TIME MANAGEMENT AND THE MINISTER: A UNIQUE PROBLEM
ROBERT N. WHITE
How often I have heard, “But I’m different-those nice principles may work for other people, but they won’t work for me.” Of all the groups I’ve worked with on time management, ministers may come the closest to having a unique problem. The usual expectation of minister and congregation alike is that they are 100 percent available-twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For example:
Robert is the pastor of a Large church in the New York area. Among the congregation are a substantial number of people suffering from emotional problems, such as depression, stress, and just plain Loneliness.
Robert feels a strong commitment to counsel these people and goes out of his way to provide all the help he can. It is not uncommon for him to receive a “desperate” phone call in the middle of the night.
Robert feels these interruptions to his work schedule and personal life are justified. At the same time he is concerned about the fact that he rarely has time to prepare his sermon until the night before. He feels he is a good preacher, but last-minute preparation is hurting the quality of his sermons. In addition, there are a number of programs in the church which are languishing from inattention. At home his wife complains bitterly about the all-too-frequent intrusions into family life.
Yes, the minister is in a very personal, service-oriented job. He or she must meet the needs of the people. Often these needs are urgent, desperate, and cannot be delayed. Furthermore, the needs are diverse and complex, ranging from the growing-up pains of teenagers, to marital disturbances, to the alcoholism of a lonely senior citizen. To complicate matters, many of these people think of themselves as the minister’s boss-after all, they pay part of his or her salary-and so they feel they have a right to claim some of his or her time.
Then there are the rules of thumb which too often serve as management guidelines for the minister:
“w believe in the open-door policy” (this means you must smile and say hello to every passerby).
“Hard work gets results” (translated, this means we will evaluate you on how much activity, long hours, and overwork, and not on what you do or accomplish).
“If you want it done right, do it yourself” (means you must disregard the importance of delegation-you really can get along without adequate or well-trained church staff).
“The minister is there to help all of God’s children” (translated, this means you never say “no”; you should accommodate every request no matter how trivial).
Obviously there are many elements of the minister’s job which make good time management habits difficult. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t reduce the importance or mean it can’t be done. If you, the minister, are to be effective in the work of the Lord-in the face of all the problems-it’s absolutely essential to develop the “time management habit,” to apply some basic management concepts to your daily life.
The Need for Sound Management Principles Time has frequently been referred to as our most valuable resource. This is because it is the resource that controls the use of all our other resources-our abilities, talents, training, and experience. You, as a minister, have the ability and opportunity to love, lead, teach, console, help. How well you manage your time will determine how effective you are in utilizing your God-given resources.
The resource, time, is different from other resources. We all have equal shares-168 hours per week. A minister, an executive, the president, a homemaker, and a retiree all have exactly the same 168 hours.
Even if you are rich or persuasive, you can’t buy or talk others out of their share. If you need extra time this week to counsel with several emotionally disturbed people in your congregation, from where does it come? Cancel the picnic with the family? Cut out a couple hours’ sleep by working late or getting up at 5 A.M.? Skip your jogging this afternoon? Or cut your sermon preparation short (again) this week?
Also, unlike capital resources, you can’t save up time, waiting for a better opportunity or until you have a plan. If you waste it, it’s gone. If you procrastinate, you’ve lost an opportunity-maybe forever.
Sometimes 168 hours sounds like a lot of time-a whole week! But if we consider all the commitments we have, most of us are left with precious few hours that we actually control (referred to as “discretionary time”). For example, “maintenance activities” usually occupy around ninety hours per week. These are spent in activities, such as eating, sleeping, getting ready for work, cutting grass, paying bills. If you are a minister of modest means, you Probably care for your own house and prepare your own tax return. Your maintenance time is high.
In addition, ministers often report fifty-hour work weeks or more. This leaves only twenty-eight hours to do everything else: time with family, community projects, personal growth activities (reading, seminars, and hobbies), time for recreation and leisure, and free time-time to goof off, relax and think about things. Most ministers I know are involved in many activities, including the diverse functions of the church, community projects, active family lives, and personal growth pursuits.
Additionally, ministers as a group are well trained, well read, intelligent, articulate, concerned, involved people.
They have a lot to offer; their contribution is vital to society as a whole as well as to many individuals. The allocation of the ministers’ resources-including time-is of crucial importance to the minister, his or her family, and the people he or she serves. Most people in this position experience some level of concern and frustration over the management of their time.
The careful allocation of time to a well-articulated set of goals, consistent with their relative priorities and in accordance with a practical action plan, is the underlying management concept for being effective.
Delineation of Goals
Before examining specific tools for effective time management, it is imperative to distinguish between personal and congregational goals and the means for achieving each of these goals. This may be accomplished by answering several basic questions as they relate to your specific situation:
1. Consider the goals that you made either at the beginning of the year or when you joined your present church. List both personal and congregational goals.
2. Rank these goals. Where do your personal goals fit among congregational goals?
3. How many of these goals have thus far been accomplished?
4. Has the church’s growth required sacrifices in your or your family’s personal growth?
5. Do the initial goals still appear to be realistic and attainable?
6. What key tasks and activities are required to accomplish these goals? Be specific.
7. Rarely are goals effectively accomplished without a commitment to a definite time frame. What deadlines can be set to ensure the accomplishment of the tasks listed in #6?
A Framework for More Effective Time Management Now let us turn to constructing a practical framework which can facilitate effective time management (TM) planning.
Exhibit 10-I shows a four-step process to aid the minister in managing his or her time more effectively. This simple problemsolving technique is one frequently employed by managers:
Step 1: Analysis starts out with the collection of information, analysis of the data, and a clear statement of the problems. If meetings consume substantial portions of your time, what kind of meetings? How much time? What are the causes?
Step 2: The planning step. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the priority relative to other demands on your time? Do you know what it will take to accomplish it? How long?
Step 3: Daily scheduling is the implementation. How do you schedule your time? Do you have a daily “to do” list? How do you make sure you spend the time you need on long-term, important
projects, such as the revitalization of the youth program, as well as on the pressing emergencies and frequent interruptions?
Step 4: The control step. It means working to develop the TM habit, developing a commitment, communicating with others. We must reanalyze our trouble spots, modify our plans, and continue to work to improve.
Now let’s follow through each of these four steps with some examples and worksheets so that you, too, can acquire the time management habit.
Step 1-Analysis of Time Use
There are three reasons for analyzing where your time goes. First, our perceptions-where we think we spend our time-are usually grossly inaccurate. Consider the case of the insurance salesman who, after keeping a time log for a week, reported great surprise at finding he was spending in excess of forty minutes a day in and waiting for the elevator in his office building. The statement was hardly out of his mouth when the revelation came, “Hey, I know why that is-I don’t have a logical schedule for grouping my outside calls. ” Yes, he was committing a cardinal sin of good selling practice.
Ministers find similar revelations. Recall Robert , the person in the incident at the beginning of this chapter. Robert felt the need to control the many interruptions which get in the way of doing other important tasks. Yet these interruptions are a big part of his job, and there are many emergency calls which he had to take. After reading a book on time management, Robert noticed particularly a section on controlling interruptions. The author provided a handy work sheet for analyzing interruptions for a couple of days. Robert decided to try it (see Exhibit 10-2 for the work sheet and a few of Robert’s entries).
Robert found to his surprise that, out of the hundred-odd interruptions over a three-day period, there were only two of emergency proportions. All the rest could have been deferred, at least for a short time.
Robert found other interesting things from his log. There were four people who interrupted him several times each day. And there were two matters about which he received phone calls from several different people. A brief note with copies to the interested parties would have been more efficient. He was also surprised at the length of some of the calls and the amount of small talk and socializing.
From his analysis of the log Robert developed several steps for controlling his interruptions.
First, he considered ways to screen all but the emergency calls during a two-hour “quiet period” each day. He could always be reached in an emergency, but except for an emergency he was tied up in important church business at those times.
Second, in the case of people with whom he frequently interacts, he accumulated several items of business and covered them in a less-frequent phone call or meeting.
Thirdly, he organized his phone calls by making several at a time, noting things to be covered, and having all the relevant information available.
The second reason for keeping a time log is to assist in planning. Most of us grossly underestimate the time required to accomplish specific tasks. Are you realistic about how Long it will take to prepare for next week’s Bible study class or prepare the budget for the proposed crisis control center? Or are you like me-underestimate by 100 percent and wonder why you can’t get everything done? A time log gives you accurate data on “how long.” It will make your planning more realistic. The third reason for a time log analysis is that it will allow you to develop some standards or benchmarks against which to measure improvement. If Robert’s six hours a day of interruptions are too high , what is reasonable? What is a realistic goal to strive for in thirty days? Six months? Maybe for Robert it’s from six hours to five-eventually to four.
Robert should keep another interruptions log periodically to measure his progress. Maybe eventually he should strive to get to three hours per day-half of what he’s doing now.
Once you have this time log, analyze it for “time robbers.” A time robber is an activity which occupies a lot of your time but which doesn’t produce a corresponding amount of value. A list of common time robbers for ministers and a time robber analysis work sheet are provided at the end of the chapter (Exhibits 10-4 and 10-5).
If you have not done so recently, I would encourage you to keep a time log for a week. Record the things you do in ten- to fifteen-minute intervals. And do it as you go along. Don’t wait until the end of the day because you will forget and the record will be inaccurate. Then use the aforementioned work sheets to analyze your time use, your main time robbers, their causes, and their solutions.
Planning makes us effective users of time, not just efficient users. To be a good preacher, a good writer, or a good homemaker, you must allocate time for working on the important tasks.
Planning for effective TM requires a current list of goals, the establishment of the relative priorities, and a systematic method for action.
1. Listing Goals. It is helpful to list goals in several categories:
a) Job and Career. Ministers often have difficulty thinking about their personal career separately from their job-the church. Certainly there are high-priority goals that you should have for your church. Some of these are short-term, such as increasing the pledges 20 percent this year. Others are longer term, such as financing and constructing a new church school building in five to seven years.
But you should also have goals established for your career. Again, some of these may be short-term, such as increasing your counseling skills by taking two courses at the university this year. Others may be more long-term, such as being the rector at a larger church of about 2,000 communicants in a five- to ten-year period.
Start your goal-setting process right now by listing both short- and long-term job and career goals.
b) Family. Most people have a tough time being explicit about family goals. I find it helpful to put family goals in three subdivisions. The first is your family’s life-style. What’s important to your family? A large house? Entertaining? Travel? Vacations? Educational opportunities? Saving for retirement? Talk these things over with other members of the family. Is there general agreement? If not, try to resolve the differences.
A second category is family financial planning. It’s fine to aspire to travel extensively or to have enough money saved to retire when you’re sixty, but can you afford it? Can you put together a financial plan to support it? Usually there’s a gap. What’s more important? What can you do without? Is education more important than the travel to Mexico? Can you do without the second car? Can your spouse work a few years to make possible the building of a new house?
Make a list of life-style and financial goals, ranking them according to an A, B, C priority system. Discuss these goals with other family members. Make sure the financial plan is consistent with your life-style goals.
The third category of family goals relates to short-term activities intended to build communication and strengthen relationships. It may be a shopping trip with a daughter to discuss plans for college, or dinner with your spouse to iron out a disagreement about some bills. Perhaps a picnic one evening with the whole family, who have been too busy going their own way lately to enjoy some fun together.
Many ministers already do this-automatically-because they are sensitive to family interrelationships. But many do not. Are there gaps in your communication with other family members? Is everyone in your family going his or her own way without sharing problems and experience? Do you too often come home tired and flop in front of the TV without concern for the needs and difficulties of others in the family?
c) Community Activities. Most ministers feel an obligation to be active in the community in projects other than those which relate directly to their church. Do you feel you’re pulling your load? Or are you into too many projects? Are you doing things that have value and are satisfying to you? Or did you get pushed into too many activities in which you have little interest?
Take an inventory of the community projects in which you are presently engaged. Are they worth doing or aren’t they? Are you making a real contribution or not? Are there some you would like to phase out? Others you would like to add? What are realistic goals for your community activities?
d) Personal Goals. The final category of goals are personal or self-goals. Often ministers feel they shouldn’t have goals just for themselves. But most do; and if you are honest with yourself, I think you’ll find you do, too.
Maybe you’d like to be in better physical shape. If that’s your goal, how about joining the special physical fitness program at the “Y”? Maybe you’d like to have a regular tennis game two afternoons a week. Or a little time to read for pleasure. Is there a hobby you enjoy but don’t have time to do any more? Consider some of your personal goals. It might be helpful to list these goals and designate how and when they can be met.
2. Priorities. Having listed your goals, the next step is to set priorities. Try using the ABC system, and fit them into rankings of high value (A-priority), medium value (B-priority), and low value ones you could do without (C-priority).
Next take your A-priority goals and rank them. A-1 is the most important-the one you want to start working on right now. Then decide on second most important, the A-2, and so forth. You can’t work on all your goals at once; so it’s important to establish which is most important and get to work on that one with whatever time you have available.
3. The Action Plan. Making a list of goals and establishing priorities, however, are not enough. A goal is an end to be accomplished-the result of successfully completing a series of tasks. The action plan organizes these tasks according to four procedural steps:
a) List key tasks that must be done to achieve the goal.
b) Arrange the tasks in a logical sequence for working on them.
c) Specify any resources (i.e., time, study, reference materials) which are needed for carrying them out.
d) Develop a timetable for accomplishing the tasks that is consistent with the time and other resources you can allocate to this goal.
The work sheet shown in Exhibit 10-3 illustrates the action plan. It is filled in with entries for a youth program one minister set for a goal. Draw up this work sheet for your own use. Try laying out action plans for your high-priority goals. Start out with an overview of the key tasks and an overall time frame. Some of the details can be filled in later as you go along. Don’t worry about possible later changes in the plan-most plans have to be modified from time to time. In fact, you need to review your plan frequently to see how you’re progressing and what elements need modifying.
In summary, systematic planning and the allocation of your time accordingly will help you fulfill your mission as an effective minister.
Step 3-Daily Scheduling
Now that you have action plans for accomplishing your high priority goals, the next step is implementation. This means scheduling your time so that you accomplish the key tasks in your plans. The trouble is that ministers have many day-to-day tasks-phone calls, hospital visitations, crises, meetings, drop-in visitors, a mountain of correspondence and paperwork tasks-your daily routine. Much of your daily routine has an element of urgency; it must be done and soon. One of your key volunteers must talk to you. A child was just injured in your day-care center. The bishop is on the phone. The deadline for getting the bulletin to the printers is noon today, and you haven’t finished writing it.
On the other hand. the key tasks in your action plans are Long-term in nature and can be deferred. “I’II get at that tomorrow.” “Let me clear the paperwork off my desk; then I’II be ready to tackle that big job. ” But tomorrow never comes.
A systematic process of daily planning is essential to achieve a balance between time used for the daily routine and the more important but deferrable tasks in our action plans. One useful tool is the appointment calendar recording meetings, appointments, and perhaps important due dates for tasks (for example, finish the budget).
A second tool for many of us is the “to do” list or “things to do.” These lists can be very effective but may also create problems. First, they are not updated every day. We’re under a lot of pressure, and we feel we don’t have time. Or it’s kind of an easy day, and we don’t feel the need. Sometimes the phone starts ringing, and we simply forget about it. Thus at the end of the day we haven’t done all the tasks we set out to do.
The other problem is that the tasks are not ranked according to their importance. We need to establish a code of priorities and, whenever possible , undertake the tasks in order of their priority. The best use of your time right now is to work on your A-1 priority task, But if you haven’t established the priorities in the terms of importance , then you will tend to operate according to a different priority system, such as the first piece of paper in your “in basket”; the short, easy tasks which can be checked off your list quickly; or several less important phone calls that may be more interesting.
“To do” lists, to be really effective, should be updated every day. It should be done early in the morning or late in the day but at a time when you have a few quiet minutes to think and plan. And finally priorities should be set and followed whenever possible.
There’s a third type of daily scheduling I would strongly recommend to ministers: The Weekly Planning Guide. The guide allows you to look at current commitments, schedule a key meeting, block out times for A-priority tasks, and schedule plenty of flexible time to handle routine phone calls, correspondence, and other daily activities. A minister’s week revolves around Sunday worship service. Probably the best time for you to do this planning is sometime Monday. The planning guide can take a variety of forms and can be adapted to your personal needs. It’s as simple as taking a blank piece of paper, drawing up a form, and making photocopies or using an 8 1/2″ x 11″ week-at-a-glance calendar sheet.
The most important aspect of this process is scheduling according to priority. We must schedule A-priority tasks among all the routine paperwork, interruptions, and emergencies. You can do this only by taking time away from the less important tasks-by shortening , deferring, or eliminating some of them.
A final thought concerning priorities. Many people complain that they seem to have too many A priorities -“everything is an A.” I like to reserve the A designation for my A’s-tasks that relate to my important goals.
There are, of course, a lot of other tasks that are urgent, perhaps because the chairman of the governing board asks us to, or because a church member has a need. I designate these urgent
tasks X. This keeps me from confusing my A priorities with other people’s A’s.
Step 4-Develop the TM Habit
At the beginning of this chapter we cited some of the problems of being a good manager of time. It’s easier not to keep a time log. It takes time and effort, and sometimes it is
embarrassing to see how much time we really waste. It’s tough to plan, set priorities, and stick with them. It’s easier to do the short, pleasant task than the tough one we’ve been dreading and
putting off for a month.
For us to be effective time managers, the process must become part of us-“internalized” is the behavioral term. We must develop good habits to replace the sloppy ones. Unless we keep
working at TM, we will regress to the sloppy habits again.
There are three ways that will help you develop the TM habit:
1. Commitment. Unless you are committed to improving your time management, forget it. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts. It is apparent that someone lacks commitment when he or she says, “I didn’t have time to plan,” or “I didn’t have time to keep a time log,” or can’t control interruptions.” Anyone can do these things if he or she wants to. It’s your time, and it’s within your power to control it as you deem best-if you make up your mind and have the will to do so. But it requires commitment.
2. Communication. Ministers are in a service business. They have frequent interaction with many people. They do not operate in a vacuum. Their time management is affected by many other persons. Communicating about time management problems is essential if really good time management habits are to be developed. This means communicating priorities, admitting to limitations and conflicts, learning to say “no” graciously, following up on deadlines, and sharing problems and experiences with other ministers.
3. Follow-up and feedback. This is the control step, essential to any management process. If you’ve identified interruptions as your major time problem and decided on some ways to control them, you’ve come a long way but still aren’t through. As any good manager knows, there must be control and feedback. Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? How well? Have you reduced the excess time spent on interruptions one-half hour or one hour? What problems have you encountered in trying to control interruptions? How can you overcome these?
What other methods might you try? Perhaps you need to reanalyze-another interruptions log. Or try a different daily scheduling method.
Our world changes; our goals change, and so do our time management problems. Follow-up and feedback are vital to the time management habit.
The time management problems of the minister are not easy. The service he or she provides is extremely demanding, the expectations for performance high, and the support he or she
gets minimal. Effective management of time is important as well as difficult. We have seen some of the problems and developed a framework for improving. Let’s summarize with a few key ideas:
1. The idea of better time management should not be looked on as an overwhelming task of organizing all of your time or using all of it efficiently.
What you need is a chunk of time now and then to do tasks which will lead to achieving important personal goals. Rather than all day every day, it’s an hour or two a day, or a couple of mornings a week, or a long weekend every month or two. Time to do the research for a key sermon, to plan the next all-member canvass, or to spend with your teenage daughter who is having trouble adjusting to a new school.
2. Interruptions and responding to crises are part of your job. Allow plenty of. flexible time for the unforeseen. Don’t over schedule you’ll only get frustrated.
3. Plan a quiet time in your schedule each day or on most days. Earn this quiet time by shortening, deferring, or eliminating certain less important tasks.
To do this , analyze your time use and find your big problems. Look for causes and workable solutions. Experiment with solutions. Talk to others to get ideas and Learn from their experience.
4. Communicate your schedules to your spouse, secretary, and others who are involved in your daily activities.
Communicate your problems to your governing board to let them know what’s going on and get their help and support. Reinforce what you are doing by talking with others about common problems.
5. Concentrate on effectiveness. Efficiency is defined as doing something right-effectiveness is doing the right something.
6. There’s no replacement for planning. A few minutes of planning may save you hours of doing low-value tasks, starting and stopping, shuffling papers, procrastinating.
7. Learn sound principles of delegation, communication, running meetings. They’re as important in managing a church as they are in running a business.
8. The causes of most time management problems are internal to ourselves. It has been demonstrated over and over again that internal causes far outweigh external causes such as interruptions. Therefore the power to improve rests primarily within ourselves.
9. It’s your life. Whatever you achieve must be done by managing some of your 168 hours. If you refuse to adopt some reasonable time management habits-or rationalize the need away-you jeopardize the opportunity to achieve what you want to in life.
The objective of effective TM is to help you achieve your goals whatever they are-a good job as a minister, a good family life, or a little free time to go down to the lake and fish.
Time Robber Analysis
A. Describe your #1 time robber
B. How bad is it?
How many hours a day do you spend at it? hrs/day
How many hours should you spend at it? hrs/day
Estimate your effectiveness in using that time: % effectiveness
Estimate your efficiency in using that time: % efficiency
c. List as many causes for the time robber as you can. Be specific! Do you need to do some more analysis to determine better the causes?
D. Now look for solutions to the time robber. List them opposite their appropriate causes creatively! List ones even if they sound “way out. ” Get a personal friend or co-worker to help you.
E. Set a target for yourself:
How much would you like to reduce the time spent on the time robber? hrs/day
How effective and efficient would you like to become? % effective % efficient
F. Commitment time! Commit right now to a target you think is realistic to achieve in the next thirty days.
Pick out the two or three solutions which are most likely to achieve that target and work at them:
G. Follow-up. In thirty days analyze your time robber to see if you’ve met your target. If not , why not? What got in your way? What additional solutions could you attempt to achieve or better your goal? Again, talk to a friend or a couple of co-workers to see what solutions they might come up with.