Home | Christian Leadership | A Pastor’s Schedule is not about Getting Things Done [Updated July 2020]

A Pastor’s Schedule is not about Getting Things Done [Updated July 2020]

A pastor’s schedule is not about getting things done. It’s about praying, writing, thinking and reflecting first and managing and leading second.

Getting Things Done

Since my days as a solicitor (lawyer), I have organised my tasks using the principles found in David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which suggests collecting anything that comes to mind that needs doing (literally anything!) and put it down on a task list. So for as long as I can remember, I have always had a very long to do list, even when my schedule became a pastor’s schedule. Then I was influenced by Michael Hyatt, who takes the principles of Getting Things Done and focuses them to ensure you are hitting your priorities. I have organised my calendar according to my ideal week – what my week would like if everything was perfect – and taken time to reflect at the beginning and end of every working day, and on a weekly and quarterly basis about what are my top priorities from everything that’s on my very lengthy task list.

This is what a typical week looks like when I work this way:

And here’s a taste of my task list:

Scheduling for Maximum Impact

A number of years ago, I read this post by Brian Jones on seniorpastorcentral.com called How Senior Pastors Can Schedule Their Week For Maximum Impact.He suggests that a pastor’s schedule should begin by marking off two full days off each week on their calendar, and then adding in what needs to be done taking into account your likely daily energy reservoirs. Thus, he suggests taking Friday and Saturday off so you are at your maximum energy levels for the Sunday preaching experience. Then all sermon preparation should be done on a Monday, as energy levels remain high, followed by personal time (time with God, sermon preparation, advanced series planning, etc) on Wednesday and Thursday morning and people time in those afternoons.

I tried to follow this to some extent. Brian doesn’t take into account that as a Salvation Army officer, I am often at the beck and call of the existing programme at the corps I am appointed to and therefore called upon to be with people in the mornings rather than the afternoons. But I certainly try to complete sermon and worship meeting preparation early in the week, and leave administration until later in the week.

Why Am I Still Stressed?

But still I am often stressed about getting everything done. So imagine my excitement when I read that Brian Jones had updated and extended his thinking. In a post entitled, Get Rid Of Your Bloated To-Do List And Get Your Life Back, Brian explained that one day he looked at the 167 items on his to do list and decided, “this is stupid!” So he deleted it and hasn’t looked back since.

Makers v Managers

What was the problem? He realised that task management systems are perfect for managers. But as a pastor, we spend the majority of our time being makers.

This is based on Paul Graham’s classic article, Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. In it, Graham says:

There are two types of schedules, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

The bottom line, as Brian Jones says, is this:

Makers work in large blocks of uninterrupted time. Managers work in units of time.

A pastor’s schedule is different to a manager’s schedule.

A Time Management Eureka Moment

So, using Brian Jones new suggestions, this past week I have completely overhauled my time management system. I have:

  • Deleted my task management system (OmniFocus for Mac). I considered going completely analogue and simply writing all tasks in my Full Focus Planner. But I still agree with Michael Hyatt’s problem with a fully analogue task list, which is that it needs writing out again and again on a regular basis. I also struggled to see how I could record recurring tasks that happen (for example) on an annual basis. So I have a simple task list under a number of headings (such as Administration, Communication and Household) in Todoist.
  • I wrote out my Maker priorities list in the back of my Full Focus Planner:
  • Ideally, then every Monday to Friday morning would be my Maker time, when I focus on these tasks. However, because most of our programme is in the mornings, I have scheduled Monday and Tuesday afternoons for sermon writing and worship meeting planning (we have two worship meetings each Sunday). Other Maker tasks are worked on during Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoons.
  • When I sit to do my Weekly Preview (usually on a Sunday afternoon) I pick no more than six or seven of these Maker tasks to focus on in the coming week. Here’s what last week’s priority list looked like:
  • I didn’t manage to complete them all, but completing most of them is a good week.
  • I placed my Manager/Leader meetings in a different calendar. Why? Because Manager/Leader work and Maker work are completely different kinds of work that you have to protect from each other. If not, Manager/Leader work will always eat away at Maker work. Pastors must protect their Maker work from their Manager work. Here’s what the two calendars look like side by side in a typical week:

Feeling Clear and Focused

I have to tell you, I immediately felt calmer the first time I saw my calendars look like this. I have already benefitted from a simple, clean and intentional to do list. I’ve stopped trying to achieve more than is humanly possible, or should I say, I have stopped beating myself up for never achieving more than is humanly possible. My mind feels clear and I have felt more focused and productive in the blocks of time available to me. I finally feel as if I am a praying, writing, thinking and reflecting maker first, and an acting, deciding, relating, empowering manager second.

And it feels good.

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

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  2. Read This! Links to Equip Leaders – 07/07/18
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  4. Review & Reflection: The Quarterly Preview
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6 thoughts on “A Pastor’s Schedule is not about Getting Things Done [Updated July 2020]”

  1. Hi, Rob,
    Thanks for this post. It is helpful to see the detail you have provided. It might be something on my end, but I’m not seeing the Maker / Manager calendars side by side. I’m seeing the same screen shot as your weekly schedule at the top of the post. I am interested in seeing the difference. Thanks.


    1. Thanks for your interest, John. You’re absolutely right. I appear to have used the same image twice. I’ve now updated the post to show a correct version of my old calendar. Out of interest, I have since changed all of my creative calendar entries to “Creative Work” and rely much more heavily on my Maker Priorities list. This gets me away from the chronic stress I suffer from about always finishing the piece of work I have planned for the day. For example, if I plan in sermon writing for Monday afternoon, under the old scheme(s), I would feel I would have to sit there until the sermon was finished. Now I can finish at the appointed end time (e.g. 6pm) and simply say to myself that I can pick it up again at the beginning of the next Creative Work session. You might think that would push everything to the end of the week and mean late Friday nights, but miraculously, it doesn’t!

      God bless.

    1. Not that random, Trey!
      My workday start up currently looks like this (time in minutes in brackets):
      1. Pray for the day ahead (5)
      2. Review digital calendar and add to Full Focus Planner daily page (2)
      3. Review and respond to (quick) emails in inboxes only (not CC or Bacn (spam that you’ve signed up to!) emails) (7)
      4. Review weekly Maker list (2)
      5. Review Manager task list (2)
      6. Review Life Plan (2)
      7. Review annual goals and record habit trackers in Full Focus Planner (2)
      8. Review Weekly Big 3 (1)
      9. Choose Daily Big 3 and add to Full Focus Planner daily page (1)
      10. Add any other tasks planning to complete today to FFP daily page (1) (25 minutes total)

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