How to Produce Your Best Work

NOTE: This is part one of a series covering how to do our best work. This article addresses time and energy management. The next articles covers two scheduling concepts.

Hats Galore

As a pastor, I wear multiple roles or “hats” if you will. I am a communicator, preaching sermons and making presentations. I’m a teacher, a leader, a manager, a facilitator, a coach, and a follower. At times I encourage and at times I re-direct. I am a writer, both of sermons, newsletters, blogs, and studies. Sometimes I am a community organizer, a counselor, spiritual director, and a listening ear. I am also an administrator and a strategist. I’m a prayerful presence in a hospital room and a vocal presence for justice. I’m called on for my opinion in many different areas whether I am trained, educated, or familiar with those areas or not. My StrengthsFinder results tell me that I am always a learner. I’m also a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle and to some a friend.

For those who wonder what pastors do during the week, take your pick!

I’m sure you have multiple roles as well. I’m good at some of my roles, but not all of them. I struggle with some roles, and there are a few with which, to be honest, I fail miserably. Nevertheless, I try to do my best…most of the time.

Greg McKoewn asserts in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, that no one can do it all or have it all. Fulfilling all my roles is impossible. Impossibility doesn’t mean I don’t want to try fulfilling as many roles as possible, but time constraints prohibit me from doing it all. Time becomes very important when juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.

Managing Time

Time is important to me. There. I’ve said it. I believe American culture contributes to my time obsession. Other cultures have a more relaxed view of time and a slower pace. I often wonder how well I would do in another culture. Would I become more relaxed, or frustrated? I would probably be frustrated most of the time (pun not intended, at least not too much).

Time management and productivity systems help to a degree. Such methodologies can squeeze more work out of the time we have. Yet, these systems fall short for undefined and creative endeavors.

The work of a pastor requires creativity. While there resources (sermons, presentations, etc.) online, to create something completely contextual requires thought, study, and reflection. In other words, some of the work of a pastor requires time, but a certain kind of time.

Time Or Energy Management?

We may believe that all time is the same. The reality is, some time is better than other time for certain kinds of work. Some tasks require more energy. Even when we do manage our time well, if we don’t have energy to do the work, the work may suffer, or go undone.

Our energy level increases and decreases through out the day (see The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal). Sometimes we have enough energy to conquer the world while at other times we can barely keep our eyes open. High energy produces better work. Trying to write or study when exhausted ends up taking more time and produces less quality.

I remember one time when I visited a widow in our congregation. It was in the afternoon, after lunch, and she had a very warm house. I was at a “low” energy point of the day, but I needed to go see her.

As we sat, she continued to talk…and talk…and talk. My eyelids got heavy and I struggled to keep them open. I started falling asleep. She asked me, “Pastor? Are you tired?” Well, yes and no. The truth was, that time during the day was not my “best” time, so I couldn’t bring my “best” self to her.

Our best work happens when we have energy. Knowing ourselves and doing our most important work during high energy times leads to our best work. Discover when your high energy times are and schedule your most important work then. Save emails and social media and other “Shallow Work” (See Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World) for low energy times.

Tips for Energy Management

Energy management helps us produce our best work. Here are some ways to increase our energy throughout the day:

  • Get up and move! Movement can help us regain some energy. Do some pushups. Run in place. Whatever it takes to get you body moving.
  • Eat. Eating, especially protein, can give us the boost we need to finish a task.
  • Avoid sugar. While sugary snacks and drinks may give us a short-term boost, watch out for the crash!
  • Caffeine. I’ve heard caffeine can help (he writes while smiling). However, the half-life of caffeine is about 8 hours. Ingesting caffeine 8 hours before bed can affect the deepest part of our sleep cycle. Caffeine in the morning helps, after 2 pm it may keep you from getting your best sleep.

Action Steps

  • Keep a log throughout the day for a week or two. Notice your high and low energy times.
  • Determine your high energy and low energy work. What tasks can you perform when your energy is low? What tasks require your “best self” and high energy?
  • Schedule your work based on your energy flow.

Also, check out five books that I’ve found helpful in my pursuit of purpose.

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