I had the opportunity to lead a group through a session on time management in our local NXTGEN Pastor’s Cohort (a small group of seminary students that is outside of the classroom or internship, that meets monthly to grow in six soft skills categories). Much of the material in this article was adapted from that module.
We have all heard about time management, but what is it really and why is it important? In our session we learned that:
“As Christians, we should be managing our time because it is not ours. Just as we should think of our possessions and money as on loan to us from God, so is our time. Time management is important because God calls us to be good stewards of all that he has entrusted to us. But time management is not just learning how to cram more into an already life. Time management is about balance in life.”
We learned that:
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““Time management” is the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between specific activities. Good time management enables you to work smarter – not harder – so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight, and pressures are high. Failing to manage your time damages your effectiveness and causes stress.”
This session was good for me as I’ve not always been very good at effectively managing my time. When I was going to seminary and working as a leader in a Fortune 50 organization, I was pushed to my limits. I found myself getting up earlier in the morning to get stay on top of my vocational and seminary work. And although this seemed like a good strategy at the time, reducing your sleep will eventually catch up with you. Again, it’s not about working harder or longer, but working smarter. When you cut into your sleep, you get worn down, which can lead to physical problems, as well as emotional issues such as irritability.
Although there are many benefits of technology, a downside is that we are always connected. Now, we can quickly check our work email on our phones. This blurs the line between our work and personal lives, making a work/life balance difficult. There’s always going to be one more email that you feel that you need to respond to. You find that you can never really catch up or get ahead of your “To Do” list.
I remember one of my leaders telling us, “You own your calendar. If it is out of control, you only have yourself to blame”. I always felt busy at work, but being busy is not the same as being productive. At work, we would often stress the difference between an activity (being busy) and achieving results. Top performers achieve results.
We each have 24 hours to handle work, our personal lives, and rest each day. Why is it that some people achieve so much more with their time than others? The answer lies in time management. Here are six suggestions on how to improve your time management skills, allowing you to work smarter, not harder:
- Keep a “To Do” list. At work, I used a Word document, labelling it “Priorities” to keep track of my things to do. At the end of each workday, I would update it so that it was fresh for the next morning. I would review and prioritize the items on the list each day, if not more often. If an item stays on your list too long, it’s a good signal that it’s not important enough to complete.
- Develop and write down your goals. If you don’t have goals, how do you know what to focus your time on? I would recommend that you develop daily (these would be on your “To Do” list), short-term (some of these could also be on your “To Do” list) and long-term goals. Read my article “3 Important Type of Goals Needed to Grow”.
- Manage interruptions or distractions. This is very important. If you are a leader, set clear expectations up front with your team on this. For example, do you prefer team members to stop by when they have a question or want to discuss something, or would you prefer they set up a short meeting on your calendar? We also need to manage our time on the internet or social media, as these activities can be big time wasters.
- I always found that I would add to my stress by thinking or worrying about what I needed to do – study for an exam, work on a paper or presentation, for example. However, once I actually started work on the task, and saw what exactly was needed, my stress level almost always went down.
- Taking on too much. We need to learn to say “No”, even to very good things. For example, I loved to participate in mentoring relationships, and never turned anyone down who asked me to mentor them. However, when you take on something new, even something good like mentoring someone, you are adding something to your already busy schedule. My wife would often say that when I took on something new, something else would end up suffering, and too often it was family time. So, there are going to be occasions to be able to protect your time, you will have to say “No”, even to good things.
- Time Management Matrix. This tool was developed by President Eisenhower and made popular by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First. On the matrix, you organize your activities according to the four different types of activities: Important and Urgent, Important and Not-Urgent, Not-Important and Urgent, and Not Important and Not-Urgent. Using this tool, you will be able to eliminate a number of time-wasting activities and unproductive behaviors. Here is an article that explains the matrix.
Being able to effectively manage our time is very important skill for all of us, especially leaders. What other helpful suggestions would you add to this list?