Can’t Keep Up? Try this Simpler Approach to Productivity in Ministry

The solution to your current stress level might not be to reduce your work. It might be to reduce the ways you do your work.

If you want to be more productive in ministry, I suggest you work more like a squirrel, and less like a bee.

Allow me to explain.

Earlier this summer, both the squirrels and the bees liked the flowers in our front yard. The bees buzzed around a flower here, and a flower there. The squirrels systematically ate the heads off each flower, batch-by-batch.

The issue is not the number of flowers that needed to be consumed, but simply the approach to consuming them. And the squirrels wasted a lot less time and energy compared to the bees, who logged a lot of unnecessary mileage and minutes between

My argument is that you will be more productive if you employ the squirrel method of productivity: batch tasks in the same mode together, instead of buzzing inefficiently from one mode to the other.

This post contains my basic – and simple – approach to getting stuff done in ministry. I have three modes of work: planning mode, crafting mode, and maintenance mode.

Everything you do in ministry can be categorized into one of the modes of work below.

Planning Mode

Planning is working on figuring out what work to do. When you chart out your projects for next week, you have transitioned into planning mode. When you peek at your task list, you have briefly shifted to planning mode.

Planning mode matters if you want to be in charge of your work. If you don’t plan your work, then everyone who emails, calls, texts, and tweets you will plan your work for you. You will do what is latest and loudest and lamest. The work that is most important for you to accomplish will never get done in the manner it ought to be done.

Perhaps the reason you are so stressed right now is because you aren’t taking the time to plan. The things you need to work on are floating around in the back of your head, but you haven’t made any decisions about when and how to do those things.

When you plan your work, your important tasks make it to the top of the list.

So plan your work.

Crafting Mode

Everyone’s work is to make things. If you haven’t made anything, then you haven’t worked.

Once you plan your work, you have to get around to doing it.

A painter can spend all day mixing colors, but if she doesn’t paint a picture, she didn’t do her work. A pastor can spend all day highlighting his commentaries, but if he doesn’t write a sermon, he didn’t do his work.

There are no palettes on display at museums, and highlighted commentaries do not edify God’s people.

That said, if you want other people to appreciate your work, you can’t just make things.

You have to craft them.

It’s the difference between cooking for one and hosting friends for a party. When you cook for friends everything matters: the balance of foods, the presentation at the table, the beverages you serve.

Crafting means that you not only know what to do (planning), but also how you want to do it and what effect you want as a result. When you craft something, you bring intentionality and love to your work.

We should craft our sermons, craft our events, and craft our worship services. Pastoral ministry is too high a calling to crank things out.

Maintenance Mode

Maintenance mode is when you shift your attention toward the stuff that piles up around you, whether in your mailbox, around your desk, on your phone, or on your computer.

The purpose of Maintenance mode is to guard your attention for planning mode and crafting mode.

Dusk has befallen the Information Age, and a new age has dawned: the Interruption Age. When you are constantly interrupted, you can’t focus on planning or crafting.

Therefore, maintenance mode is about using inboxes as filters to collect information until you are ready to deal with it.

Now, it’s kind of tricky to use your phone, email, blog reader, Facebook, and Twitter as filters instead of interruptions.

So I’m going to give you very detailed, step-by-step instructions for this.





The great thing about your phone is that all your voicemails and texts will be there waiting for you when you turn it back on. It doesn’t have to be on all the time in order to get those messages.

And did you know your email program can collect all your mail at once, right when you open it? It doesn’t miss anything if you shut the app down for an hour.

Okay, I’m laying the sarcasm on pretty thick. But you get the point.

Maintenance mode is the magic potion of keeping up in the Interruption Age. It says, “I’ll deal with this stuff when I’m good and ready!”

When you are planning and crafting, cut the interruptions off. Then a three or four times a day, check in on email, texts, voicemail, etc.

When you deal with the onslaught on your terms, you discover that it is not as important or urgent as you thought.

It will be a lot easier for you to make time for your sermon.

Why this is helpful

Coming back to the opening illustration, working like a bee is buzzing between work modes inefficiently. A little email here, a little sermon prep there, a little calendar updating here.

When you focus your attention in one mode, the quality of your work improves. This makes your end product better, and it saves time fixing mistakes later. And it increases your efficiency, because stay in one “zone” before switching to another.

Three steps to be more productive today

1. Start your day today by planning the two or three most important things you should do today. Don’t let anything (barring a pastoral emergency) keep you from finishing those things.

2. Try checking your email just three or four times today, rather than leaving your app open throughout the day.

3. Devote 90 consecutive minutes to one project that requires crafting. That may be your sermon. If you get off to a slow start, don’t switch to email or blog reading. Stick with it until you catch your stride.

If you do those three things, I bet you’ll be able to keep up today.

(Image credit)


  1. Tom Hester says:

    Good morning Eric,
    Thanks for this post. I am a bi-vocational pastor and sometimes I feel like the bee instead of the squirrel. I have to manage my time very carefully and get distracted far too easily. This was helpful.

    Grace and Peace to you