7 Practical Tips to Help You Stop Working 7 Days a Week

So you’re busy. Welcome to the club.

For too many of us, busy now means working 7 days a week.

One leader approached me a while back and said the one thing he knew would change everything for him was to stop working 7 days a week. The problem was, he had no idea how to do it.

My heart went out to him.

I don’t think I know a single leader who hasn’t struggled with working too many hours. And I know far too many who never take a full day off.

While I think overwork will always be a struggle for most driven people (it has been for me), I think it’s a rising epidemic for most leaders.

So how do you change that? I’ll share some insights from my journey and would love to hear yours.

Two Truths No One Can Really Argue With

First, two things that are simply true in leadership:

1. You will never be done

This may not be the case when you start. I remember beginning in ministry in some very small churches and thinking “how on earth am I going to fill 40 hours?” I actually called people to see if there was more I could do.

As we grew I never suffered from the problem of boredom again.

In fact, a church of 100 can place just as many demands on ministry leaders as a church of 1000.  Sometimes more, because in a church of 100 people assume you have all the time in the world for them. Similarly, in any field, an organization of 10 people can place just as many demands on you as an organization of 1000 people.

You think you will make up for the demand by working more hours, or by working smarter, but that’s a dead end street.

So just admit it. Say it out loud. No matter how many hours I work, I will never be done. 

An organization of 10 people can place just as many demands on you as an organization of 1000 people. Click To Tweet

2. The problem with needs-based ministry is there are always more needs

You probably got into leadership because you care about people. And you want to help meet people’s needs.

I’ll never forget what my friend Reggie Joiner told me when I first met him. The problem with needs-based ministry is there are always more needs. 

If your goal is to respond to every human need out there, you will never sleep. Just know that. You are fighting a battle you will lose every time.

And the biggest losers will be your family, whose needs will be ignored in the process.

The problem with needs based leadership is there are always more needs. You're never done. Click To Tweet

7 Practical Tips to Help You Stop Working 7 Days a Week

So how do you de-escalate your hours, not make people angry and actually have time to refuel?

Well, this journey has taken me years, but here it is in seven bullet points:

1. Preplan your calendar with ‘slots’ for everything you need to do

Over a decade ago I moved to a fixed calendar. It’s the only reason I’m still sane today and can do what I’ve been called to do. By a fixed calendar I mean I pre-plan what I’m going to do and not going to in advance. 

I book no meetings as a rule on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are message writing/series planning days. I also do much of the administration I need to do.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are meeting days. I meet with our staff and if anyone else is going to meet with me, it will be in the slots available on those days.

The power of this system is that when someone asks if you’re free to meet with them, you can honestly tell them you are not. Your message prep is extremely important, and if it’s in your calendar, you can tell them that unfortunately you’re not free Monday. If all you have is nothing booked it, you will almost always tell them you’ve got nothing going on and you’ll meet them.

And you’ll do your sermon prep or big project on Saturday when you should be home with your family. And, by the way, your organization will suffer because you didn’t spend the time you needed to on what was most important.

2. Book off-time in your calendar

Slot in family time, personal time, devotional time, exercise time and time to just be. Write your day off in your calendar.

Then when someone asks you if you are free, you say “Unfortunately, I’m not.” Again, if you think rest isn’t important, ask the question again once you’re in full fledged burnout (here are 9 signs you’re getting there).

And if you have pre-determined slots available for meeting people in the weeks ahead, you can offer them one of those.

3. Learn to ask yourself, “Is it truly an emergency and can only I help?”

If you lead in a larger church, this isn’t the issue it used to be. But when our church was smaller, people always looked to me for pastoral care (we’ve switched most of our care to groups and outside counselling, a move I can’t recommend highly enough).

The challenge is everyone who asks you to meet with them wants to meet with you now because it’s so important and they’re in crisis and only you can help.

In those moments, remind yourself that what feels like an emergency to them might not actually be an emergency.  Their marriage didn’t get terrible overnight, it’s been sliding for years. Ask one more question, and you might discover that X has been in the hospital for a week and will be there for another week.

Too many church leaders give up their personal time and family time for crises that aren’t really crises. Pastors of churches particularly suffer from this. (Here’s a post on 5 pastoral emergencies that aren’t actually emergencies.)

And then ask yourself (especially if you want your church to grow), am I the only person who can really help? Truth is I am sometimes the person who can least help. They need a counsellor. Or a doctor. Or someone from their community group to visit.

If you are the only person who can help, try this: “I’m sorry to hear that. I have some time available Monday, can we meet then?” You’ll be shocked at how many times the person immediately says “Sure, no problem.”

Too many leaders give up their family time for crises that aren't really crises. Click To Tweet

4. Power down

The problem is just as much you as it is them, isn’t it? You’re addicted to your phone. I am.

So power down. I’ve moved my email app to a third screen on my phone so I don’t look at it unless I intentionally want too. Almost all notifications on my phone are disabled and 95% of the time my phone is on do not disturb.

Have some moments in your life and leadership when you’re gloriously unavailable.

People expect you to take time off. So when you’re off, be off.

Have some moments in your life and leadership when you're gloriously unavailable. People expect you to take time off. So when you're off, be off. Click To Tweet

5. Tell people the truth…they’ll be happy for you

Maybe this is just me, but for years I felt guilty about telling people I was taking a day off. I know, only crazy people think like that, but I’m a crazy person.

Sometimes I would say things like “I’ve been working for a month without a day off so I really need to take it.”

Seriously. What is wrong with me that I need to justify time off?

So next time you’re off or need to be off, just tell them…”Oh you know, that’s my day off…Can we do it another time?”

You know what? They’ll be thrilled for you. At least normal people will.

6. Create categories of things you will no longer do

As your ministry or organization grows and you have more responsibility, you need to regularly decide what you are simply no longer going to do.

The best way I know how to do this is to think in categories.

Personally,

I schedule meaningful time with my direct reports and top leaders.

I schedule less time for everyone else.

I leave time open for people who don’t go to church.

I don’t do individual coaching, but I coach thousands of leaders each year through my online courses.

I don’t do counselling.

I don’t do many weddings or funerals.

I say no to most speaking requests, but choose a few that position me in front of leaders rather than people. I’d rather speak in front of 100 leaders than 1000 people. It just goes further in terms of impact and the good it does.

I realize many people will disagree with these choices, but they have helped me lead at a much higher level that’s generally very healthy and sustainable.

And I have time for myself and my family and time to pursue hobbies like writing. Plus it allows me to spend the majority of my working time doing what I’m best at and what most moves the mission forward.

If you have too much to do, start eliminating categories of things instead of just selected things.

If you have too much to do, start eliminating categories of things instead of just selected things. Click To Tweet

7. Learn to Say No Nicely

I hate saying no. I’d love to say yes to everyone. But I would be dead and they would not be helped.

I wrote this post outlining a six-step strategy on how to say no nicely.

I also need to confess that I have a secret weapon. I have a great assistant and team around me. Sometimes I joke that I pay them to say no all day long. They’re good and it and so nice that when they say no on my behalf people feel like they said yes. I’m not kidding.

The transferable principle is that if you’re in a larger organization and can have an assistant or team, find people who excel at saying no and setting boundaries, nicely.  It’s an amazing gift…not just to you but to the entire organization. And if you don’t have a budget for that, my guess is you can even find a volunteer who will help you by handling your calendar or hire a very part-time person like I have using a service like this.

A final word: this needs constant revisiting. I’m about to review all my outside and inside commitments again next month and start cutting again. You are never done. As more opportunities arise, you need to be relentless in what you say no to…even if you say it nicely.

Want to Go Deeper? How to Crush Your Goals and Get Your Family Time Back

Want to find far more time at work and at home?  Want to really crack not just getting a day off, but finding more time for what matters most every single day?

It’s very possible…and I’d love to help you get on top of your everything so you can get your life and leadership back.

If you’re trying to find the time for what matters most in life, my High Impact Leader course, is my online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – First Priority, Clayton County, North Carolina

“Carey’s course was the perfect way for our team to prepare for the new year. Our team, both collectively and individually, took a fresh look at maximizing our time and leadership gifts for the year ahead. I highly recommend this leadership development resource for you and your team.” Jeff Henderson, Gwinnett Church, Atlanta Georgia

“A lot of books and programs make big promises and cannot deliver but this is not one of them. I have read so many books and watched videos on productivity but the way you approach it and teach is helpful and has changed my work week in ministry in amazing ways.” Chris Sloan, Tanglewood Church, Kingston, North Carolina

“Just wow.  Thank you, thank you.” Dave Campbell, Invitation Church, Sioux Falls South Dakota

A game changer.” Pam Perkins, Red Rock Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm and have the time to reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

I hope this helps.

In the meantime, what has helped you stop working 7 days a week?

Leave a comment!

5 Comments

  1. Brian McMichan on May 1, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Take the pressure off by planning the time to do the things you have to.
    Buy a small spiral note book (or a pack of 6)
    Write on the front cover (in bold print) MUST (to do today)
    Write on the back cover (in bold print) LIKE (to do today)
    About two thirds through the book, fold the corner of the page in so a “label” is seen & write along the “viewable” tag LATER (put some sticky tape over the tag to protect it.
    Carry this book and a pen with you all your “awake hours”.
    Review all the things that you can think of & write them on the appropriate page.
    Whenever you think of something else (or something happens during your day) enter it in the book.
    Number the MUST & LIKE in order of priority.
    Start doing the “things you MUST do” & cross off the list as they are completed (This shows you that you are achieving your daily goals).
    At the end of the day, tear off the MUST page & insert the unfinished “projects” on a new MUST page.
    Review the LIKE page & transfer any to the MUST page
    Review the LATER page & add to MUST or LIKE pages (or delete any that are no longer required).

    An example of the multiple benefits of using this system.
    1. You plan to make a vegetable garden. “I will buy some pea & bean seeds tomorrow & some snail defender … that is your plan.”
    2. Busy day, you buy the seeds but forgot the snail defender.
    3. That evening (children & husband watching & excited)
    4. Garden is made & seeds are planted, watered & the “hype” given re fresh vegetables & The children are told to watch for the new shoots coming out of the ground
    5. “Whoops, I forgot the snail defender” “OK, I get it tomorrow.
    6. Next evening …. “Oh, I forgot to get the snail defender”. This continues for two more days.
    7. That evening some shoots start to appear.
    8. Next morning, children rush out – “Nothing!” All the shoots have been eaten.
    9. Children & husband are upset – “But Mum!!” ….. You feel bad & have to start all over again.

    But with the MUST do book –
    1. You write “get seeds & snail defender in “Later”
    2. That evening this is added to MUST (for tomorrow)
    3. That evening garden is prepared & snail defender sprinkled (& explain to children why.)
    4. Next morning dead slugs & snails seen in the new garden – “good on you Mum!!”.
    5. Each morning more dead slugs & snails & the shoots are seen.
    6. As the shoots get bigger, a wire is put up to support the growing shoots – “Gee Mum!!”
    7. A few weeks later the peas & beans are ready to pick. “You are so good Mum!!”
    8. Eating dinner that night, “Gee Mum they taste so good, better than frozen ones!!”
    9. Next night, “What else are you going to grow Mum? Can we help?”

    All those positive responses & feeling good plus teaching your children (& husband) as a result of a simple “MUST DO” being done on time.

    Note: Think of “jobs to do” as Projects – this immediately has you thinking in “smaller steps” & something to be achieved, rather than a BIG JOB to do. At times, break projects in your MUST DO BOOK into smaller steps.
    —————–
    Problem Solving (a few minutes … or a bit longer, on each step WILL pay rewards … use a new sheet for each problem

    What is the problem?

    What is the REAL problem?

    What is the cause of the problem?

    What are the solutions to the problem?

    What is the best solution to the problem?

    Then see the steps to bring about the solution to the problem as being “a project”

    Anyone (teens, adults … Mums & Dads, etc, etc) who uses the above can definitely improve their lives, save time, costs, etc., etc. … plus for those responsible for decisions in business, Councils or Government … BIG savings ($’s and time) will result.

  2. geometry dash on April 24, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Too many church leaders give up their personal time and family time for crises that aren’t really crises.

  3. HoosierConservative on April 19, 2019 at 7:30 am

    Don’t let anyone judge you for your boundaries, Carey! Ministry is just like anything else; there will always be more demand than supply. It’s better to give people access to quality compassionate counseling than to give them 20 minutes with a burned-out pastor. Scripture tells older folks to counsel young folks on lifestyle issues. As far as I’m concerned, this should be in the job description if you want to be a lay leader.

  4. Adam on April 15, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I think most leaders especially ones with kids cant make ministry more important than them me and my wife always make sure there’s time for kids and each other which is our number 1 ministry. Most people ask me why pastor and leaders kids don’t go to church or even attend church thing well 9 times out of ten there ministry was put before there family no point saving others if our own children don’t believe because all they saw was the church was more important than them and believe me I know many pastors kids who have nothing to do with God.

  5. David on April 15, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Great thoughts that every pastor and every church member needs to read. One of the sad truths of the modern church is that people think that by having the philosophy of “the pastor is on duty 24-7”, the church is doing something spiritual, when that philosophy isn’t even biblical.

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