The Faster Pastor  My Productivity Philosophy

Why Bother?

The Gospel is what motivates me.

I really liked the book What's Best Next by Matt Perman. He highlights the Gospel-motivation that Christians have to get things done. knowing what God has done for us in Christ, namely taking our sin and failure away, promising us peace with him now, a new identity in him, and eternity in glory, we long to serve him in thanks. And I loved the line that said, "I can be truly productive for God when I realize I don't have to be productive for God." I'm free to serve him, not to earn his favor, but because I have his favor through Jesus, I want to show my thanks. This Gospel-driven-productivity, as Perman calls it, is what I would call sanctification. And really, thought they're not exactly synonymous, there is a lot of overlap between productivity, sanctification, and vocation (where we live out our life and faith). I want to make the very best use of the time that God has given me to serve him, serve my family, serve my congregation, and serve the Kingdom at large. There are only so many hours in the day and in a week, and I want to use that time wisely.

Why Productivity?

We're all super busy. There are countless directions in which we're all constantly pulled. And now, more than ever, in an age of information overload, we're bombarded with things that call for our attention, from emails and phone calls, to tasks and chores, conversations, dinging apps and text messages, meetings and mailings that we have to process. The less time we spend processing, the more time we can spend doing. And as Perman suggests, I do believe that, having been brought to faith in Christ, I'm now here to do as much good as possible, actively seeking ways to serve God more and serve him better. Productivity tools like those given in Getting Things Done and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and those given in the technology, gadgets, and apps that God has given us, help us to serve him more and serve him better. (This is, of course, when put in the context of the Gospel. Like anything, good tools can be badly abused.)

The 5 W's (and an H) of My Productivity

When trying to clarify something, it's always good to ask questions. Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? Answering these 6 questions can lead to greater clarity, which in turn can clean to greater productivity. So here are the 5 W's and an H of my personal productivity philosophy...

Why? - The Motive

The first question I want to ask when approaching a task is "Why am I doing this?" 
Am I doing it because I have to or the consequences will be unpleasant? Am I doing it
because someone is holding me accountable? Am I only doing it to get out of doing something else which I really ought to be doing instead? Am I doing this to impress someone and get some praise? Or am I doing this task it out of love for my Savior in thanks to him for what he's done for me? There's really only one God-pleasing answer to my "Why?" questions. And sadly, I don't ask "Why?" nearly as often as I should and 
evaluate my motives. If I did, I'm certain it would pull me down on my knees 
in repentance, draw me back to the cross where I again rejoice in the full and free forgiveness of my Savior, and correct my motive again. So, when beginning a task, I'm trying to ask "Why?" a little more and do what that beloved hymn says, and "With the Lord Begin Your Task." No one else will see my motive but me and God. But it's so crucial because if I'm doing the right thing for the wrong reason, it's all for nothing. I've carefully thought through the "Why?" and sent myself a recurring email (using on the first of every month to remind me of the why. It's what I call My Personal Mission Statement. Check it out.

What? - Am I Doing the Right Things?

Which leads to the next question: "What am I doing right now?" And coupled with that one, "Is this the best use of my time at the moment?" There are lots of things I could be doing at any given moment. And I have lots of vocations, or callings, in which I can serve God. I am a husband, a father, a pastor, a citizen, and in all of these I am a Christian. But I have a lot of freedom in how I use my time. Right now, what should I be doing? Should I be reading, studying, playing with my kids, talking with my wife, doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, planning for a meeting, calling a member, answering emails, or what?! 

This calls for lists, prioritization, and processing. It requires analyzing what is urgent and what is important and what tasks are non-negotiable (e.g. daily time in the Word and devotions, daily time with my family) and what I should be doing today (e.g. preparing my sermon, writing an article, or working on this website). I have to put stuff in the right quadrant of the box below and and prioritize my time (especially to make sure the Q2 stuff -- exercise, reading,  is getting done).

(My email inbox helps me with that a great deal. More on that on my Zero Inbox page. But for now, I'll say that in addition to My Personal Mission Statement, and calendar integration with email reminders have been very helpful in seeing what I have to do today and what I ought to do today.)  

How? - What Tools Do I Use?

Once I know what I ought to get done, the next question is how do I go about doing it? That's what this website is all about. The biggest tip here is to break down the project into bite-sized chunks and make the next step as easy as possible. So, for example, if I know I have to call someone on Tuesday, I'll send my future self an email that will arrive on Tuesday with that person's phone number in the body of the email. Then, when it comes time to do that task, I don't have to search for their number, or, more likely, put off the task using the excuse, "I can't find their phone number anywhere." If I want to research something, I'll email myself a reminder to do it from my phone to a future time when I know I'll be at my computer. No forgetting. No excuses. My inbox is my to-do list. I know a lot of productivity gurus will tell you that that's a horrible idea. And for most people, I would agree. But because of the way I use my inbox, it works for me. (I empty my inbox out to zero almost every single day. My trick to do that: I email my future self anything that's still in there to a time when I think I can sit down and do it. If I can't, I just forward it again. My inbox only contains things I need to act on right now and can act on. Otherwise, It gets archived and my future self will get a reminder. 

Who? - Delegation and Discipleship

Closely related to "What should I be doing?" is a similar question: "Should I be doing this at all?" Often I ought to delegate the task that I'm working on to someone else. Again, Matt Perman highlights the godly purposes in doing this:

First, I may delegate something because it's taking me away from another calling I should be taking care of. The apostles delegated the distribution of food so they could spend more time in prayer and in ministry of the Word. (cf. Acts 6:1-7, along with the blessed results: "So, the word of God spread." That's my goal in all of this!) 

But sometimes the delegation isn't so much for me and to free up my time, as much as it is for them. 
Too often I get the idea that I'm the only one who can do this the way it should be done and if I delegate it, it won't be done to my standards. But in thinking that way and holding on to some tasks I could delegate, I'm really robbing God's people of opportunities they might have to serve him and I rob them of the joy of serving him in thanksgiving for what he's done for them in Jesus. 

So, now I look for ways to train and delegate more tasks. It really is a win-win. 

When? - Scheduling for Productivity

There are certain things that I do better at certain times. I like to knock out emails and smaller tasks in the morning. I know that that's not for everyone. But for me, it gets me on a roll crossing out the little things off my list so I can say, "Okay, now I just have this one to tackle in the afternoon." Then I block out time where I can't be interrupted for the projects. But whatever your preference, know your daily and weekly rhythms and plan for them. I think writing down your work plan is essential to good productivity. I used to jot down tomorrow's to-do's on a pad of paper before I went to bed each night, then I ditched the paper and would email a list of things I planned on getting done tomorrow to myself and to my wife each night (but this was a pain to edit when I thought of something to add later and went back to paper). But recently I've been using the app (and website and Google Chrome plug-in). I can add my to-do's to my list for tomorrow and it automatically moves it to "today" in the morning. I can leave my "upcoming" and "someday" project below those and just drag and drop when I'm ready to add them to "tomorrow." But whether you use pen and paper, a white board or chalk board, or a slick app, the point is plan your day ahead of time. It will force you to think through your tasks, prioritize them as you see fit, and enter tomorrow ready to hit the ground running.  

But on the subject of scheduling your day, I also feel that it's incredibly important to schedule margins into your day. You know how books always have blank space surrounding the words? We need that to read. And we need margins in our schedules, blank spaces with nothing scheduled, to survive. This isn't like a fiscal budget where every penny should be assigned. It's more like a loose plan with the expectation that you'll have to call some audibles when the phone rings or a crisis hits. Expect those things and you'll have extra time when you do. 

Finally, I'm also a big fan of "time quilting" as I call it. You know how quits were originally made? They took old, worn-out blankets, and rather than throw them out, cut out whatever squares were still intact. Then, when they had enough scraps, they'd stitch them all together and have one, big, "brand new," blanket. I like to do that with my time. Last year I read 85 books. This year I'm on track to beat that record. And the way I do it is by listening to 15 minutes of a book on Audible in the car (or 6 hours when I drive to another city and back for a circuit meeting), and I read 5 minutes of another book in my iPhone's Kindle app while standing in line at Walmart (okay, so maybe it's more like 15 sometimes -- why do they have 15 check stands with only 2 cashiers working?). I get 5 minutes of a professional journal on the toilet (I've learned a lot at "Toilet University") and 5 more on my iPhone's Kindle app waiting at the restaurant for a meeting. All of these "scraps" of time quickly add up to a book a week and I still have lots of time for family, TV, and fun. But to time quilt, you do have to give up the time wasters: Radio in the car, Angry Birds or Clash of Clans games on the iPhone, and people watching in line. But if you're willing to quilt with your time, you'll never say, "I don't have enough time to read or learn or grow." That time is all around you. You may not read 85 books. But maybe two more than you read now.

Where? - Getting Away

Finally, the where of productivity and time management is also a big deal to me. The location of where I can get the most done has changed for me as my ministry has changed. When I had an office at the church across the hall from the preschool, that was a good time to get smaller tasks done as I could easily get interrupted. But I would typically go to a coffee shop with the laptop every Friday to finish writing my sermon uninterrupted (and I'd shut the phone off too -- most "emergencies" could wait two hours while I hammered out my final draft and I could call back then). Now that I have a home office and no office at the church (and now that 3 of my 4 boys are in school) I can get more done at home. But I still have that occasional project where I need to move. The coffee shop or the library (when I don't want to spend $6 for a cup of coffee) are still my favorite go-to locations and I'm still surprised how much more work I can get done away from my office and the distractions I find there (picking up my desk, checking my email, heading up to the fridge for a snack). If you're stuck on a project, try moving. Take a walk. Hit a restaurant. Go to the library. See if another location won't offer the focus you need.

And if some task is location dependent ("I need to get the numbers off the report at church before I can finish the newsletter, but I'm at home now.") then I send myself a reminder for when I'll be at that location. (I still use to email my future self when I know I'll be heading in, but now most smart phones can even do location based reminders. I'll occasionally tell Siri, "Remind me to do such and such a task when I get home," or "Remind me to grab the report when I'm at church," or "Check out this book next time you're at Walmart," and the GPS in my phone triggers the reminder when I'm there.) 

Okay, so that's my basic productivity philosophy:
  1. Ask WHY?: "Why am I doing this task?" Start with the Gospel to find the right motive for what I'm doing.
  2. Ask WHAT?: "What's the best use of my time right now? What should I do next?"
  3. Ask, HOW?: "How am I going to do it? What do I need to get started? What's the first step? What tools do I have to begin?"
  4. Ask WHO?: "Where could I get help? Or to whom could I delegate all or part of this task?"
  5. Ask WHEN?" "When is the best time to get this done? When should I schedule it?"
  6. Ask WHERE?, "Where should I go to get this task done? How will I remember to do it when I'm there?"
If you have questions, want help with some challenge, or have thoughts or suggestions on how this might be tweaked or improved, please don't hesitate to send me an email. I'd love to help or hear your thoughts! 

Your servant in Christ,
Rob Guenther, The Faster Pastor 

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