“I wish there were more hours in a day.”
“I need another day in the workweek.”
These are things we say when we feel overwhelmed.
In my experience, this rarely has to do with not having enough time but rather how we use our time.
Let’s discuss how to be incredibly productive without working 60+ hours a week.
I have seven strategies that have worked for me, and hopefully, they will work for you as well.
I know. I know. Those of you who aren’t morning people just stopped reading.
I get it, but by starting work at 7 AM, I can get five hours of work in before lunch.
Also, the work I get done before 9 AM is incredibly productive because most people don’t show up to the office until 9 AM.
No one can interrupt me!
Give this a try for a few months, and I think you’ll find you’re a lot more productive and focused.
Just a warning, this does require going to bed earlier…and coffee.
Cut Out Decisions
For most of us, our work is brain work.
We create music, strategies, sermons, or other communications.
We are in the business of creative work.
Creative work requires brainpower.
The more brainpower you spend not doing creative work…the less creative work you can do.
This is a math problem.
I’ve found it helpful to cut down on decisions to conserve brainpower for creative work.
In one of the most productive seasons of my life I…
- Woke up at the same time every morning
- Ate the same thing for breakfast every morning
- Wore the same clothes (Just kidding. That would be weird.)
- Worked from the same coffee shop, sitting in the same section of seats, drinking the same coffee
I believe that saving my brain from making all those decisions conserved my energy for sermon study and prep, which is the main type of creative work I do.
Here are a few more ideas I’m contemplating right now:
- Pre-make all your lunches the weekend before
- Pick out all your outfits for the week the weekend before
Give it a try. I think you’ll find yourself more productive and perhaps even less stressed.
Take a Nap
Hear me out.
I’ve listened to a lot of interviews with CEOs and other high-performance leaders.
A surprising number of them take a power nap after lunch. I’m talking for 15 to 20 minutes.
I tried this strategy during one of the lockdown seasons of COVID.
I loved it.
A 15-minute nap after lunch provided me with a reset and shot of energy before diving into the afternoon.
I’m telling you, I got more done in a day because I took a nap.
I know this strategy isn’t realistic for everyone.
You might be the type of person who wakes up from a nap confused about what year it is.
If it fits for you, though, I’d recommend giving it a try.
Eat Healthier, Smaller, and More Often
I grew up around racing.
To this day, one of my favorite smells is high octane racing fuel.
The reason race cars use high octane fuel is that the cars perform better.
In some respects, your body is a machine.
Of course, I understand you are more than that, but you consume resources to produce energy.
Many of us rely on a poor source of fuel. We’re trying to race on low octane fuel.
You might be surprised at how much more productive you’ll become if you consume better food.
If you feel lethargic during your afternoons, there’s a good chance your diet could be part of the problem.
If you can’t get out of bed in the morning, it might be related to what you’re eating.
Eat healthier, smaller portions more often and you might discover a level of productivity you never knew you had.
Master Your Calendar
Most people are mastered by their calendar.
We accept whatever meeting requests come our way and attempt to fit our most important work around the edges.
I’d like to suggest this is the wrong way to work if you’re interested in becoming more productive.
The most productive leaders I know all master their calendar. Here’s how you do it:
- Make a prioritized list of the most important tasks in your life (Personal time with God, rest, family time, etc.). Schedule these on your calendar first.
- Make a prioritized list of your most important tasks at work. Use your job description. Think about the things only you can and should do. Put them on your calendar next.
- Make a prioritized list of work meetings you must attend (one-on-ones, team meetings, etc.) and schedule them on your calendar.
- Strategically, consider every opportunity or request that comes in after these prioritized tasks. Say no to everything you can.
Then, live off your calendar. It will keep you focused on what matters most.
A few other tips:
- Match your highest priority tasks to your most productive times of the day. For me, it’s sermon prep matched to the early morning.
- Pay attention to tasks that drain your energy. For example, one-on-one meetings with my direct reports are high on my priority list, but they drain me emotionally. So, I try not to schedule them back to back.
If you want to be productive and follow a sustainable schedule, you must master your calendar.
Winging it won’t work. Been there. Trust me on this one.
Every No is a Yes
To pursue high performance at a sustainable work rhythm, you’re going to have to start saying no to opportunities that aren’t part of your calling.
Does that sound harsh or uncaring?
Consider that every yes is a no.
You don’t have infinite time, so by saying yes to volunteering at VBS, you are saying no to practicing that new worship song.
By saying yes to meeting with that couple struggling in their marriage, you are saying no to sermon prep.
Every yes is a no, and every no is a yes.
One of the secrets of productivity is finding the freedom to say no to whatever isn’t your calling so that you can say yes to what is your calling.
The good news is that what you need to say no to is part of someone else’s calling.
Find that person and empower them to pursue their calling so you can pursue yours.
If you want to be more productive and stay within a sane amount of work hours, learn to say no so that you can say yes.
Partner with an Administrative Assistant
My work life was revolutionized when I started partnering with an administrative assistant.
A couple of things happened:
- My level of stress decreased
- I stopped appearing to be irresponsible to my co-workers
- I became more productive
I struggle with scheduling meetings, details, and managing processes.
My admin is great at all those things.
She manages my schedule, my email inbox, and processes that I’m responsible for managing.
And because of this, I now rarely double book or miss meetings, I respond to emails in a timely fashion, and I can stay on top of details.
Almost every highly productive leader I know works with an administrative assistant who has opposite gifts.
I’m guessing some of you are thinking,
“Wow. Must be nice. Our church could never afford that.”
Working with an administrative assistant might be more realistic than you may realize.
A few ideas:
- Most admins are part-time, or at least only part of their hours are devoted to admin support.
- Perhaps a member of your church would be willing to step into this role for ten hours a week, either as a volunteer or as a paid position.
- Another option is a virtual administrative assistant. There are great options available. Check them out online.
Now, ten hours a week may not sound like much at first, but what would you do with ten extra hours a week?
That’s like getting an extra day! It’s a huge gift.
For those of you who oversee a staff member who struggles with organization and details, consider supporting them with an assistant.
All of us have weaknesses that will never become strengths.
Rather than attempting to teach that person to be good with details, support them with someone great at details.
There you go, seven strategies for becoming more productive without working a zillion hours a week.
I hope this has been helpful.
If you have productivity ideas that work for you, we’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments.