Let me be clear right up front about the fact that I have a lot to learn in terms of productivity. I certainly have not arrived. I have simply learned from many others over the years about tools, tips, and practices they use to help them be more productive. People like Carey Nieuwhof, Jim Wideman, and Frank Bealer are great examples of leaders who are extremely productive and have lots of wisdom to share in this area.
This guide is a collection of most of the principles, ideas, tools, and practices I have found to be helpful when it comes to making the most of the limited time we have.
I won’t expand on these, but here are some overarching principles I believe in as it relates to productivity. They are the foundation for everything else in this post.
- You can’t manage time. You can only manage your activity.
- All hours of the day are not equal, so focus on managing your energy.
- Don’t touch things more than once, otherwise, you’re wasting time.
- “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – Parkinson’s Law
- Plan your work and work your plan.
- As your responsibilities grow, particularly across distinct areas, the more important this all becomes.
Before you jump in and change how you work, it’s important to evaluate how you have worked to get an accurate picture of how well your current system functions (or doesn’t). Here are a few ways you can evaluate your current system.
This is tedious and certainly isn’t fun to do for a long time, but I think it’s important to track your time in great detail for 2-4 weeks to really see where you’re spending your time. Create categories for your time and shoot for 6-10. If you have 2-4 categories it’s probably not enough and more than 10 will make it hard to track. After 2-4 weeks, look at it and see where you’re spending most of your time so you can determine if it’s being used well.
List and Categorize
List everything you are responsible for doing. If you track your time like I just mentioned, this should be fairly easy. Break that list down into 3 categories based on the return on investment of your time and how it matches your gifts/strengths. The 3 categories are:
- Low return on investment
- Average return on investment
- High return on investment
If that’s not clear enough, it might help to think about it in business terms. If you were the owner of a business, the time you spend could be categorized like this:
- $10 return on investment
- $100 return on investment
- $1000 return on investment
Use the insights from this exercise to make one, complete, prioritized list. As you plan your work, make sure you’re spending your best time on the things that give you the highest return.
Now that you have evaluated your current system, you’re ready to consider changing your approach. The following includes some specific practices you can do to help boost your productivity.
Plan Your Work
One mistake we all make is we jump in each day without really planning our work. Often times, we do this simply because we’re so overwhelmed and behind on everything that we don’t even know where to start. We have to begin digging just to figure out how deep the hole needs to be. Regardless of how much there is to do, it is always worth it to plan your work. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Plan Your Day
- Take 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan the next day.
- Take 10 minutes each morning to review the plan for the day.
- Use a one-page productivity or day planning sheet. I like the Storybrand one. You can also Google “1-page productivity planner“.
- Create artificial deadlines – See Craig Groeschel Podcasts episodes: It’s About Time 1 | It’s About Time 2
Schedule Everything on Your Calendar
- Use your calendar for more than just meetings.
- Block out time on your calendar for everything you will work on each week.
- Don’t schedule work if it doesn’t fit in the calendar.
- If you miss something, move it on the calendar to the future.
- If someone asks if you have time, check the calendar and count work blocks just like meetings.
Batch Your Work
- Batching is simply working on similar things together.
- Batching allows you to gain momentum and work faster.
- Some ways you can batch work to be more productive, include:
- Check email 3 times/day: morning, lunch and at the end of the day.
- Have a block of time (or two) set aside each week to work on the recurring tasks that are similar.
- Bunch meetings together on the same day.
Theme Your Days
One challenge with productivity is jumping from a project to a task, to a meeting, back to the project, to another task, etc. When we work like that, we lose time transitioning from one thing to the next because they’re so different. We never hit a stride. Having themed days allows you to focus and be more productive. Also, it doesn’t have to be a full day. It could be half-days. Theme day examples include:
- A day for meetings.
- A day for projects.
- A day for tasks/admin/communication
- A day for children’s ministry
- A day for student ministry
- A day for large group
- A day for volunteers
Use a Consistent Process
Something that can negatively impact our productivity is not having a consistent process for how we organize everything we need to do. You can come up with your own system, but I highly recommend the Getting Things Done system, outlined in the book by author David Allen.
Training to Help You Be More Productive
Tools & Apps
Tools and apps will not make you productive on their own, but if you use them well, they can absolutely help. Generally speaking, my core productivity tools and apps include a digital calendar (Google Calendar), reminder app (Toodledo), file storage (Google Drive), note storage (Evernote), a Pomodoro Timer (My Amazon link here), and a really cool physical notepad that can quickly be sent to any/all of your favorite digital places (Rocketbook).
However, I can share a lot more than that if you want an exhaustive list. Just use the form below to sign up and I’ll email you some bonus resources, including:
- The 30 Apps We Use To Lead Family Ministry PDF
- Notes from a “Ministry Hacks” Breakout I led along with Jim Wideman at the 2017 Orange Conference
- Another 80+ apps and tools included in the Ministry Hacks handout thanks to Corey Jones
Win a Copy of the High Impact Leader Course!
Thanks to the generosity of Carey Nieuwhof, I’m giving away a free copy of his High Impact Leader Course. I went through this course and it is incredibly helpful. To enter to win, just comment below with your name and your favorite tool, app, or practice as it relates to productivity.