7 Secrets to Becoming Far More Productive With Your Time

Do you have enough time to accomplish everything you want to get done?

Almost everyone who’s asked that question answers “Not really.”

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The irony is that we all have exactly the same amount of time: 168 hours each week.

And yet some people manage to do extraordinary things with their time. Others not so much.

Too many leaders wonder where the time went and why they’re not getting half of their dreams started, let alone accomplished.

Why is that?

I’m not an expert on time management, but one of the questions I get asked almost every week is How do you manage to lead a church, blog, write, speak and still be a husband and dad?

Some of it for sure has to do with stage of life and personality. I have a healthy appetite for work, and my kids are grown or almost grown, and that helps in terms of daily demands. But that said, I don’t usually work 80 hours a week. I put in between 55-65 hours total between all my activities.

But I’m also a bit of a student of time management and regularly ask other leaders how they “get it all done”.

Here are 7 secrets I’ve discovered to getting more accomplished and still ending up with time for family, friends and fun things like cycling.

1. Don’t watch The Bachelorette

Let’s be honest, we all waste time. And sometimes that’s good. But most of the high capacity leaders I know don’t really know what’s going on on the Bachelorette or most other TV shows. They’re probably not levelling up on Grand Theft Auto or killing it on Candy Crush Saga either.

I asked one leader who works full time, has two businesses on the side and reads about 50 books a year how he reads that much. His answer? “I always have a book with me. Every time I wait for even a minute I read.” Well…that’s a good answer.

I watch TV intentionally…for education or intentional recreation (a night off…usually a movie with my wife or family). That’s it. I rarely if ever watch TV alone. On flights, I work or sleep. You’d be amazed how few people ever do anything productive on a flight. Redeem time.

If you want to accomplish more, waste less time. 

2. Decide what you’re not going to do 

This is just as important as deciding what you want to accomplish. Just eliminate whole categories of things that don’t contribute to your desired outcome.

It’s so easy to want to be all things to all people. But that’s a recipe for failure.

If you don’t decide what you’re not going to do, you will never be able to say no. And you will complain about it. For the rest of your life.

3. Delegate

This builds on point 2. I had a harder time with this than most. Delegation is key. You need to release control and let others lead. Align them, build into them, coach them but let them lead.

I think failure to delegate is one of the key reasons most churches never break the 200 attendance barrier (See this for more on that issue—including 7 other reasons churches fail to grow.)

So what can you delegate? Plenty. At Connexus, we delegate pastoral care to groups and counsellors so staff can focus on developing leaders and advancing the mission.

As Andy Stanley says, God has gifted someone else to do the things you’re not good at and may not even like. So don’t waste time doing things you don’t do well or shouldn’t do.

When you delegate, you release the potential in others and in yourself. 

4. Spend 80% of your time in your ‘sweet spot’ 

This frees you up to do what you’re best at—your sweet spot. For me that’s leading the vision and mission, creating content, positioning our church for the future, communicating and leading leaders. You probably have a different sweet spot, but figure out what it is and spend most of your time in it as soon as possible.

When you spend time in your sweet spot, everyone is better for it.

Better yet, you’ll be passionate about what you do. Imagine that.

Spend 80% of your time on what produces 80% of your results. 

5. Manage energy more than you manage time

You only have so much time. But you have even less energy. You can’t run 24 hours a day, or even 18. Not well anyway.

I have about 6 great hours every day. Guess what I do with them? Tackle my biggest projects. Then I can use the remaining 4 hours for work doing less important things like answering email or going to meetings. Use your best energy on your biggest challenges.

If you manage your energy well, you’ll always feel like you have more time. 

6. Get up early 

I love getting up around 5 every day. My quiet time with God is…quiet. I can get more done before 8 a.m. than I would get done in 5 or 6 hours if I started at 9.

People don’t call text or email before 8. You just get more done, and my brain is rested and refreshed. I am usually done my blogging before 7 a.m. Even when my kids were younger, I’d put in an hour or two before they were even up.

It pays.

Your momma was right: early to bed and early to rise…

7. Stop Being One of the Walking Dead

So I’m a huge fan of sleep. I get between 6-8 hours almost every night.

Most people are sleep deprived. They never reach their full potential because they operate in zombie mode. Get to bed early, sleep as soundly as possible. I realize this is hard when the kids are very young, but for most of your life you’ll be able to do this.

I also take a nap almost every day. Even when I have a great night’s sleep the night before. 20 minutes at lunch makes me feel like I have a new day in front of me.

Do what you need to do to rest your body. You’ll have so much left over for everyone…including your family when you get home.

If you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you. 

Those are 7 things that have helped me become far more productive than I used to be.

What’s helping you? And conversely, what keeps tripping you up?

15 Comments

  1. PeaceBang on September 19, 2014 at 6:30 am

    I would question the health and wisdom of anyone who feels they have to read if they’re waiting for even a minute. This post is relentlessly achievement-oriented and that really bothers me. Productivity is the golden calf at which too many Americans worship. This post conflates the corporate productivity gospel with healthy religious leadership. Healthy religious leaders “waste” time in prayer, dreaming, meandering, stopping to let the Spirit lead them, and making space in their lives for the unscheduled. “You can get more done” is a scary mantra to promote.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 4, 2014 at 8:56 am

      I agree that great leadership involves prayer, dreaming meandering and time away with the Spirit. But if you are ever going to read the classics or develop your leadership, you need to find a way to fit it in. I like the way my friend uses his time, rather than simply checking Facebook or reading old magazines in a waiting room.

  2. Chuck on December 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    And there it is again…. “If you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take YOU.”. One of my favorite quotes of yours, probably of all time. The sentiment isn’t original (I think God said it first, albeit in different words…) but I love “your version”, and I do my best live by it! (What a blunt reminder that it is in fact, a commandment!) I actually passed that kernel of truth along to one of my students just a few days ago. Kudos! Keep up the great work!

  3. […] list: 7 Secrets To Becoming Far More Productive With Your Time: Carey […]

  4. Leadership in 140 Characters | Eric Echols on November 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

    […] 7 Secrets To Becoming Far More Productive With Your Time by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  5. Charles Hodsdon on November 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Number one has been stuck in my head all week… Very convicting.

  6. […] during that time frame thus it’s lifestyle and nothing trumps it.  I love what Carey Nieuwhof on 7 Secrets to Becoming Far More Productive With Your Time says about getting up […]

  7. Wy Woods Harris on November 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I call this a “Wy , you need to take time to act on this” article

  8. Brent Dumler on November 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    ‘Use your best energy on your biggest challenges.’ I totally agree. And I’ve heard it stated this way as well. ‘Tackle your biggest and most demanding tasks first, then move on to the smaller things.’ This is so true. If I spend 4-5 hours of my day on the dozens of little tasks I won’t have enough time left to start working on the big ones. Thus they get bumped to tomorrow…..again!

  9. […] Cary Nieuwhof has some practical advice to busy church leaders. Check out his blog. […]

  10. Chris Shumate on November 8, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Waking up at 4:45 each morning to get my day started has helped. I started doing this when my son was born because I could not wake up at 5:30, spend quality time God, and help my wife with morning routines. It makes it even better because I have an accountability partner that calls me each morning to ensure I am awake.

    I have a growth plan too. It is important to determine where you want to grow.

    The problem I am having now is a gradual shift in my interests and things I want to accomplish. I am starting to lose interest in the things I wanted 3 years ago. I am trying to determine when to let go of the time I have already committed, while devoting new time to a couple of new projects.

    I also loathe TV. There is one show my wife and I watch together. We always catch it On Demand several days after it has aired. So even that show is not a huge priority for me.

  11. Brian French on November 8, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Great post, and #1 cracked me up! I think watching sports would fall into that category because it takes approximately 3 hours to watch a game. Thoughts?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 8, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Thanks Brian. For sure, sports can fit into that category. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a football (or hockey or baseball) fan, but I am saying that so many people are mystified at why they are not accomplishing more, but then they tell you every football stat going. I think the key is to simply acknowledge that you traded football or the Bachelorette for greater gains elsewhere in life. We all have only so much time and energy.

      • Brian French on November 8, 2013 at 8:36 am

        Thanks Carey. Speaking of energy, how did you determine the time of day when you had your best energy? Was it trial and error, or was it something else?

        • Carey Nieuwhof on November 8, 2013 at 8:53 am

          For me it was just carefully watching my energy levels. And the discipline of getting up earlier also helped when I decided to use that time productively.

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