How to Be Productive: The Ultimate Guide [100+ Tips]

How to Be Productive

Let me be clear right up front that I still have a lot to learn in terms of productivity. I certainly have not arrived. I have simply learned how to be more productive from many others, who, over the years, have shared the tips, tools, and practices they use. 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.

How to Be Productive: Principles

These are some overarching principles I believe in when it comes to learning how to be productive. 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 all of this becomes.

How to be Productive: Evaluate

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:

Track Time

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 it. Create categories for your time, and shoot for 6-10 of these categories. If you have only have 2-4, it’s probably not enough. More than 10 will make it hard to track. After 2-4 weeks, look at it, and see where you’re spending the majority of your time so you can determine if you are using it 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 this 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.

How to Be Productive: Practices

Now that you have evaluated your current system, you’re ready to make it better or 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 jumping into each day without really planning our work. Often, 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

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 on the calendar.
  • If you miss something, move it on the calendar to the future.
  • If someone asks if you have time, check your 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 David Allen.

How to Be Productive: Trainings

Carey Nieuwhof’s High Impact Leader Course

Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus Course

Use the Pomodoro Method of Work

Knock Out Big Things First (Learn to Eat “Frogs” for Breakfast)

Learn How to Delegate Things You Shouldn’t Work On

How to Be Productive: Tools & Apps

Tools and apps will not make you productive on their own. However, if you use them well, they can be a big 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).

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


How to Structure for Growth in Ministry

Ministry Structure

In ministry, it’s important to plan for growth in order for growth to be possible. However, the challenges of ministry are so great and so demanding it makes it hard to do anything but focus on managing the present. Maybe you haven’t experienced that, but I sure have.

One of the exercises our team likes to do from time to time is imagine what our ministry would be like if it was double the size. It’s a chance to step back from working in the ministry to work on the ministry. That exercise helps expose the problems we would face if, all of a sudden, two times as many kids and students attended next week.

Most of the issues that come up fall into 3 categories: structure, systems, and programming. In this post, I’ll share some helpful questions to ask to evaluate your ministry structure.

10 Questions to Test Your Structure’s Growth Potential

Every church and every ministry have some type of structure. The structure must grow for the ministry to grow, no different than the human body structure (skeleton) must grow for a person to grow. This will relate to staffing and volunteer structures. There are also building and financial structures, but that’s another post altogether.

Is anyone responsible for directly leading more than 5-6 staff? That’s not a magic number, but if someone is, they may be limiting growth because of how much has to go through them. If leading their team is most of what their time is committed toward, that number can probably increase to 8-10.

Is a volunteer responsible for directly leading more than 10-15 volunteers? Even 15 is high unless the volunteer leader is giving a lot of time each week to the role. If anyone has to lead too many people, none of them are cared for well.

Can you easily describe your staff structure or would staff even have a hard time figuring out how it works? If it’s complex, it is a growth barrier. The larger the organization the more complex it can become.

Do you have an organizational chart? Not just for staff, but for volunteers? If not, you might be like Moses. An org chart clearly defines your structure and lets volunteers see opportunities where they could step up and lead.

Is there a leadership pipeline to ensure you’ll continue developing leaders? You can read more about the importance of a leadership pipeline here, but know that leadership is one of the earliest lids you’ll face in your ministry. A pipeline helps clarify the path people can take to lead at higher levels.

Is it clear who is responsible for everything in your ministry? If everyone owns it, nobody does.

Do you develop volunteer structures that would work as staff structures? Part of thinking big is planning for what would happen if some of those key volunteer roles were staff roles because they needed more hours to get it done.

Does information flow throughout the organization well? Ask people at the “bottom” rungs for an honest assessment.

Does seniority drive your structure? If so, you might not have the best talent and competency in key positions.

Does your strategy drive your structure or are they misaligned? You should have staff and volunteers in positions that line up with your strategy. Not sure what strategy is? This post can help.

I hope those questions will help you evaluate your structure to see if it’s fueling growth or preventing it. For another great resource on systems, check out Jim Wideman’s book Stretch.

What barriers would you face if your ministry doubled in size?

How to Delegate: The Ultimate Guide to Delegation

How to Delegate Well

How To Delegate

In Episode 4 of the Family Ministry Podcast, I talked with Jim Wideman. In the midst of our conversation, Jim referenced the book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell (my link). He said you could read the first law (Law of the Lid) and throw the rest out. Now, I think the entire book is good, but Jim’s point is well taken.

The Law of the Lid simply states that leadership ability determines effectiveness. If we do something on our own, without leading others, there’s a natural limit to our potential. We can only do so much on our own. However, if we can lead others, the lid is raised and our potential is only limited to our leadership ability.

In order to lead and multiply our impact, we must learn how to delegate well.

The Ultimate Guide to Delegation

The name of this post is a bit overzealous, as I could never include everything we need to know about delegation. Also, as you’ll quickly realize, this isn’t a post full of all my thoughts on delegation. It’s really a collection of all I have learned from other leaders with a few of my own thoughts tossed in.

I’m breaking everything down into 4 categories you could walk through, in order, to delegate well. The categories are:

  1. What to Delegate
  2. To Whom to Delegate
  3. How to Delegate
  4. Resources to Delegate Better

Mixed in the categories you’ll find the 7 Steps to take as you seek to delegate well.

What to Delegate

The first step to delegating is to determine what you should delegate. You want to list out everything you do. In order to make the list truly helpful, follow these steps.

Step 1: Make Your Lists

  1. List everything you do. Every task. Every meeting. Every communication. Every project. Everything.
  2. Stop Doing ListCreate 3 categories
    • Stop Doing – At first, you’ll think if there’s anything you could stop doing, you wouldn’t be doing it now. But, that’s rarely true. You can almost always find things you can stop doing, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re not essential. Thanks to Jim Collins for this one.
    • Others Could Do – You’ll be tempted here to think about who could do each thing. Don’t do that. You can’t limit your answer to who is available now. If somebody else could do it without needing to be in your role, put it here.
    • Only I Can Do – You should have very few items here. Most of them should be tied to your role, and specifically to the aspects of your role nobody else can do.
  3. Stop doing everything on the Stop Doing list. Seriously. Stop
  4. Prioritize the Others Can Do list based on how easily you could delegate each item.

At this point, you have a helpful list and you’re ready to start delegating.

To Whom to Delegate

It’s impossible to delegate without having other people to take on what you wish to delegate. Now, most of you are probably thinking “Exactly! That’s my problem. There’s nobody to delegate to!”

I get it. It’s hard.

If it were obvious you would have delegated already. But, here’s what I know. There are almost always more people we can delegate to than we realize. We expect people to volunteer themselves or appear out of thin air. In many cases, we think everyone is too busy and nobody would want to do it. Don’t say “no” for anyone. 

When you’re looking at an item in your Others Could Do category, before thinking about specific people, classify the type of item you’re delegating.

Step 2: Classify Your “Others Could Do” Items

  1. Is this a task? 
  2. Is this authority? 

Craig Groeschel says it best when he says:

“When we delegate tasks, we create followers. When we delegate authority, we develop leaders.” 

That’s not to say that you should never delegate a task. You should. But, it’s helpful to identify on the front-end whether it’s a task or authority, because who you delegate to will be determined by that choice. It’s best to have a leadership development bias and, if it’s a task, determine if there is authority somewhere above that task that could be delegated.

Step 3: Create A List of Names

Now that you know the importance of knowing what type of item you’re delegating, create a list of every person and every group that could potentially include someone with whom you could delegate.

How to Delegate

You can probably crank through those first 3 Steps pretty fast, but things get a little more difficult now. I believe there are 3 main reasons why we find it difficult to delegate and it’s important to understand them and not let them be an obstacle.

Step 4: Remove the 3 Obstacles

  1. Delegating takes more work up front than simply doing it ourselves. 
    Remove this obstacle by committing now to put in the work that’s needed up front, because the payoff is having more time than you had before.
  2. We dump responsibilities on people with no clarity, no training, and no help.
    Remove this obstacle by putting in the work up front in order to fully prepare the items you wish to delegate. Otherwise, you’ll delegate items and they’ll come back to you shortly after because people quit.
  3. We are concerned the person we delegate to will not do it to our standard. 
    Remove this obstacle by deciding beforehand that you are okay with it being done 80% of how it was done before. In addition, decide you’ll be okay with it being done differently than it was done before.

Most of those obstacles are in our minds. Once we acknowledge them and decide to remove them, we can take action without being held back by doubt.

Step 5: Create Process Documents

This isn’t exciting, but if we want to delegate well we have to train and prepare people well. Often times, this simply means we need to document every step that is required to complete the process. You can do this one of two ways. One way is to create a step-by-step document that anyone can follow. Walk them through it and give them freedom to improve on that process.

The other way is to document the vision (the “why”) and the desired outcomes (the “what”), and let them figure out the “how”. This goes back to Craig’s quote about creating followers or developing leaders. It’s perfectly fine in many instances to create the step-by-step guide, especially if a process has proven to be successful.

Step 6: Get Clear On The Delegation Level

Sometimes delegation breaks down because we didn’t train people well and clarify the process, but other times it breaks down because we’re not clear about the level at which we’re delegating. There are 2 excellent resources I want to point you to that can help you understand the different levels and use them as you delegate.

Resource 1: Michael Hyatt’s post about the 5 Levels of Delegation

Resource 2: Andy Stanley’s Podcast episodes entitled Delegation Dilemma Part 1 & Delegation Dilemma Part 2

They’re very similar and regardless of how you define the levels and what language you use, the important part is that you have agreed upon language and you actually use it when you delegate. Tell the person you’re delegating to which level this is and, therefore, what you expect as a result.

Step 7: Hand It Off!

At this point, you should have your list of items to delegate, names of people to delegate to, resources to help them, and clarity about what you’re expecting as you delegate to them. You can match people to the items to delegate and make the ask. If they say “no”, okay, ask someone else. Keep at it until you’ve handed off everything on your list!

Resources to Delegate Better

I hope those 7 Steps will help you delegate more and free up time in your calendar to lead, dream, learn, rest, and anything else that’s important, but not happening right now. There are a few other resources I want to share that may be helpful as you delegate.

The Eisenhower Box

eboxThe Eisenhower Decision Matrix, or Eisenhower Box, is a great tool to use as new items come across your plate. It’s great to go through the 7 Steps and delegate as much as you can, but the reality is new things will always come along.

What do you do with those?

This tool can help. Take the new item and run it through the grid to see which quadrant it falls in. Act accordingly.

Sandbox Analogy

On our team, we use the analogy of a sandbox to refer to what decision-making authority we have with our responsibilities. For instance, someone on my team may be responsible for pulling off a weekend retreat. If it’s new, we would talk and define the sandbox so they know what they can decide (in the sandbox), and what I want to weigh in on (outside the sandbox). Ideally, we keep pushing to expand their sandbox and lessen our input.


Essentialism (my link)

First Things First (my link – made the Eisenhower Box popular)


Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?

The 10 Rules of Successful Delegation

Why Aren’t You Delegating?

Video / Audio

Craig Groeschel on Entreleadership Podcast

Craig Groeschel at Catalyst One Day – Let Leaders Lead

Kenny & Elle talking delegation on the Youth Ministry Answers Podcast

Bonus: PDF + Worksheet + Story

Use the form below to get three bonus resources, a PDF of this post (to refer back to), a Delegation Worksheet you can use to walk through this process, and an interesting story you can read with your team to spark conversation about delegation. The story is especially helpful if you find yourself delegating things only to have them come back to you because people can’t take the initiative on their own to get it done.

What would you add to this resource? Comment below.

7 Ways to Frustrate the People You Lead

Let’s face it. No matter how good of a leader we might be, we all frustrate the people we lead.

I sure do.

Not on purpose, though. It’s the reality of being a flawed human being who tries his best, but will always have weaknesses. Like you, I’ve tried to work on those weaknesses over the years so I don’t frustrate those I lead as much, but there’s still a long way to go.

7 Ways to Frustrate the People You Lead

Here are 7 ways I have observed that I can frustrate the people I lead. I have found that being able to identify and name them, as well as know which ones I’m more prone to, helps me avoid them. I hope this can help you avoid them as well.

Have Unspoken or Unclear Expectations

One of my favorite phrases is unspoken expectations lead to frustration. I don’t know if I made that up or got it from someone else (probably the latter), but it has shown to be true time and time again. Especially in a marriage, but really in any relationship or team. As leaders, we should make our expectations clear for the people we lead.

Don’t Get to Know and Care for them Personally

John Maxwell has a famous quote that says “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care“. Everyone has to believe they are known and cared for. Some people don’t need it as much as others, but everyone needs it and everyone deserves it from their leaders. Relationships are ultimately what make people stick in a volunteer or paid staff role. If someone we lead doesn’t feel known and cared for, they will be frustrated.

Don’t Involve Them in Decisions That Affect Them

The larger the organization gets, the more this becomes a problem. When an organization is small everyone is usually around the “decision table”. As the organization grows, that becomes impossible as it would completely slow down the organization. So, this is unavoidable to an extent, but it’s important that whenever possible, we involve the people we lead in discussions that will lead to a decision that affects them. Everybody wants to have a voice, especially in the decisions that impact them.

Be Disorganized So Much That It Affects Them

I think it’s impossible to be disorganized and not have it affect your team. Most people are disorganized in some aspect of their life. If you’re like me, you’re more organized everywhere else than you are at home. Regardless of how well you naturally do this, if you are disorganized so much that it affects those you lead, then it will frustrate them. The more organized your team is, the more this will frustrate them.

Rarely Encourage Them

People need encouragement. Nobody complains about receiving too much encouragement. This is a big weakness of mine, so I know the effects it can have. If you’re like me, you are aware of ways to encourage your team and you think about it, but then forget to do anything with it. It’s kind of like Andy Stanley’s quote on gratitude:

“Unexpressed gratitude communicates ingratitude.”

If we don’t encourage the people we lead they will eventually be frustrated and want to quit. Simply thinking or feeling it isn’t enough. We must actually encourage them regularly.

Never Challenge Them

Conventional wisdom might suggest that challenging those you lead could actually frustrate them. That is true if it’s done in an unhealthy or unrealistic way. However, not challenging them can be frustrating as well. In the book Drive, author Daniel Pink uses 4 decades of research to suggest that what truly motivates people are 3 things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If people really do want to master their craft, then they have to be challenged to grow.

Avoid Talking About Their Hopes and Dreams

One of the hardest things we have to do as leaders is prioritizing their hopes and dreams above ours and our organization’s. If we love what they add to the team and to the organization, it’s hard to think about what would happen if they left. However, good leaders put others first and help them pursue their God-given dreams even when it means leaving the organization.

What did I leave out? What frustrates you? How do you frustrate people?

Mission | Vision | Strategy | Values – Values Create Culture

Values as Guardrails

Have you ever been confused by the terms mission, vision, strategy, and values?

Join the club.

In the first post in this series, I introduced this topic and wrote about Mission.
In the second post, I wrote about Vision and the role it plays.
In the third post, I wrote about Strategy as the plan to accomplish our mission.

In the last post in this series, we’ll talk about Values. Values seemed like a throwaway component years ago and now they’re popular again because of their connection with Culture. I’ve heard it said that culture is “how we do things here”. I would agree. You have probably heard the popular, oft misquoted, hard-to-attribute statement:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Usually, it’s attributed to Peter Drucker in a speech he gave. I agree with the statement, but you do need all the other components as well. Culture is just the easiest one for people to experience. Therefore, it’s more important simply because they’ll catch that first.


Values can be the greatest tool we have in creating culture. Ultimately, people create the culture. It’s similar to how you think about another country, nation or tribe of people. When you describe the culture, you’re mostly describing the people – their communication, their behaviors, their practices, their customs, etc.

If people create the culture, values are a great way to help people understand the culture you want to create. It gives you language to use as you steer everyone in the same direction. Again, the language in another country goes a long way toward creating the culture you experience there. You may have heard the phrase “words create worlds”.

What question does strategy answer?

Values answer the question – Who do we want to be? 

Mission defines our purpose, as in why we exist. Vision describes where we are headed. Strategy lays out the plan for how we’ll get there. Values describe who we want to be as we pursue everything else.

In the road trip analogy, values are guardrails

Our mission tells us why we’re on the journey in the first place. Our vision points to a destination on the map. Strategy plots the route from where we are to where we want to be. Values define the guardrails for us. The determine the boundaries of where we’ll go on our way to our destination.

They clearly divide the path we want to be on and the places we don’t want to go. Just like driving over a guardrail causes big problems, violating our own values can do the same.

What should values look like?

Values should describe who you want to be. Don’t feel obligated to include things every church should value (the Bible, prayer, etc.) Some churches have 5 values, others have 12. I used to think 12 was too many, and still lean that way, but I’ve seen it work well in a couple churches linked below. Here are some values from four churches I think did a good job creating them:

How does this relate to Family Ministry?

Similar to everything else I’ve said, I think a family ministry could lean on the church-wide values or create a set of their own. The key, in my mind, is having a good plan for communicating them regularly. Those churches that have 12 do a good job of communicating one a month everywhere they can.

Action Step

Read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.

Read this post by Tony Morgan about Church Values vs Team Values.

Get this free PDF from Tony to discuss and evaluate your values.

Come up with a plan for how you’ll communicate your finalized values regularly.

What questions do you have about values?