Productivity for Pastors. Tips and tricks to help you organize your job in the church.
I hate to be a statistic, but I had a terrible flaw during my first year in student ministry. No, I didn’t plan one lock-in a month. It was worse — I was extremely disorganized.
I would get concerned texts during a lunch meeting where someone else asked, “where are you? I ordered you a water and queso.”
I procrastinated almost every task.
My office looked like an episode of hoarders — coffee cups, papers, and dodgeballs cluttered the entrance-way.
Stacks of paper piled on my desk like little monuments to my lack of a filing system.
It was bad.
Let me tell you about my rock bottom. One summer, I was planning a mission trip across the country with 40 students. This complex task required 400+ hours of paperwork, planning, and problem-solving. Three days before the trip, I was going over the tickets before printing confirmation numbers. I noticed something that made my heart drop. There were 44 people going on this trip, but we only had 43 tickets.
Anxiety took over. I could feel my heartbeat in my neck. My chest got tight. My brain acted-out a performance where I had to tell a student’s parents that all their fundraising was wasted, because Jimmy isn’t going. Then I started checking off names to figure out who I left out. After I crossed out all 43 students and leaders, I was confused. Everyone seemed to be accounted for — everyone except for me.
I forgot to buy my own airline ticket. And I discovered this sixty hours before we boarded the plane. I had no idea what I was going to do. I started drafting my resignation letter before my phone rang. Literally moments after my dreadful discovery, I got a sympathetic phone-call from a parent who explained their child couldn’t go on the trip. Until this day, I worry that I sounded oddly excited when she called me. I immediately hung up, called the airline, and explained that I had to change the name on one of the tickets.
I accidentally misspelled Jennifer Dillinger — it was actually supposed to read Jackson Garrell.
Strangely enough, they changed it for me.
I sought help after this incident. My fiancé came over to my office and helped me develop a filing system, set up a calendar, and organize tasks in a logical manner. My life quickly began to improve. A few simple steps and systems gave me my life back. It felt like I had an extra twenty hours in a week. It was a game changer.
This process was strangely simple, and I feel like this productivity process has the ability to help you too. It can give you your life back. It can give you more time. It can empower you to focus on your primary goals while still being able to go home and unplug from work.
I present to you — the five-step productivity process from a procrastinating pastor.
(Note: I wrote down Eliminate, Delegate, Automate at a conference one year. It really stuck with me. I cannot find the originator of these catchy concepts, but I have seen it frequently used by Micheal Hyatt.)
Your first step is to track your workflow for two weeks — make careful notes of all your tasks and responsibilities. You will quickly start to identify themes, reoccurring tasks, and priorities. Now, rank everything you did — in order from most important to least important. Take a look at those things towards the bottom of your list — can you just eliminate this task all together? There are obvious things. Did you spend 2 hours on youtube? Eliminate that. Did you play Fortnight while justifying it as a “work skill’ — eliminate that. Do you spend 2 hours a week in a meeting that’s 60% about sports? Cut that meeting in half.
On the flip side, there are the not-so-obvious things. These are tasks that do serve a purpose, but they may be too demanding or unnecessary. These are often things that were valuable at one time, but the value has decreased. For instance, do you write up an email newsletter that is only opened by 11% of 40 parents? You may want to eliminate that. This “no” will give way to a “yes” to doing something that better serves your end goals.
We love delegation!
Stack those chairs.
Clean this room.
Help me move this random object.
Can you get me a coffee with steamed milk?
Do not fall into this delegation pitfall. Don’t delegate tasks — delegate ownership. It’s easy to just delegate stuff you don’t want to do. There is work all over the place and it’s just easy to ask someone else to tackle it. This is task management — not leadership. For instance, I learned to delegate the details of event planning to a key volunteer. I didn’t just give him random tasks I didn’t want to do — I asked him to take ownership of the whole thing. He knocked it out of the park.
Learn to delegate ownership to the right people. Empower your team by giving them creative freedom on whatever project they own. You must be okay with them doing it differently than you would. You need to focus on targets — not tasks. Give them a goal and cheer them on as they work towards it.
If you can’t eliminate — automate. This is when you set up strategic systems or technological tools. Automation allows you to do more in less time.
Here are five of my favorite automation examples:
ONE: Email auto-responders. Are you constantly checking email? Automate a responder email that explains that you only check email once a day (or even once a week). Explain that people can text you for something that needs immediate attention. This simple automation frees up both time and headspace on days dedicated to sermon preparation or event planning.
TWO: Automating task tickets. Do you work in a role where people ask you to do projects? Set up a google form that generates an Asana task when it’s filled out. When the person sends in the task, they receive an automated email explaining your expected turn-around time and you are given an interactive list of tasks in the order in which they were submitted in Asana.
THREE: Automate communication sequences. Do you have the same emails that you send visitors, new believers, or people that just joined a group? Automate them. Set up a list and allow people to join the list through an online form or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. When they join the list, it triggers an automated communication sequence. This is something you simply do once, then it repeats it forever.
FOUR: Auto-generate volunteer schedules. Use an online tool that allows you to send out automated messages to every volunteer once a month. This allows them to fill out their availability and to view the volunteer schedules.
FIVE: Same structure for every sermon. I use the same template for every sermon outline. (This has been adapted from Andy Stanley’s preaching style.) I outline my sermons by moving from ME to WE to TEXT to TAKEAWAYS. This is not really an automation — it’s more of a framework. I have found that duplicating the same template every time I write a sermon saves me at least one hour a week.
The most valuable investment you can make is putting time into the development of the people around you. The same year as the airline debacle, there was a driven young adult in our ministry. I began to mentor him — showing him the ins-and-outs of ministry. He was far from an expert at the process, but he was full of passion. Always invest in passionate people. Processes and skills are easy to teach. Passion isn’t.
As time progressed, he soared within his role. He taught. He led groups. He served with all his heart. He planned events. He began to mentor other people. He now serves in full-time ministry.
Always take time to replicate yourself in other people. Be a mentor. Have a small group. Teach. Train. Be patient. This investment will reap dividends in the Kingdom.
This may seem ironic, but the key to time management is taking time off. Pastors are prone to burn-out, because they often try to take on far too much far too fast. We are serving God, right? Shouldn’t we do it nonstop? We are called to serve God and obey His commandments — and He commanded you take a Sabbath. Fight the burnout cycle. Take the time to rest and rejuvenate. This is the principle God set up for us on the first work-week of human history. Follow His model. God will do greater things through you with six days than you can do with seven on your own.
Organization will give you your time back. For every minute you invest into organization, you will earn hours in the long-term. Download the forms I used in youth ministry using the link below. Also, our resource library has dozens of resources to help you maximize your ministry. Subscribe for a password to the entire library.