Want more time? Who doesn’t?
I’m going to share one practice that has made the biggest difference for me in managing time. When I made this change, it was almost like someone handed me an extra day or two each week.
I had struggled for years to balance my time. While I experienced some advances over the years, the biggest shift for me happened a few years ago when I moved to a fixed schedule. While this isn’t a particularly new discipline or astonishing insight, it took me a long time to get there. Most colleagues I know still struggle with balancing time. The most effective leaders I know have mastered this.
Because what I do is so open ended (it’s ministry…you could have meetings all day, write all day, pray all day, work strategy all day or I suppose figure out other ways to spend your time) rather than seeing all my time as open, I created a master schedule for my work and life, and committed myself to it. I decided to spend my time the same way every week; I committed to a fixed schedule.
For me, I landed on spending 40% of my time meeting with people and 60% of my time out of meetings.
Deciding to spend 60% of my time alone, writing, creating messages, working on strategy, leading and creating was very liberating; like you, I have enough meeting requests and opportunities to spend 100% of my time in meetings and never attend to some of the most important work I do: lead, reflect, pray, write, plan, create and develop. And the urgent requests to meet always seemed to be more pressing than the important things I needed to get to but didn’t have time for.
So I simply decided ahead of time to spend over half my time doing the things a leader should be doing but no one ever asks me to do (people only ever ask you for meetings or attention to their needs). No one ever asks you to book time to write a message, think, advance the mission or create something new. So I just decided to book it for myself.
While everyone will be different, here’s how I organize my time:
Monday: Writing day – no meetings (message prep, blogging, meeting preparation, brainstorming, time for reflection, leadership projects)
Tuesday: Meeting day (various staff teams meetings, all day)
Wednesday: Writing day – no meetings (message prep, blogging, meeting preparation, brainstorming, time for reflection, leadership projects, sometimes a coaching call with another leader or mentor)
Thursday: Meeting day (direct report one on one meetings most of the day)
Friday: Float day (often I work on messages and if I travel, I often make it a Friday-Saturday)
Sunday: Teach and lead
The game changer for me in this is that when people used to request meetings, I would usually feel obligated to book them into any and all free space in my calendar. Now I don’t. Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays are legitimately ‘busy’ days…spent working on the things no one ever asks you to work on. If people want to meet in person, my assistant keeps two breakfast slots (Tuesday and Thursday) and one free slot a week open. I usually spend that time with our staff, elders or someone who is new to faith or going through a significant life transition. Everyone else gets referred to someone who can better help them with what they are going through.
One final tip: when people ask you for an immediate appointment, you or your assistant can legitimately say you have no available time that week. That’s not mean, that’s just true; you’re working on what will best advance the mission you’ve all committed yourselves to. And with some wide open slots in your calendar, you haven’t completely cordoned yourself off from the people you love and serve. This is not an excuse for isolation, laziness or inaccessibility. It’s just the best way I know how to ensure you spend your time advancing the mission.
Every week I still get more requests than I can handle, but people are patient. Sometimes other people in the organization are better suited to meet with them anyway. At other times, the issues that were so pressing the day they asked resolve themselves by the time a spot in the calendar is open. Plus it frees me up to work on what is best going to advance our mission, which should benefit everyone, including them.
The details are far less important than the principle: decide ahead of time how you can best spend your time, create a fixed schedule, and stick to it. No guilt.
What are you learning about time management? What’s your best insight? What do you still struggle with?