desk is now on the other and I have no idea what happened in between.
The “touch it once” policy when it comes to email is to receive the email and decide; do I need to act on it immediately, delete it or move it to the “follow up” folder. The “follow up” folder is for all those emails that when received, seem important enough to keep but not urgent enough to act on immediately. The weekly review creates the time to look at the “follow up” folder and either reply, retain, or delete those emails.
Next, it is time to Plan for Next Week. To do this I use a form of my own creation to write out goals for the week that correspond to the critical roles both called to and chosen. I want to be able to identify what crucial goals, important goals, goals for enjoyment, and goals of necessity I need to move towards for myself, and as a husband, father, my extended family, pastor and other roles I have chosen. (Biblically defining these roles is probably another post for another day.)
You then need to schedule time for that goal either this week or on a date further out. You may even decide when you go to schedule a time to work on that goal that the goal is really not as important as you thought it was. If that is the case, delete it.
Scheduling a time for what matters is the biggest step in moving towards giving yourself to what really matters. The biggest downfall that I have had in moving towards my goals and those things that the Lord has instilled in my heart and mind to accomplish is not scheduling time for them. I need to be reminded that if it matters it gets scheduled. What gets scheduled is what gets done.
The last phase in the weekly review process is to Live For Tomorrow. This is a time to look beyond the next week to the next 90-days-to-a-year asking two questions. First, ask, “Is this goal still as important when I first wrote it down?” If the answer is not a resounding “Yes,” then get rid of the goal. Secondly ask yourself, “If this goal is still important, how am I moving towards that goal this week?”
This second question is answered by creating in appointment in your calendar to move towards completing that goal.
There are weeks where for a variety of reasons this exercise does not happen. I have found that those are the hardest weeks to get focused stay focused and feel effective. This costs of this one-hour exercise has benefits that far outweigh the time and effort put into them.
Isaiah 32:8a says, “But a noble person plans noble things” (CSB). Taking time to clear your head and plan out your week are some of the greatest tools to not only help fulfill the roles God has called you to but also to live out the desires he has implanted in your heart. These two low-tech solutions for high impact pastors help capture all the moving pieces of life and ministry and focus on them.
Part two of this short series will look at a couple of more low-tech solutions for high impact pastors. I’d love to hear in the comment section some of the trial and errors you have had in your own personal organization.
Note: There have been many people and resources that have helped my personal organization, which remains a work in progress. The four biggest helps to me have been: Getting Things Done by David Allen, the incredibly resourceful blog of Michael Hyatt, Biblical Productivity by C.J. Mahaney, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman.