Six Questions That Lead To More Productive Ministry
Am I the only one who feels like I have more work to do than I can possibly get done?
Welcome to ministry!
There are always more volunteers to recruit and train, crises to navigate, sermons and curriculum to write and deliver, and then there are the camps, retreats, and mission trips.
Just writing all this makes me tired.
Here’s something I’ve learned over the last few years. This feeling of “I can’t get everything done” never goes away.
We rationalize by saying that it’s just a busy season.
Actually, it’s always a busy season.
If you’re working hard, you’ll always be pushing against your personal capacity.
Most likely, it isn’t about the workload, it’s about managing the work and learning to become highly productive.
So, let’s talk about productivity.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed or stuck, I find it helpful for leaders and mentors in my life to ask me questions about how I’m working and what I’m working on because their questions help me see what I need to change, shift or drop.
I usually can’t figure this stuff out on my own, and I’m guessing you can’t either.
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, tired, or just frustrated, let me ask you a few questions to help you determine if anything needs to change, shift or drop.
Here you go.
There are several great business and leadership books out there that ask the same basic question:
Are you the only person in the organization who can do this task?
There are certain tasks in your job description that your church or organization needs you specifically to do.
If you’re a teaching pastor, then your church needs you to write and deliver sermons.
If you are a volunteer coordinator, then your church needs you to recruit and train volunteers.
In a perfect situation, you would ONLY do what only you can do.
The more we do what only we can do, the better off our churches will be. Besides, when we do tasks that we aren’t really wired to do, we probably don’t do them very well.
So, a great question to ask is this: Should someone else be doing this?
I used to feel guilty asking others to do tasks I don’t like doing or don’t feel skilled at.
Then, I discovered that there are people on my team that love doing tasks that I don’t like doing.
If you want to increase your productivity and bring your best self to your church, try to only do what only you can do.
At the very least, ask others if they would be interested in taking on the tasks you shouldn’t be doing.
Whatever it is that only you can do for your church most likely requires your best work.
For example, I am a teacher and preacher.
Crafting sermons requires focus, energy, creativity and even empathy.
In order for me to write great material, I need to focus on this work at a time of the day when I am most focused.
If you are interested in increasing your productivity, a great question to ask is:
Am I doing this task at the time of the day when I am most productive?
My most productive time of the day is the morning. Once I get a little coffee in me, I can really work.
Then, after lunch I’m honestly not that creative.
In the evening, I am almost worthless.
(Just ask my wife. I’m that guy who falls asleep on the couch at 9pm almost every night.)
Maybe you’re like me, maybe you’re the opposite.
The point is: Whatever it is that only you can do, most likely requires your best self.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, our best self is only available part of the day.
Are you matching your most productive time slot with your most important tasks and roles?
While we are on this subject, are your most important tasks scheduled in your calendar? If not, stop reading right now and change your calendar.
Block out time in your most productive time slots for your most important tasks.
My calendar has “teaching prep” listed from 9-12 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I don’t schedule any appointments or meetings during that time.
Because it’s my most productive time for creative work.
So many of us just start working on whatever is in front of us when we begin the work day. Most of the time this is email.
Don’t waste your most productive moments on mundane work that doesn’t require your best!
If you want to become more productive in your work, match your most productive time with your most important tasks.
If you’re like me, your most important work is intellectually and emotionally demanding. It takes your best.
Here’s a lesson I recently learned: We aren’t machines.
We can’t bring our best for an indefinite amount of time.
You are a human and humans need rest.
One of the most helpful books I’ve read on productivity is called Deep Work by Cal Newport.
In this book, the author argues that 90 minutes is about the longest stretch of time that a highly productive human can do their best work.
Secondly, Newport argues that more than 180 minutes of focused creative work in a single day is counter-productive.
I’ve found these assertions to resonate in my own life and work.
So, when I’m structuring my work day strategically, I schedule two different 90 minute blocks of focused work during my most productive time (the morning) separated by a short break. (Maybe a walk or light conversation)
After this, I leave that focused work alone for the rest of the day.
Sometimes we don’t schedule enough time on our most important tasks.
Other times, we schedule too much time and a good portion of that scheduled time is wasted because our brains are fried.
Two suggestions here:
It takes the human brain somewhere around 20 minutes to get into the zone.
By the zone, I mean that brain space where we are super focused, creative and productive.
Every time we switch tasks, we lose “the zone.”
Then, it takes about around 20 minutes to get back into the zone.
I know what you’re thinking, I’m just multi-tasking.
This might sound crazy but I don’t believe in multi-tasking. I really don’t.
I believe that every time we switch tasks or focuses we lose “the zone.”
Based on this assertion, I have a few simple suggestions:
If you want to grow in productivity, stop trying to multi-task and instead focus your attention on a singular task for an optimal amount of time.
Every person is different when it comes to optimal environments for productivity.
For some of us, it is a very quiet space without visual or audio distraction, perhaps a library, personal office or even a basement with no windows.
When I work in an environment like this, I almost instantly fall asleep!
For me, a coffee shop is ideal. There is just the right amount of peripheral activity but I work with earbuds so that no one bothers me.
A very simple but important question to ask is:
Am I working on my most important work in the most optimal environment?
Do you know where you are most productive? If not, experiment a bit.
Also, for some of us this is a bigger deal than others.
For me it is huge. For you, it might be less important.
If you want to grow in productivity, work on the right work, at the right time, and in the right place.
The last question may seem a bit odd but I think it is important.
Your best work requires energy and focus.
Are you setting yourself up for success in terms of energy?
Energy production has three facets:
Without adequate sleep, we can’t replenish our energy stores.
Without nutritious food, you won’t have anything in the tank.
And, while we’re on this topic, if you aren’t eating a nutritious breakfast, you’ll never be as productive as you could be.
In my experience, a solid breakfast is far more valuable than coffee in terms of energy production.
Lastly, regular exercise is how we create more energy capacity. Yes, I believe there is a relationship between exercising regularly and writing good sermons.
Everything is connected. I truly believe that you and I will be better pastors and leaders if we are physically healthy.
If you are serious about becoming more productive in your work, don’t compartmentalize your life. Instead, focus your entire self around the work God has called you to perform at a high level.
Well, there you have it.
Six questions that have the potential to help us unlock greater productivity in ministry and in life. I hope this has been helpful.
If this all seems overwhelming, take one idea rather than six. One good idea that is actually implemented is far better than six good ideas that go nowhere.
If you have a question or want to share one of your own productivity practices, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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