5 time management tips for part-time pastors

17 April, 2014 — 10 Comments

Pastoral work isn’t easily confined, it’s more of a lifestyle than a job. It’s sometimes hard to draw lines between what is work and what isn’t, and in an ideal world these lines probably wouldn’t need to exist. In my experience part-time pastoral work has been much harder than full-time, simply because balancing multiple ‘employment’ demands is more complex than just one.

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I have only had full-time employment for 3 of the last 15 years, so I’m going to self-proclaim myself as a bit of an expert in juggling multiple ‘calls’ on my time. In this post I outline 5 time management tips that help me to feel healthy about work/life balance, free of stress, and full of productivity as well as recreation:

Alongside part-time church work, my other ‘occupation’ has been ‘student’. You may have something else that has occupied your life alongside part-time pastoral work, such as raising children or other part-time employment. I hope some of my tips below are helpful as you navigate the complexity of working for the church alongside other significant commitments.

If you’re not a part-timer, perhaps you could share this post with someone who is.

Here are my 5 tips. After the list I expand them in detail, with a very short ‘executive’ summary at the end.

1. Keep a time sheet

2. Use a cloud-based diary/calendar for all your planning

3. Share your calendar with your boss/team

4. Articulate expectations: Prioritise tasks and share this with your boss

5. Book in time for the other parts of your life

1. Keep a time sheet

Five years ago when I started in my current Assistant Minister roll I was asked to keep a weekly timesheet. Initially this felt a bit like I wasn’t trusted and a waste of time. It has become one of the best tools for managing my time. I keep a simple Excel spreadsheet which has a short-cut icon on my computer desktop. Three or four times a week I open the file and add the hours worked. This is quick and easy and pretty much matches my calendar (see tip 2 below).

How it works

An example: Tuesdays are a church work day for me. They often start with an 8.30am meeting, they have a regular meeting over lunch, and often have an evening meeting that may finish at 9.30pm. It is easy to clock up 12 hours on a Tuesday.

Looking at my weekly hours as numbers on a spreadsheet enables me to quickly and dispassionately align reality with expectations: the church wants me to work 20 hours/week – after a 12-hour-Tuesday there’s only 8 hours left. Since there’s still 5 days of the week left, having a plan for the remaining 8 hours over those 5 days will help me keep to the church’s expectations of me. Not having a plan will inevitably result in me doing a lot more time than the church expects.

Planning your time isn’t about being tight with your time or lacking generosity, it’s about ensuring the other important commitments you have (study, family, recreation) get their share of your quality time. Working on a PhD required large chunks of quality time – these chunks of time didn’t naturally happen, I planned them into my week (see tip 5 below).

What about church volunteers compared to paid church staff?

My employment contract states that I am to work 20 hours per week. Long before I was a paid church worker I used to volunteer many hours of my time doing church things. Many people in my current church do the same. I want to contribute more than what I am paid to do, so I include a ‘volunteer’ component to my timesheet. I work at least 5 hours a week on top of my paid 20 as a way of being more of an ‘equal’ with others in the church who volunteer their time often alongside full-time employment. To keep it simple in terms of my church time, I aim for a 25-hour working week.

You can’t manage time without information

The rolling weekly average on my timesheet is 28 hours, so it’s clear I’m not too strict with this – I mostly love the work I do! Considering I’m part-time and have other commitments, the important thing is my average for church isn’t 40 or 50 hours per week which it could easily be – if it was, the other things in my life, such as study, would be struggling for their share of quality time.

Occasionally I have a 40 or 50 hour week, and having this recorded makes it easy to take time in lieu after any unexpected blow-out of hours. Often these ‘blow-outs’ can be planned for, and then so too can the time in lieu afterwards.

Keeping a timesheet is a transparent way to be accountable, and it also makes it easy to monitor the time you spend on church work. If you’re enrolled in half-time study (at whatever level), you should be spending 20 hours a week on your study (one full-time-eqivalent student workload in New Zealand is approximately 40 hours of work each week including lectures, reading/research and assignments).

Keeping your finger on the pulse of how many church work hours you are doing should help you plan the boundaries between the other important things you need or want to be doing, such as study, looking after family, time with friends, hobbies and exercise.

2. Use a cloud-based diary/calendar for all your planning

I once forgot an important appointment. This was years ago – last century even, but I still remember feeling bad for letting someone down, for my lack of integrity for not doing what I said I would do, and disappointment for missing something great. I had simply forgotten due to lack of organisation. I had no system, I was simply trying to remember everything – and my memory just isn’t that good.

Have you ever had that feeling of thinking you were supposed to be somewhere but couldn’t remember where? I haven’t had that feeling for years. I have learnt to manage my time – it hasn’t just come naturally.

My systems have evolved

I’ve tried lots of things and feel I have now found an efficient and reliable system:

Fifteen years ago I was still using a paper diary – I liked one-week-view across a double-page spread. I also used a wall-planner because I like seeing the big-picture view sometimes. Some years I tried having a small pocket-sized paper diary because I liked having information with me all of the time – the problem was there’s not a lot of room for information in a wallet-sized diary!

There’s also an inefficient double-up of input using a paper dairy as well as a wall-planner.

Ten years ago I tried going ‘digital’ – I got a Palm Pilot that had a stylus and software that I could use on a PC via a cable connection. This was great in that I had more information in my pocket than I had ever had before, but it was cumbersome and the software never seemed to reliably sync with the email and computer calendar I was using. Having to plug the thing into my computer was also a drag that meant it was only up to date to the last plug-in, which were sometimes days apart. I didn’t have confidence in the technology and I still had a paper diary as a backup!

The tech I currently use

This next bit is going to sound like a sales pitch, stay with me, the point is to let you see one technology system working – I appreciate that other systems work too, this is my experience:

Five years ago I got my first smartphone: an iPhone. Two years before that I got my first Mac. Eighteen months ago I got my first iPad. Two years ago I read the Steve Jobs biography and finally understood why things were working so well. Jobs created a kind of closed ‘eco-system’ where everything within it works seamless in a way that the operator never has to think or worry about the system, but only about what they themselves are creating within that system.

This Apple system gets critiqued by some tech people because they say it limits their ability to tweak the operating systems. Before I worked for the church I was a tech person. I understand this critique but I don’t care! In the case of my diary and time management tools I want seamless reliable productivity. I have found this with my Apple products. I’ll be interested to hear non-Apple stories of seamless reliable productivity in the comments below – this could be useful for other readers.

What I’m trying to say is this: all of my devices talk nicely to each other, wirelessly, through the internet (cloud), effortlessly, with very little setup. The tech almost becomes invisible to the task.

How it works

I’m on and off my computer a lot during the day and occasionally have a quick glance at the calendar programme, switching between the different calendar views, such as week-view and month-view, and occasionally year-view. When I’m out and about EVERYTHING on my computer calendar is wirelessly synced with my phone (and tablet) via the cloud (my personal bit of the internet).

The significant thing about this is my phone fits into my pocket. That’s it! My computer doesn’t. My old paper diary that was fill of information didn’t. But now I have the latest of everything on me all of the time. This is one of the best things about smartphones.

If I meet a friend on the street and we want to tee up a time to meet next week – I can immediately see when I’m free and quickly add a meeting time into my calendar for next week. Then magically over the internet, before I even get home, that appointment has been updated on my computer and tablet calendars. Amazing!

This is a failsafe system (so long as the internet doesn’t break down) – my calendar is available online anywhere on the planet where there is a computer connected to the internet. If I’m out and my house burns down and at the same time I fall into the river soaking my phone, all of my appointments and contacts are still ready for me on the cloud!

Multiple calendars within the one calendar programme

I run two ‘calendars’ within the calendar software, one for ‘work’ (church work) which is shared with my colleagues (see tip 3 below), and the other is for things my colleagues don’t need to see, such as hair-dresser appointments and recurring events like birthdays and anniversaries.

This tip is only helpful if you get into the habit of using your calendar

This could take some time. A calendar is only as good as the data inputed into it. Here are some ways I make this work for me:

  • When I read an email with an event, meeting, or even events I might want to be at, I put the date in my calendar straight away before moving on to another email. I ‘pencil’ things in by putting a ‘?’ in front of the calendar event letting me know when I see it later that I need to either confirm it or decide that it’s ok to schedule something else with a higher priority at that time.
  • When I’m in a meeting and we talk about dates for future meetings – I put the new date in my calendar straight away (phone, tablet or computer) – don’t write it on a scape of paper or wait to see it in the minutes – add it to your calendar on the spot – you then don’t need to think about it again.
  • I sometimes add extra information to a calendar event to make life even easier when the event happens, such as the electronic ticket booking number for flights – this number is often needed at the airport and knowing it is in my calendar lets me access it in seconds. I also add the exact/planned arrival times of flights to the event so later on if I’m arranging airport pickup plans, my calendar already tells me the ETA. Adding the address info of a venue I haven’t been to before means on the day I simply have to press a button and my phone shows me a map with routes from wherever I am.

3. Share your calendar with your boss/team

At my church there are six paid staff and we all share online calendars – we use google calendars because they easily sync with the native calendars of all of the computers and mobile devices we use (Windows PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices). The ‘work’ calendar I described above can easily be seen by anyone in the staff team on their own devices in real time.

I find this useful when I’m trying to arrange a meeting – with a single click I can view the calendars of my colleagues and see if they are available (or at least more likely to be available) at any given time.

Transparency reduces stress

Sharing my calendar is most useful in letting others, mainly my boss, know what I’m up to. It’s transparent – at any time my boss can see who in the church I’m meeting with, what meetings I’ve organised, when I’m going to be out of town, and what time I have blocked out for other things (see point 5 below).

For example, at the moment I preach on Sundays about once a month. Due to my regular work commitments each week, I need to spread sermon preparation over 2 or 3 weeks otherwise I find the week leading up to the sermon requires me to put in a lot of extra time, which normally means there are things outside my church work that don’t get done that week. Blocking out time in my shared calendar allows my colleagues to see how I’m planning my time, and what my priorities are.

Once calendar sharing is setup it takes no extra effort than simply managing your own calendar and time. The payoff is a sense of freedom; from sharing details of your work flow, time management, and planning with your boss and the rest of your team.

4. Articulate expectations: Prioritise tasks and share this with your boss

Realise that you can never achieve all that there is to do in a church. Also realise that even though you really really love doing some of the church work you do, you’ll feel better about life when you’re on top of your other commitments, such as readings for essays, cleaning the house, exercise, putting in the hours for your other job…

Even if you’re the senior pastor you probably still have a ‘boss’ – perhaps a group of Elders or a Board. Decide together what the priorities for your time are, say for the next month or so. Doing this normally means you’re also deciding what isn’t going to get done. Doing this is about articulating expectations so that you’re not unrealistically burning the mid-night oil.

Sometimes the mid-night oil needs to be burnt: my longest working week was 93 hours; back when I was young and working in a telecommunications R&D lab. There was extreme urgency for a particular project and everyone else in the team was waiting on my link in the chain. Sometimes everything else in life stops so that something urgent can be accommodated – we can’t live like this for long.

If someone is consistently putting in extreme hours, I would suggest there are unrealistic expectations – perhaps the ‘boss’ isn’t fully aware of the reality, or the ‘worker’ lacks the capacity to actually do the required work.

It might also mean there is so much passion and commitment to the cause, that the person is often happy to work extremely long hours. This expression of passion and commitment might also be an indicator that this person doesn’t have other commitments such as part-time study, other employment, family to look after, etc, or is trying to avoid these other commitments. This is where external supervision or mentoring relationships can be useful, which is a requirement for New Zealand Baptist Minister Registration.

5. Book in time for the other parts of your life

For the last 7 years I have been doing post-grad study part-time, the last 5 being half-time PhD. Due to the self-directed nature of this kind of study, it was only going to be achieved if I managed my time well.  I found it helpful to block out 3 days a week, 9am-6pm for “PhD”, and I was pretty strict in not letting other things be booked on those days. My PhD days were Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This left Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays for church work.

I’m not so strict with my time management that there is no room for flexibility, but I find having a plan allows me to ask questions of priority when something unexpected does come up:

Is this more urgent/important than what I had planned? Or will it be fine to wait until tomorrow?

Summary

My 5 time management tips for part-time pastors:

1. Keep a time sheet: Information aids accountability. Keeping your finger on the pulse of how many church work hours you are doing should help you plan the boundaries between the other important things you need or want to be doing.

2. Use a cloud-based diary/calendar for all your planning: If you have smart-gadgits, let them serve you. Calendars are only as good as the data inputed into them.

3. Share your calendar with your boss/team: Transparency reduces stress.

4. Articulate expectations: Prioritise tasks and share this with your boss: Your boss is on your side and wants the best from you, if you prioritise your workload together there won’t be any surprises.

5. Book in time for the other parts of your life: Being a part-timer probably means there are other important things vying for your time – organise the sharing of your time appropriately.

Do these sorts of things work for you? Do you have other tips to share that might be helpful for part-timers?

If you know of someone who is a part-time pastor (or intern, student, or anyone juggling part-time church work) please share this post with them.

Image: iPhone screenshot with photoshop ‘blur’ effect, Mike Crudge.

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  • Ben

    Hi Mike. Thanks for this. I too find all the things I need to remember are best on the cloud. I have all of my information ready to go. If people, normally at church on a Sunday, want to book a time I can add it in straight away. Love the idea of sharing for transparency…have to make it work.
    Ben

    • Hi Ben! I LOVE the cloud! I have recently digitised my life – or at least gone as paperless as possible, scanning 15 years of paper files: worship resources, course notes, study materials, admin stuff, etc. It was a big job!
      Not only will this make shifting office a whole lot easier the next time that happens, but it also means I have online access to pretty much everything I’ve worked on, in a much more searchable way than rummaging through file boxes full of paper…

  • Christina

    Thanks Mike, great tips there. I use an Iphone app for my timesheet too – then it is not dependent on me working at my desk for recording. The iphone is great for helping manage all the commitments – but also a struggle because I can be checking whats happening at work while I am officially not working. Also I still struggle sometimes to know when I am working and when I am not especially in the relationships area.

    • Hi Christina – what iPhone app do you use for your timesheet? Perhaps I should try one out. One advantage with my simple Excel spreadsheet is I also have a column for Annual Leave and Study Leave which accumulates the correct amount each week so I also know where I’m at with that.

      I agree with your sentiments about constant connection with technology – it’s not often my phone is more than a few centimetres away from me! I wonder if being aware of boundaries is the main thing (they don’t always need to pan out) – not thinking about them at all can lead to un-health.

  • not a wild hera

    This is an excellent and wise approach thanks Mike. I’m sharing it widely!

  • Andrew Reyngoud

    The minor modification that I have found helpful is for my planning tool to be the same as my time sheet tool. What I do is plan 2 weeks in advance (colour coding the “must do in this slot”, versus the “would like to do”), I then modify with the actuals as I go. I find this helpful for self monitoring and keeping myself focussed as a part time sole pastor.

    • Hi Andrew and thanks for sharing how you make time management work for you. Is the planning tool you mention Excel or a similar kind of spreadsheet, or do you use a specific planning programme?

      • Andrew Reyngoud

        Hi Mike your hunch was correct, it is in Excel – mostly because of history (I have used Excel for many years so I have learned a few tricks).