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. It 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

Get the Bonuses

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