Pastors are busier than ever, but I’m pretty sure our ministries are not more fruitful than ever. How can we aim what we spend our time on toward what will be most effective for our ministries? How can we cut out what is least effective for our ministries?
Since we’re both busy, I’ll cut to the chase. If you’re looking for a productivity boost, try these ten experiments.
1. Resting in Christ. So this first one is more of an imperative than an experiment. How much does anxiety about your productivity negatively impact your productivity? Well, that’s how sin works: it is a self-destructive parasite that annihilates what it clings to, all the while promising to help you flourish. Who was more productive than Jesus? Who produced more than Jesus? And – here’s the clincher – he applies his work to you through the gift of the Spirit, and empowers you to do your work through the same. Faith in that truth gives your soul rest. A soul at rest, as it turns out, can get a lot of thigs done.
2. Try cutting out fake productivity from your reading diet. Fake productivity books and blogs (Lifehacker, anyone?) give lots of gimmicky tricks that will supposedly make your life immediately easier. But most of the time, you probably just say, “Huh. That’s neat,” and don’t do anything about it. Those are fake productivity resources are a double edged sword. Not only do they take you away from what you need to do, their tips don’t give you only superficial advice on how to do your work better.
3. Try identifying the least productive hour of your workday and exercising instead. Exercise increases productivity. If you’re really skinny like me, or haven’t worked out in a while, calisthenics will be more than enough for you. Here is a great resource that has all your workouts for the next 7 weeks planned out for you, so you don’t have to procrastinate getting to work by comparing gym prices, writing workouts for yourself, or surfing Craigslist for kettle bells.
4. Try not checking your email until 11 am. What important goals could you tackle if you had three uninterrupted hours of work each morning? How much better would your sermon and teaching prep be? I guarantee your church will not collapse if you save email for the last thing you do before lunch. You might even find that goals get accomplished much faster.
5. Try working from a standup desk. Studies show that standup desks make you more productive and healthier. While a lot of them look pretty ugly, or are ridiculously expensive, this one doesn’t look bad and isn’t too much.
6. Try reading easier books as a “smoke break” instead of Facebook, Twitter, or the Internet. We all hit that point during our workday when our attention fades, our stamina drops, and we just need a break. If your habit is to check updates on social media to give your brain a reset, try chipping away at a book instead. Pick something easy to read, like a leadership book or something on the practical side. By the end of the year, what would rather look back on: the number of tweets you read, or the number of books you read?
7. Try carrying something to write stuff down on at all times. How many good ideas have you lost because you couldn’t record it? How many important tasks have you forgotten to do because you didn’t write it down right when you thought of it? The simple habit of writing things down is the easiest way to give your productivity a boost. It could be paper or digital. (Now don’t go to Lifehacker to look up the best pocket notebooks or the best pens for note taking. Remember, that’s fake productivity. Throw the nearest scrap paper in your back pocket, or download Evernote to your phone.)
8. Try coming to a decision as soon as possible in your meetings. In their fantastic productivity book Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson argue that meetings are the number one productivity killer (and the second is like unto it: interruptions). So try this goal, make all the talk conversation in your meetings drive toward the decision that has to be made. That might take a long time, especially if it is an important decision. My guess, however, is that you’ll find your meetings will be shorter overall, and that people will have a clearer sense of what “productivity” actually looks like for them. The bottom line: it is more productive to spend time doing than talking. (This wasn’t their idea, it was God’s – Proverbs 14:23, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” But we can give Fried and Heinemeier credit for reminding us.)
9. Try going to bed earlier at night. Sleep boosts creativity. Furthermore, because we are holistic beings, the more we are rested physically, the easier it will be for us to be at rest spiritually (see #1).
10. Try drinking coffee in the morning. There’s nothing like a little boost in the morning, right? Scot McKnight posted recently about his creativity habits, which include strategic coffee drinking: Michael Hyatt argues for it, too. And even the Mayo Clinic notes health benefits associated with moderate coffee drinking. I have even found that a 2:30 p.m. cup of decaf is just the placebo I need to push through a groggy afternoon.
Despite all these tips, #1 is the most important. We should be thoroughly gospel centered in all that we do. Even in productivity. So in all of your work, rest in Christ.