Task/Project/Time Management and the Pastor

I recently had the opportunity to gather together with a small group of DOXOLOGY alumni to discuss ways of improving the DOXOLOGY program, how to reach more pastors, and the like.  One of the topics which came to mind was the question of time management.  I thought y’all might appreciate some of my thoughts on the topic, so here goes:

The reason I got into thinking about task management as it pertains to the Office is because of my own background with stress and clinical depression.  One of my ongoing symptoms that leads to and flows from depression is the overwhelming nature of all of the “stuff” that comes at me as a pastor.  The usual pastoral duties, the left-hand kingdom duties of being the only full time staff, being the unofficial volunteer coordinator and all around cheerleader, and more generally “managing” all of the different kinds of information that come at me.  Some people communicate by email.  Others by meetings.  Phone. Notes.  Letters.  Text messages.  Facebook.  The list could go on and on.

With all of these different ways that information comes at me, it is very easy to become overwhelmed in trying to figure out how to hold onto all of these bits and pieces in a way that won’t make me insane.

Furthermore, I as a pastor really don’t want to be defined by task management.  Being a pastor is not about checking things off of a list so that I feel that I have accomplished something.  The things that I “do” must always serve the members of my flock, my family, and the others that have crossed my path.  I am very conscious of the fact that as a pastor, if I appear “busy” to people, that translates into “he doesn’t have time for me and my piddly problems.”

On top of all of that, there are all of my obligations as a husband and father which cannot be given the back burner, either.

Pastors above all really are what David Allen would call “knowledge workers”.  We don’t make a product.  There aren’t quotas to uphold or sales goals to reach.  We receive and give.  We receive God’s Word and give it to our flock.  We receive our people’s sins and give them to God.  As a pastor, that shapes how I think about who I am and what I do.

So what I want and need is a way so that all of the “stuff” doesn’t control me or define me.  I want to be able to focus on ideas and people, not things and juggling.

Enter David Allen.  David Allen is the author of a book called, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.  I suppose in some ways it is similar to Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I think it is far more helpful, and actually fits in with the life of the Lutheran pastor quite well.  He has several basic premises that resonate with me.  Here are some of them:

  • Your brain is for creating ideas, not storing them.
  • One of the biggest reasons people get overwhelmed or stuck is because they haven’t figured out what is the next action they need to take on something.
  • If you know everything that involves action on your part is kept in a secure system, you don’t worry as much about what you’re supposed to be doing.
I think this is enough for first thoughts.  This is a bit stream of consciousness, but that’s okay.

So what are your thoughts?  If you are a pastor, does the knowledge overload overwhelm you?



5 thoughts on “Task/Project/Time Management and the Pastor

  1. Getting Things Done is a very good book and I recommend it. His sections on digging out, processing incoming stuff, and filing are great. The best book I’ve read on computerized To Do listsis and email is Total Workday Control using Microsoft Outlook, 2nd Ed., by Michael Linenberger. Finally, every pastor should learn to use the calendar in his cell phone and get all of his meetings appointments in and alarmed with appropriate lead times. Do not put to do’s in the calendar. Do put recurring appointments in. That way you will be reminded when you need to be somewhere else soon.

  2. My thoughts? The problem for me is the fact that I am not receiving the Word when I don’t read, study, and continue learning it for myself. My weeks always go better when I make time for myself to read, pray, etc. My weeks always suck when I don’t do this. It is a synergistic activity. As much as I have prayed that God would make me more diligent in study, etc., it still has not happened.

    Paul Beisel

  3. I’m not a pastor, but I struggle with many of the same things and have found great help from the David Allen way of thinking. I think what we should do is connect GTD workflow about the details of our lives to our “high level” vocations. In other words, what are our objectives and next steps across the spectrum of offices and relationships into which the Lord has placed us. Does that make any sense? David Allen meets Gene Edward Veith.

    Allen wisely doesn’t comment much on the high level life goals since he’s putting forward tools to be used by people with widely varying values and beliefs. I think the Lutheran doctrine of vocation is insightful and practical in addressing the current sensory, internet and work overload that many of us are suffering under.

  4. I have mused some upon the “Zen” underpinnings. I frankly don’t actually think there is much there. The reason is that the way he is using Zen is simply “if you mind isn’t full of clutter it is free to think”. While that may be “mind like water” Zen, it is also pretty straight common sense in my opinion.

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