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Time focus: prioritizing and paring down

Over the last year, my workload has been continually increasing. I have a tendency to overwork anyway, but it’s gotten to a point that I had to take a hard look at all I am doing and see how to reduce the load. The question is… how does one do this?

I’ve been working long hours. Part of it is due to my being the only Adult Ministries Pastor for a church of over 700 people (with a part-time admin). I oversee 57 small groups and 20 ministries and teams. About 80-100 people report to me or work closely with me. I’ve been getting about 100 emails a day, not counting time on phone and in meetings. (Last week I sent out more than 359 individual emails in the first 4 days of work.)

Another part is due to my taking on temporarily some worship ministry responsibilities in scheduling and coordinating the teams until we hire someone.

And yet another reason is I am a high-J person (on the Meyer’s Briggs), which means I hate having incomplete things or loose strings hanging around.

All this has led to 60+ hour work weeks lately on a regular basis. (Running 58 hours this week, with still more work to go…) I’m not proud about this. This is not a healthy thing. Balance has always been a struggle for me… it feels even more so lately.

The question is… how to cut back? Here’s a process a colleague and I went through to try to prioritize.

1. Listed all the things I oversee. A whiteboard is great for this. No wonder I have been feeling a bit frazzled. I guess I do oversee a lot of stuff.

2. Set a goal. I’m pretty happy if I can get it down to 50 hours a week. It’s pretty rare but that would be my goal.

3. Calculated how much time I’m spending on all the projects. This was tough as my work is seasonal, particularly events. I tried to average it over the year, and then put hours per week.

4. Asked: “What can only I do?” I always keep in mind the quote, “Do only what you can do.” Everything else should be delegated to someone else, or train someone else to start doing the other thing.

5. Asked: “What can only I do at the level of excellence it needs to be done at?” There are lots of things I can pass onto other people but due to experience, training, skills, etc. there are certain things I need to do if we want to maintain a certain level of excellence. The question to consider is if the bar can be lowered anywhere, allowing other people are able to take on things. It’s also good to look at what I’m NOT doing well so that other people can do it better.

6. Asked: “What do I do best on staff?” Our staff is a team. I am privileged to work with amazingly gifted and wonderful people. Since I am part of the team, I also need to look where my best contribution is. The flip side is to ask what I am doing that someone else on the team can do better.

7. Asked: “What can be deferred to later?” Not everything has to be done now. (Though my J side protests.) What are lower priority items that can be worked on later? Weekly operational stuff doesn’t fit into this categories. But I was able to shift some of my longer-term projects to a later season.

One thing I noticed was I didn’t ask strategic questions, like, “What am I doing that doesn’t line up with the mission of the church?’ or, “Which of these is most central to the mission of the church?” That’s because those questions were determined initially and are always at the forefront. This process is going on the assumption that all these areas are contributing towards the overall mission of the church and what leadership has decided to focus on in this season.

There are many other questions to ask, but these questions are a good start. As a result, I rescheduled items, asked some volunteer leaders to step up for a season to help out, and made some hard decisions to pare back in other ways. This process helped me pare down my load to 55 hours… so that’s my ideal situation at this point. Hopefully we will hire an interim, which will further relieve the load. But as long as our church is the same size, the ministries continue, and we don’t have additional staff, this will be an area that I will always have to re-evaluate and re-prioritize for a long-term sustainable pace.

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