This article is the third in a series of quick tips to be more professional in the context of youth ministry. The series was inspired by a youthworker’s concern raised at a recent youth worker conference – how can we in youth ministry be highly regarded as professionals, as opposed to being seen as just glorified babysitters or “baby pastors” killing time until we become “real” pastors? Over the last two weeks I’ve covered 7 quick tips on how to dress like a professional and how to communicate like a professional. Today I’d like to tackle the topic of time management.
Before I get started, it’s fair to point out that you really can’t manage time, Time will continue to go on no matter what you do. You can however choose how you spend the time you have – choosing either to waste time or to spend your time being harried and stressed trying to get everything urgent done, or choosing a healthier, balanced way focused on accomplishing both work and non-work related tasks. While you cannot manage time, you can definitely manage yourself, your priorities and what you do with your time. Work and life balance is achievable. That being said, let’s dive in with 7 Quick Tips for Youth Ministry Time Management:
1. Get a good calendar you will actually use.
If you are going to organized how you spend your time, you need to start with having a calendar that works best for you. The main thing to consider is what kind of calendar would you actually use. Paper or electronic? If you are the type of person who likes to have things written down or wants to physically turn the pages, paper calendars are for you. If you always have your smartphone handy and you need to share your calendars with other people, electronic calendars may be the way to go.
Personally, I still love using paper calendars but I use both. If you like having a calendar in your hand, you can find them in full year, one-page-per-month, one-page-per-week and one-page-per-day versions. Which paper calendar is best depends on how you are using it. For example, for big picture planning with your team of leaders, it’s helpful to have a full year to look at for big events and themes. For planning out each day, a page-a-day planner with space for prioritizing to-do lists works well.
For some, using a denominational calendar that includes the church seasons, lectionary and special Sundays makes a lot of sense. This is especially helpful if you also have worship leading responsibilities or if you want to plan your youth ministry to follow the church year.
There are huge benefits to using electronic calendars and to-do list applications. They make it possible for organizing everything on your smartphone or computer. With Google calendar you can set up calendars to share with your family, youth ministry parents and team. With task sharing applications such as Asana, you can break down large projects into tasks for different team members to tackle.
Whether you use a paper calendar, an electronic calendar or both, make sure that all of your information is consistent to avoid forgetting meetings or double-booking your time. The calendar is only a helpful tool if you use it.
2. Make a list of your daily/weekly/monthly tasks.
Now that you’ve got your calendar, pull out a clean sheet of paper and start making a list of your regular tasks for youth ministry. What is it that you do daily? weekly? monthly? How much time does each activity or task take? Be sure to account for preparation time. When you list an activity, for example “Teach Senior High Bible study,” be sure to include a separate item of “Prepare for Senior High Bible Study.”
In addition to work related tasks, list your non-work related tasks including your own dreams, what you love to do, hobbies. Remember you are called to be a complete person, not just a person who does youth ministry!
3. Prioritize your tasks. Do first things first.
After you have listed all of your tasks and the time each one takes, it is time to prioritize and then schedule them. You may feel that you are under pressure to get only work related tasks done first, but I’d like to challenge that assumption. After all, if we are called to minister to young people, part of our obligation is to live lives that are positive role models for younger people. You need to be healthy professionally, but also physically, mentally, spiritually and socially or you will inevitably burn out in youth ministry.
I use and ABC prioritizing system – Put “A” by the tasks that must be completed that same day (including personal things like exercise), “B” by the tasks that are important but don’t necessarily have to be done today and “C” by the items that are lower priority and can be done later. Once everything has an A, B or C, I rank the tasks in order of importance – A1, A2, A3, B1, etc.
After you’ve listed all of your tasks and prioritized them, you may still be overwhelmed with the amount you are hoping to complete. You are not alone – to quote Bill Hybels, “Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution.” Make it easier on yourself by getting the big, important things done first.
On your daily calendar, put the tasks in order of priority and you can get started.
5. Say No more often.
Ever feel like you have this big, demanding youth ministry machine that constantly needs to be fed? One of the primary factors that youth workers are feeling the stress of time management is that there is simply too much activity to be involved in. You may have Sunday School, Youth Group, Bible Studies, trips, retreats, mission projects, fundraisers, recreation, worship time…then of course you’ll want to add 30 Hour Famine and student leadership…each of these activities individually are good but being involved in all of these activities (plus planning time) may be too much for one person to handle indefinitely.
John C. Maxwell said, “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.” In order to be healthy long term, you have to fill your schedule with ministry and non-ministry related activity. The most important time you can schedule for long term health is your own Sabbath time, time to rest, pray, read the Scripture. In order to say “yes” to Sabbath, you may need to say “no” to other activities.
It’s possible that your entire ministry will be better if you did less activities but the times you got together were more meaningful. Pray about which activities may need to be eliminated from the calendar.
6. Delegate the nonessentials.
When figuring out what to say “no” to, you might be wondering where to draw the line between “I want it all” and “nothing at all.” Figure out which activities you are either good at, enjoy doing or add the most value – or even better, figure out which activities fit in all of those categories. Focus on the activities that are best for you and your ministry style.
Every person in your ministry has different gifts and interests, including having different interests than you. As you look through your tasks, are there activities that someone else in the church could take over? Tasks you could teach students to do? For example, you might be changing out bulletin boards currently, but how about delegating that to a youth? Could a youth run the music or the sound board? Is there an adult who would love to organize the snack supper calendar? Empower others in your ministry to use their God-given gifts…all while freeing up your time to focus on the essentials for your own healthy ministry.
7. Periodically review how you spend your time for health, sustainability and long term success.
“Bad decisions made with good intentions, are still bad decisions.”
― Jim Collins, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In
Time management can be a tricky balance. There are times and seasons that will be busier than others. That being said, it is not okay to continuously press on with a jam-packed youth ministry calendar. It is not okay to sacrifice your health or social life for your job. To manage time like a professional, you need to periodically review how you are spending your time. Ask yourself: If I continued at this pace for 5 more years, how would I be physically? socially? mentally? spiritually? Would your family life be okay? No matter how much you love your youth ministry, no matter how good your intentions, if you are not careful with your time it will be a bad decision.
It is the healthy combination of all of these tips – having a calendar, prioritizing what you are doing, delegating to others and reviewing long term goals – combined with a big dose of margin and grace, that will lead to your long-term ministry health and success. What can you fit in your schedule today that will make your life a little better?
What other advice for time management would you suggest?
What calendaring or scheduling system works best for you and your ministry?
What do you do to schedule important things like exercise, rest, diet?