Usually when I talk to people, they tell me that they are busy, very busy. But it’s the rare person that will tell you that they are happy with how much they get done each day or week. How can we be more effective in getting our work done, no matter what that work is? In other words, how can we be more productive? To do so, we often work more hours. I know that’s what I used to do. I would often be the one turning on the lights on my floor at work in the morning. I worked more than 55 hours a week for years. But working longer or harder doesn’t necessarily mean that we are more productive. We end up getting tired and our productivity actually falls. Activity doesn’t always translate into results.
Over the past few years, I’ve read three excellent books on the subject of productivity. Below are my reviews of these books along with some helpful quotes. I hope that these are a benefit to you.
What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman and a link to 25 quotes.
Looking back, my busiest time took place when I was going to seminary while working full-time as a manager in a Fortune 50 organization, and serving as a leader in my church. Seminary took about 20 hours a week, work 50+, and I often handled special assignments in my role as a leader at church. I had so many commitments and due dates, I really needed to stay on top of things effectively. There are many ways of doing this. For example, Tim Challies recommends using a tool such as Evernote. I’ve found that a simple “To Do” or “Priorities” list in a Word document worked best for me. My Dad is a list maker, and perhaps that’s where I picked up this habit.
Here are a few thoughts on my major areas of responsibility during those busy times and how I tried to stay on top of things:
Work – I kept a list of those items I needed to complete in a “Priorities” document in Word. Near the end of each workday, I would review the document for the following day, prioritizing the items on the list – removing those that I had completed that day and adding any new ones. The most important items I would put at the top, with those that needed to be completed the following day in red. These were the items that absolutely needed to be completed the following day, or the day would not be a success. I did this at the end of the day so I would be ready to go first thing the next morning, knowing what my priorities would be for that day. I’m a visual person, so I would print out the document and keep it on my desk throughout the workday.
Now, you can do all of the planning for your day, taking into consideration your meetings for the day, due dates, etc. But, remember, a servant leader is there for the people. So, if a member of your team needs your time, even when you have very important work to do, they should get priority, if at all possible.
Seminary – The “Priorities” document also included non-work-related items. In seminary, at the beginning of each week I would review the syllabus for the work I would need to complete that week (reading, online posts, studying for quizzes and exams, writing papers, etc.). Those items would be added to my “Priorities” document along with a due date. Most of my classes were distance learning, which requires a good deal of self-discipline. Throughout seminary, I always tried to make the best use of my time, including listening to lectures and taking notes on trips while my wife drove.
Church – During my years in seminary, I coordinated several events where we brought in speakers and/or musicians into our church. My wife and I also coordinated two anniversary celebrations for our lead pastor. If you’ve ever coordinated major events, you know that there are a number of items to consider, including contracts, publicity, room configuration, lodging, etc. The last of these events, a 2014 Biblical Imagination Conference/Concert with Michael Card, was the most effective one I worked on. I gave thought to who I would want on my “Dream Team” – those people who I knew had good vision, were self-starters, dependable and would be great to work with on a team. I was blessed in that each person on my list said “Yes” to my request to work on the team. We put together a task summary and our team meetings went smoothly and consisted of team members providing updates. I never had to follow-up on a task because it wasn’t getting done. Planning and coordinating that event was probably the most fun I’ve had working on a large effort.
One more thought on a “Priorities” list. If an item stays on the list long enough, you can most likely remove it from the list. The thinking here is that if an item has been on your list for a significant amount of time, even though at one time it was important enough to add to your list, it’s probably now a low priority and you most likely no longer need to do it.
These are a few thoughts on how I was able to complete those items I was responsible for – by effectively planning by making a “Priorities” list, making the best use of my time, recruiting a “Dream Team”, etc. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. What has worked for you in helping you to be more productive?