Thursday, December 1, 2016

Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, and so on flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not time management specialist, I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, these aren't some magical fix all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.

1. Make time for Jesus 

*This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let's be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say "I study the Word...I prepared my lesson." Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth. Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of you time

*This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn't do it all. Their response: Why didn't you say so sooner? The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Time to relax, decompress, to process, to enjoy life. If we don't we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

*For some this is a no brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wifi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

*This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that "It is date night, I am your priority." Its true. Date night is our time. It isn't to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry? A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
~Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
~Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
~Turn off your cellular devices.
~Don't check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

*This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think. This is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

*This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn't know and further that I hadn't told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening. On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don't miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

*Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you're at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering. My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call "unplugged nights." Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said "enough is enough" and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don't check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

*I had never heard of a recharge day until I started working at my current job. What they are is once a month we are allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We aren't supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we are to do whatever we need to be recharged. For different people it will look differently. In my case, I retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people on our team recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books that go over my head. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

*So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important. I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is further out. When it comes to the second list prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

With all of these suggestions a lot of them can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no! We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have just had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place. The long and short of this post is make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.

What I learned from attending NYWC

The National Youth Workers Convention is always a treat, and always promises and delivers so much to those who attend. Coming away from this year’s conference it did not disappoint, and there are so many takeaways that attempting to cover them all won’t be feasible but I will attempt to hit on some that I personally walked away with, and hope that they will bless those who didn’t attend and hopefully drive you to attend next year’s!

  • In order to be used by God we must submit to His timing. Which means acknowledging that when we ask God why He is waiting, perhaps He is waiting on us. So GO!
  • Our view of heaven is directly reflected in how we live our lives and do ministry. If our view is small our ministry will never grow because we are not letting there be room for God to do great things.
  • Youth ministers come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, and denominational backgrounds.
  • There are tons of resources out there to help you succeed in youth ministry, and a lot of them are free! 
  • If we can’t imagine how we will spend time in the presence of God in heaven, we will not live on earth like we are spending time in God’s presence.
  • Youth workers totally fangirl over Josh Griffin, Doug Fields, Greg Stier, and many more.
  • Youth workers love free stuff (that’s a given but if you are in desperate need of a new wardrobe, unlimited candy, and tons bracelets then come to NYWC).
  • The church of God is the only plan, and there is no other option! What are we doing to unite the Bride of Christ to reflect what it will be in eternity?
  • God is not done with you or your ministry. As long as He sits on His throne He still has a move left and He will move through you! Be encouraged that this isn’t it and that God will work through you.
  • Sand art is visually stunning.
  • The church of Jesus Christ is “plan A”, there is no “plan B.”
  • God has a long history of using broken people for His honor.
  • Good neighbors don’t drive through, they journey with.
  • Worship is meant to be the force that shoves us outside the church, not the doors that keep us inside of it.
  • By loving students and spending time with them, this is how we will impact our schools and neighborhoods. This will be how we make a transformational difference in the lives of students.
  • Eugene Cho is not Francis Chan.
  • Worship does not need to be and shouldn’t be stagnant but full of vibrancy, joy, and praise.
  • Racial reconciliation is something we must be pursuing in our youth groups and churches.
  • Youth workers love Instagram and Twitter but spelling and grammar can go unheeded…mostly because we type too fast and our thoughts run together.
  • The LGBTQ community needs to know that the church extends love, grace, and reconciliation for past wrongs, future poor choice of comments, and the alienation they have received.
  • Concrete can do lots of damage to your face if you fall and don’t catch yourself.
  • God has a heart for students.
  • Programs don’t change people, Jesus changes people.
  • Youth leaders must do more to engage their schools and neighborhoods.
  • The Download Card from YS is the best offer out there. Most of the sessions are on there with the ability to listen, take notes, and have them at your disposal.
  • The YS Blog is a phenomenal resource for youth leaders.
  • DYM has a lot of fun games for youth groups and youth leaders alike.
  • Youth Specialties will not shy away from talking about the hard topics.

The joking and humor aside, NYWC is something that every youth worker should attend at some point in their career. It provides resources, rejuvenation, lasting friendships, networking opportunities, and invaluable teaching and education. My advice to those who budgets cannot support them in going to the conference is begin saving for the future. A little money put away at varying times will accrue and allow for the funds to develop. Also, ask Youth Specialties if there are any opportunities for a scholarship or volunteering at the conferences that will help to supplement the cost. NYWC is completely worth it, and is life and ministry changing. Hopefully we will see you next year.