Making the Most of My Time

I finally completed a task I began weeks ago.

For a while I had been feeling like I was running from one end of the week to the other. I started seeing warning signs in my life:

  • Emotionally down
  • Overly tired
  • Taking comments personally
  • Overwhelmed at work and at home

There are more, but you get the gist. Lots of red flags.

I imagine you, like me, have multiple things and people deserving your attention:

  • God
  • Family
  • Work
  • Spouse or Significant Other
  • Personal Time
  • Side Work
  • Household Chores

Because we have so many things and people needing and desiring our attention for perfectly good reasons, we have to be diligent in prioritizing them. No one thing or person can have all of your time, but all of those things and people must have some of your time. If we do not plan out our lives we will end up burnt out; not only that, but no one will get the attention they need and some may get lost in the shuffle.

Here is how I tackled my life. You can begin with your home life or your work life. I began with work.

  1. I took my job description and wrote a shorthand, bullet-point version. I could see the details if I looked at the original job description; I just needed a reminder.
  2. I assigned each grouping a letter so that I can categorize every task and meeting according to the objectives they address. This way I can also show my boss that I am making space for every objective on my job description.
  3. I looked for overlap and for broader categories in order to simplify my focus even more.
  4. I created a 7-day calendar in Excel and marked out the exact number of hours I needed to work on average. I have multiple rehearsals and Sunday services to contend with, so work and home can bleed together very easily. Clear delineation of time spent where is essential.
  5. I blocked out all of my recurring meetings and rehearsals and labelled them with letters according to their focus.
  6. I assigned groups of tasks to particular days.
  7. Next I tackled my home priorities. I have seven, ranging from time with God to time for myself. Some things need more attention, and I am dialing back other areas.
  8. I blocked out my set home appointments in order of my priorities.
  9. I scheduled time in for all of the primary people in my life.
  10. I listed the tasks that I need to accomplish in certain time blocks.
  11. I color-coded my master schedule according to work and home. I created a master work schedule showing only my work hours, tasks, and meetings, and a master home schedule showing only home priorities, tasks, and appointments.

I am just beginning to implement this plan, but I already feel more clear-headed. Granted this all took time – probably 5-6 hours – but the end result is worth it. I feel content knowing I am paying attention to the people and things that most deserve my attention.

Practical Considerations

One of the practical sides of this change is that I will only be posting once a week.  At this point in my life I want to be writing but I cannot keep my relationship and family commitments effectively while trying to write three times a week.  I have been feeling very stressed by my personal goal of writing that much.

Perhaps sometime in the future I will write more again.  For now I hope that you will continue on the ride with me.  I will continue to share thoughts related to Worship, Leadership, and Life, as I have in the past.  I am no sage or Yoda, but I enjoy writing in the hope that you find my experiences instructive.

How are you organizing your life and prioritizing your time?


How to Value Your Volunteers and Avoid Being an Ostrich

Have you ever volunteered for something and come away feeling used?  Or have you felt burnt out working for someone because you did not feel appreciated?

Whether you are a volunteer or a staff member, feeling valued in tangible ways by the leader makes all of the difference.  An easy work load or a tough one really do not make the difference so much as the atmosphere in which you serve.  And, yes, even as an employee you are serving your boss.  Emplyees volunteer to work for their boss.

If you have a high turn over rate in volunteers or employees, ask yourself whether or not they are feeling valued.  Do you have exit conversations or interview with people who are leaving to ask them why, or do you let the door hit them on the way out?  If you do not know specifically why people are leaving, you cannot improve your chances of keeping the people you have.

You’re sticking your head in the sand.  Like an ostrich.

Recently I noticed that a choir member was no longer coming to rehearsal and singing.  Because I am in a retiree area, having people miss from time to time is not unusual, so it was not until after a few weeks that I called and left a message for this person asking if everything was ok.

Note: do not ask if everything is ok unless you want to hear the answer.

I got a detailed email back outlining not only the crazy life things they were dealing but also the issues they had with the way I direct the choir.  Their tone was not mean, just honest.  I sent a note back genuinely thanking them for their response, I told them I would be praying for them, and then I told them what I learned from their email.  I did not guarantee I would  do everything as they liked; I just said (honestly) that I was going to try to learn from their poor experience.

In response this person said they may come back, and they appreciated my inquiry.  I wish all of my interactions went this well.  I do not know if this person will actually come back, but I have repaired a bridge I did not know was broken.

Here are a few suggestions for making volunteers (and staff) feel valued.

1.  Ask them how they are doing, about their family, about their hobbies, and then listen.  Just asking = no kudos.  Asking and paying attention = major kudos.

2.  Ask people who have quit why they are quitting, and then listen.  The people who still volunteer for you will see this as maturity and a willingness to grow and will respect you.

3.  Cancel staff meeting or rehearsal and take them someplace fun.  At one church the senior pastor bought us all tickets to the minor league team in town and we skipped staff meeting that week.  Talk about a morale booster!

4.  If a volunteer or staff member mentions a struggle, pray with them right then and there.  Being a spiritual leader has very little to do with words and everything to do with actions.

5.  Follow up with them on prayer requests and concerns they have shared.  If a volunteer or staff member mentions a struggle and you pray with them, they are appreciative.  If you follow up with them a few days or week later, they begin to feel valued and safe.

6.  Be straight up.  In my last interim position, I felt a little like Wesley in The Princess Bride.  “Good night, Wesley.  I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”  The pastors said very clearly they were looking for a younger person and a guitarist to be their music pastor, both of which I was not. Every week they would say, “We love what you’re doing, and here is where we are in the search for the right person.”  Oddly enough, I felt very secure because I knew exactly where I stood with them.  Ultimately they adjusted their view and I got the job, but that is another story.

7.  Ask their opinion, and then incorporate their advice.  If you always dictate what should happen and never ask for their input, volunteers and staff will feel unneeded.  People want to be needed, and you should be humble enough to know that you need them.

8.  Don’t rush.  The “Putting Out Fires” syndrome is one of the biggest diseases in church.  Leaders think that they are saving their church when they run around putting out fires, when often really all they are doing is servicing the tantrums of children.  When pastors service the urgent “fires” first, they neglect the important work of spending significant time with their staff and volunteers.  Rarely are urgent and important the same thing.

Patience and time are two of the most valuable gifts a leader can give to their volunteers and employees.  (The same is true for your family, incidentally.)

The only “fires” that are truly “fires worth putting out immediately” are serious illness, actual fires, public sin, and aggressive malicious behavior.  “I don’t like the music,” or “Brother Jerry hurt my feelings 10 years ago when he stopped wearing a tie,” are not fires.

How do you tangibly value your volunteers?

5 Fantastic Ways to Get Burned in Ministry

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer decided to use vegetable oil instead of tanning oil? At the end of the day he smelled like cooked chicken!

Some people we meet in ministry smell that way, like they’ve been burned. Usually you find a burnt out family to go with them as well.

In case you’ve ever wondered, here are 5 sure fire, personally tested ways to get burned in ministry.

1. Never speak up for yourself. When you discover in a meeting that someone has jumped ahead of you and done something that is your responsibility, or when a decision is made without your input that negatively impacts your ministry, definitely say nothing. Better yet, when the finance team cuts your already shoestring budget, make certain not to ask them to discuss it with you.

2. Work really long hours. Embrace the notion that the ministry that hires you owns you, and spend every waking moment trying to get it all done. Never shut off the computer, email, etc., and absolutely never take breaks or proper lunches.

3. Always place ministry over family. Ask God to take care of your family so that you can do your ministry. Get home late and leave early, skip the kids’ cub scout meetings for ministry events, never take a weekend off if you are a worship leader, and make certain to take any and every church call during your dates with your wife because, well, the church needs you.

4. Never exercise or take a break. That nonsense about everyone needing to change their activity or position every 1.5-2 hours is just that: nonsense. Those headaches are a medical condition, not the result of pushing the creative juices past their natural limit.

5. And, if none of those work, take everything people say and do personally. Mull over poisonous comments and innocuous disagreements for hours until you are fuming or depressed or both, and then go home and share with your family.

If these 5 things don’t get you smelling like Kramer, I don’t know what will. Oh, and there’s a bonus. If you fulfill all of these points perfectly you are also apt to end up divorced, in counseling and without a job.

Of course, if you prefer not to end up burnt out, divorced and unemployed, perhaps you should consider doing the opposite of all these things. Like I said, these methods have been personally tested, but so have the anti-dotes.

What burnout causes or cures have you discovered?

getting help, for those in ministry

Too often leaders, particularly in ministry settings, fail to get help when they need it and end up burning out their lives and hurting their families.  That’s what happened to me, and I do not want it to happen to anyone else.  While those tough times made me a much better person, I believe I improved by God’s grace and not because he likes things like divorce.

Here are a few things I learned the hard way.

1.  You are not unique.  Sorry to break it to you, but your problems are not new to humanity.  Someone somewhere, and more likely many people, are experiencing or have experienced the same thing you are experiencing.  So avoid the martyr syndrome.  Been there, done that, not good.

2.  God accepts you and can use you right where you are just as you are.  God’s grace is unfathomable.  We will never grasp how wide and deep and long and high his love and grace extend to us.  He accepts you as you are, with the sins you are fighting, or the burnout, or the failing marriage.  He does not accept you because of who you will be or because of who you were.  The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV – Romans 5:8)

3.  Pray for guidance.  Prayer is always first.  “‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (ESV – James 4:6-7a, 8a)

4.  Get advice from a trusted friend.  If you do not have a trusted friend, pray for one.  While I was going through my divorce I had a friend come alongside me and meet me every week for lunch.  He gave advice if I asked for it, but mostly he listened, asked questions, and prayed for me.  He also bought me lunch a lot, which was very cool!  You need good friends.

5.  Consider a ministry coach.  Coaches are not counselors.  Coaches come alongside a leader to help him or her figure out their life plan, ministry goals, and how to get there.  Here is an excellent post by Michael Hyatt highlighting a new coaching service tailored specifically for ministry leaders, both in content and in pricing.

6.  Get a personal counselor.  Find a person of the same sex with whom you can go through all of the emotions and difficulties you are experiencing.  Once you find someone which whom you can relate, you will not feel alone in dealing with your problems.

If you have been through a difficult time or experience, what helped you get back on your feet?