NOTE: This is part one of a series covering how to do our best work. This article addresses time and energy management. The next article covers two scheduling concepts.
As a pastor, I wear multiple roles or “hats” if you will. I am a communicator, a teacher, a leader, a manager, a facilitator, a coach, and a follower. At times I encourage and other times re-direct. I am a writer, both of sermons, newsletters, blogs, and studies. Sometimes I am a community organizer, counselor, spiritual director, and 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 matters whether I am trained, educated, or familiar with those areas or not. My StrengthsFinder results indicate that I am a learner. I’m also a father, husband, brother, uncle and to some a friend.
For those who wonder what pastors do during the week, take your pick!
I’m good at some of them, but not all of them. With some, I struggle, and there are a few with which, to be honest, I fail miserably. Nevertheless, I try to do my best.
I’m sure you have multiple roles as well. Greg McKoewn asserts in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, that no one can do it all or have it all. Fulfilling all our responsibilities is impossible. Impossibility doesn’t mean we don’t try. Try as we might, time constraints prohibit us from “doing it all.” Time is a limiting factor when juggling multiple roles and responsibilities.
I can be obsessed with time. There, I’ve said it. I believe American culture contributes to my time obsession. I often wonder how well I would do in a culture with a more lax view of time. Would I be relaxed or frustrated? I feel I would 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. However, time management systems fall short for undefined endeavors and creative work.
The work of a pastor requires creativity. While there we now have resources (sermons, presentations, etc.) we can download and use, to create something contextual involves thought, study, prayer, and reflection.
Time Or Energy Management?
While all work takes time, some work requires a particular kind of time. All time is not the same. Some work requires more energy than other work. Even when we do manage our time well, if we have low energy, our work may suffer, or go undone.
Sometimes we have enough energy to conquer the world while at other times we can barely keep our eyes open. Trying to write or study when exhausted takes more time and degrades the quality of our outputs.
Simply stated, we produce the best results when we are energized. Our results suffer when we attempt creative or innovative work while depleted. Since our energy levels fluctuate throughout the day (see The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal), knowing and doing our most important work during peak energy times leads to our best efforts.
I’ve discovered the importance of energy early in my ministry. I visited a widow in our congregation in the late afternoon, after lunch. It was hot outside and hot in her 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. When I started falling asleep, she asked me, “Pastor? Are you tired?” Well, yes and no.
I was pretty embarrassed and wasn’t sure how to answer her. The truth was, that time of day was not my “best” high energy time. At that moment, I couldn’t bring my “best” self to her.
Your best work, whatever the activity, happens when you have high energy. Discover when your high energy times are and schedule your most important work then. Save emails, 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 energy levels throughout the day:
- Get up and move! Movement can help regain energy. Do pushups. Run in place. Do whatever it takes to get your body moving.
- Eat. Eating, especially protein, can give the boost needed to finish a task.
- Avoid sugar. While sugary snacks and drinks may give a short-term boost, the crash is coming!
- Caffeine. I’ve heard caffeine can help (I write 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 energy, after 2 pm it may keep you from getting your best sleep.
- 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.