“Mom, where’s my pink ballet tights and my new black leotard? I need to pack them in my dance bag.”
“Honey, have you picked up the food for small group? Remember, we’re hosting at our house this week.”
“Mom, my girlfriend sprained her ankle. I feel bad she has to ride the bus with crutches. Could you pick us both up from the car rider line for the next two weeks?”
“Hey Jess, I’m experiencing tension with a few volunteers. What advice would you offer?”
“Mrs. Bealer, as the community service chair of the dance studio, you’ll need to present the details of the upcoming fundraiser to the board…tonight at 6 p.m. Can you make that work?”
“Jessica, the doctor’s office just called to let you know they forgot to do Isaac’s hearing and vision screening during his annual physical. They want you to come back to the office as soon as possible.”
“Hey Jessica, I need content for the Don’t Quit guide for your new Facebook workshop. When do you think you can get that to me?”
“Mrs. Bealer, this is the vice-principal at the middle school. Your son is fine, but there was an incident at school today. Apparently, your son’s chair was pulled out from under him and he fell and hurt his backside. Would you be able to come to the office to discuss the situation?”
That last one nearly put me over the edge. I looked at the ceiling and took a deep breath before powering on. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. This was last Tuesday. My life is crazy. So is yours. Ministry is messy. Family is messier. If we approach our day, week, or month without a plan, we’re inviting disorder to take root and distract us from the calling God has placed on our lives. Time management is more than a watch and an uncanny ability to say “no” with a smile. Successful time management is putting into place systems and strategies that enable you to function at your highest capacity without losing sight of your personal identity or your calling in Christ. Here are a four ways that help me manage my time and maximize my impact.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
If you read that statement and released an audible groan, I hope to convince you technology can actually be your friend. From generated group text updates and express check-in of kids to databases filled with valuable information on the families to which you minister, we all recognize technology can make our ministry more effective. However, when it comes to managing our personal lives, many of us are still writing sticky notes on the refrigerator.
Efficient time management starts with ridding ourselves of any outstanding aversions we may have toward technology. Calendar apps make aligning schedules a breeze. Evernote makes organizing, sharing, and searching notes and emails a one-stop shop. Software, such as Asana, or web-based tools such as Basecamp or Planning Center, can keep you and your team on task. I’m not endorsing any particular app or company. What I am promoting is organization and efficiency. Just a few years ago I was still carrying around a daily planner, writing down my appointments and praying to God I didn’t lose my holy version of the little black book. Why? Because change is hard, and I’m as stubborn as they come. One day my husband said, “Jess, you’re leading one of the largest ministries on the planet. The rest of the world has moved into the 21st Century. Why don’t you join us?” It was a light bulb moment. It took four long months for me to figure it all out. I never knew it would increase my personal reach or my capacity. However, when I opened myself up to the endless possibilities technology afforded I was able to take control of my appointments and prioritize them for maximum efficiency.
Review Your Calendar Weekly and Know Your Limits
So many times I have overpromised and under delivered because of a time shortage. My heart was in the right place. And my intentions were pure. But my calendar, however, was overbooked and unrealistic. When I commit to something, whether it’s my daughter’s variety show, a coffee date with a fellow leader, or a writing deadline, I’m signing my name to an invisible line. I’m giving a verbal commitment that I will give an individual or an initiative my time and attention. I want to be a person of integrity, but if I don’t have room on my calendar to make something a priority, I’m starting from a place of dishonesty. If I want to be known as a woman of character, I must recognize and communicate my limitations.
The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:37, “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” Over the years I’ve learned people don’t mind waiting as long as they are assured I will make time for them at some point. I start every week with an honest evaluation of my calendar. I look at my days and make notes of open time slots and potential items yet to be scheduled. Then, as requests are made, I am in tune with my limitations and can share them honestly with others.
There are times when something completely unpredictable will arise that requires my undivided attention. However, more often than not, I can see a storm brewing. I know I’m about to get hit and not only do I brace for maximum impact, but I’ve found the best strategy is to actually go and have a conversation with the weatherman. Let me explain.
If you’ve been in ministry for any amount of time you’ve probably come to understand it’s a team sport. Everyone on the team has to play his or her part. However, everyone manages their time differently. Some are better at it than others. When deadlines are missed or initiatives fall short, the ministry as a whole suffers. Most of the time, when things start to go wrong, we immediately brace for impact. Morale goes down and efficiency disappears. In an effort to be a team player, we often feel pressured to jump on the bandwagon of distraction. Instead, I’ve found it more effectual to simply go talk to the person with the storm brewing. A simple, “Hey, I noticed things aren’t going well; how can I help you now?” can ultimately help you stay on task later in the week. It shows your fellow staff member you truly are a team player. It also allows you to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t stop what I’m doing now without causing a ripple effect,” later on when your team member is floundering. I’m not giving you permission to desert a fellow team member when things are going wrong. However, just because someone is experiencing a state of emergency, doesn’t mean you are. We all have responsibilities. We support each other, but ultimately we are all accountable for that which is assigned to us. Don’t forfeit your efficiency because someone else was willing to forfeit his or hers.
Shift Your Perspective
In The One-Life Solution, Dr. Henry Cloud says, “The urgent can replace the vital with no immediate consequence.” The word selection he uses is interesting. The word “vital” means something is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of life. In ministry, we create endless to-do lists. The problem is we invest so much time working in the ministry, we rarely devote time to working on the ministry. Oftentimes what feels urgent in the moment isn’t vital to your ministry as a whole. Let me give you an example. A few years back I was hosting a “Connect the Family” event at one of the campuses I oversaw. The goal was to initiate meaningful conversations with moms and dads so they would recognize the value we brought as a ministry. We wanted to collect contact information, follow up with these families, and truly partner with them to see their child’s faith grow. Minutes before the event, technology failed us. We couldn’t find a functional microphone. The kids’ director at that location became so distracted by the fact we couldn’t tell parents which direction the pizza line was moving, she forgot to pass out the cards that would collect the families’ information, which was the entire point of the event. As you can see, the urgent replaced the vital. Why? Because in the middle of crisis we tend to lose focus on that which is necessary to maintain the life of our ministry and keep things moving forward.
When your ministry is healthy, you’ll spend less time putting out fires and more time connecting with the families you’re ministering to. You’ll provide vision to the teams God has entrusted to you, instead of tending to the weeds that grow when soil is unhealthy. As a leader, your best use of time is spent leading. Delegate your tasks. Empower volunteers to help you clean up your to-do lists. When you shift your perspective, you’ll be able to focus on the vital parts of your ministry. Not only will your effectiveness as a ministry increase, but you’ll find yourself with time to work on the ministry, not just in it.
In Romans 8:28, Paul says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God called each of us to His ministry. He’s blessed us with family and friends that are important to us and positions of influence that keep us very busy. We’re not going to get it right every time, but I believe in His promise. I believe with purposeful focus and effective time management, God will allow each of us to play a part in His beautiful story, and I am confident that God will work all things together for good, despite our limitations.