A former student asked me if I’d write a post about how I manage time successfully.
Answer: I don’t always.
And writing a “How to” on the topic is like writing a book about prayer. No one does it without a sense of hypocrisy.
Still, here are a few things I try to do:
1. Don’t spill things on the laptop.
I did that last week. Much time was lost. Also, half my screen is currently cloaked in a dark haze. Maranatha.
2. Get up early, even when you don’t have to.
I rarely work late. But I do get up early (5:45am), regardless of whether it is “Summer Break” or not. It’s amazing how much one can accomplish when few people are awake to interrupt you, and when the coffee flows like rushing river in a repetitive early 2000s worship chorus.
My early wakeup is bookended by an equally geriatric bedtime (9:05pm). Though in my experience, very little “time management” happens after that anyway.
3. Avoid unnecessary meetings.
Like the plague. This is a touchy one because it’s not always possible, and it can prevent one from “climbing the ladder” in certain settings.
But if you are trying to make the most of your time, unnecessary meetings are Dementors that will suck your soul and leave you wondering why a single, carefully-worded email would not have sufficed. Not all meetings are like that, but some are.
4. Reading before Netflix
Since a fair amount of my work (writing, preaching, teaching) benefits from time spent reading, I bookend my morning research (usually theology) with evening fiction or biographies. This summer that has involved some Steinbeck, Alan Jacobs, C. S. Lewis, and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian [#yikes]).
If I do writing before bed, I can’t sleep. I just rehash it all night long in a kind of editorial fever dream. But reading fiction for about 45 minutes before switching to Netflix helps redeem the evening time. It makes me a better writer; and it’s fun — unless I’m reading Blood Meridian.
When I moved to Boston for Seminary, I didn’t know a single person. And as an over-achieving firstborn, I felt like the best way to maximize productivity and stave off loneliness was to work seven days a week and in the evenings too.
(Fun fact: I also had mono, so you can guess how well that turned out.)
The next year, Brianna moved closer, and I started taking evenings and Sundays off. In short, I took a Sabbath. One might think this made me less productive, but it actually did the opposite. My grades were better. My mood was better. My soul was healthier. And (after a tonsillectomy) my mono finally left the building.
Sabbath: It’s almost, like, a commandment.
6. Name your non-negotiables
There are only so many hours in a day. And on many occasions that means that something on my “to do” list isn’t going to get done. The question is just which “something” that will be.
I have a few non-negotiables that will happen regardless of Hell or high water: (1) Early morning time in Scripture; (2) at least some time writing and researching every weekday; (3) evenings with family; (4) four to five workouts per week with my buddies (if I’m in town).
This blog isn’t on that list. Nor is Netflix. Nor is time spent reformatting a New Testament lecture that I’ve given twenty-seven times.
Some of my non-negotiables may seem odd since they have nothing to do with my job requirements. I am not required to publish. Nor am I required to workout or spend evenings with family. But those things matter; they make me feel alive; and that enables me to do the stuff I don’t like nearly as much.
Your non-negotiables will be different. But it’s helpful to “name” and “claim” them (~Kenneth Copeland).
7. Figure out what can be done on “Empty” and what must be done on “Full.”
The cerebral frontal cortex is expensive to operate. That’s the part of the brain that controls much of our higher cognitive skills, emotional expression, problem solving, memory, and language. And it takes a lot of energy to run well. Mine starts shutting down around noon (see Point #2).
That means that I need to save activities that I can do “on Empty” for the afternoon, while reserving activities that require more “cerebral bandwidth” for when I’m full (i.e., full of caffeine). Sermons must be written on “Full”—so too with books and any creative activities. Grading, answering emails, dish-washing and (oddly) workouts can be done on “Empty.”
In fact, doing the workouts on “Empty” often has the surprising effect of making me feel “Full” again when I head home to be with the kids.
There are a hundred other things that could be added to such a list. But I’m probably not very good at those. And I’m out of time.
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