Friday, August 10, 2018

Alignment - The Philosophy of Scheduling Time

Over the past couple of weeks, I have focused on general aspects of time. Specifically, I have written about the need to take an inventory of our time (here) and the way to begin to prioritize the tasks that make up that inventory (here). In doing these two steps, we are much better prepared to allocate our time according to the work we need to accomplish.

Again, I realize that many people will want to start with an inventory of the work (i.e. tasks) that needs to be done instead of the time. Certainly, the two go hand in hand, but the reality is that tasks change and time does not. God gave man 24 hours in a day, but He gives us different tasks. Noah had 24 hours and built an ark over 120 years. Moses had 24 hours and led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus had 24 hours and sought and saved the lost over approximately 3.5 years. For the last 2000 years, people of all backgrounds and responsibilities such as the apostle Paul, Luther, Washington, Lincoln, Ford, Gates, Jobs, etc., have all had 24 hours. And each had to measure their time in order to accomplish their tasks.

So, now we are ready to consider how we schedule our time. And to effectively schedule our time, both the time inventory and the priorities matter greatly. The importance of the time inventory is to help us know how much actual time we typically spend on a given task. Many people will underestimate the time needed and thus run into a time crunch. The time inventory can help us mitigate this issue. (Of course, distractions will occur making the inventory less than perfect, but without a starting point - which was likely developed with distractions taking place - we will mislead ourselves in setting our schedule. Likewise, the priorities matter because we can move certain items to different days or parts of a day when our energy and focus is better or not as much needed.

So, for me, two key factors lead the thought process - the day and the number of hours available in that day. The day is important because certain days have pre-established events. On Sunday morning, as a pastor, my day is pre-planned from 9 am to noon and from 5:45-7:30 pm. On Wednesdays, my evening is pre-planned from 6:15-8:15 or so, and we often have some sort of team meeting at 5:30. Additionally, I must prepare for those scheduled times. Sunday morning requires sermon preparation. Sunday and Wednesday evenings requires preparation of a lesson. And to honor the time of my wife (who is the part-time administrative assistant), I must prepare the sermon and lessons before they are "due" to ensure she can prepare handouts, powerpoints, etc. Furthermore, a lesson takes a certain amount of time, but a sermon takes more. And, for me, I prefer to prepare the lessons, and especially the sermon, with a relatively consistent stream of thought. That is, I don't want to work on something for 15-30 minutes, then do something else, then return to the sermon, then do something else, etc. Granted, sermon preparation takes me several hours and is interrupted by lunch, but otherwise the task itself is usually the single focus of work being done on a Thursday until it is complete. Therefore, I need to schedule a large block of time to accomplish the task.

This idea has come to be known as deep work. Cal Newport published a book with the title Deep Work in 2016. Although I have not yet read the book, the premise is that our brains cannot engage in the deep thinking required to accomplish tasks which stretch us mentally. For instance, our society has become so accustomed to hearing pings and beeps and seeing notifications on our phone. In fact, my phone has a blue light "blinking" at me right now. It has been doing so since I started this blog and will continue until I am finished. What would be better is for me to turn my phone face down and disable any sound or vibrations, but I have not done that because writing this blog requires some thinking but not deep thinking like the preparation of a sermon. (I sometimes leave my phone at home on Thursdays until my sermon is done to avoid most every distraction).

So, the schedule must account for the amount of time necessary to accomplish work that requires deep thinking. Combining the time needed to thinking deeply with the tasks that are of the highest priority, begins to define the schedule for me. Furthermore, I find that I am most productive when working through a consistent schedule whenever possible. Like last week's post showed, I can adapt when necessary, but it is best for me to prepare a couple of days in advance at least to give my mind time to consider the lesson and make alterations if needed. Thus, Wednesday night lessons are developed on Monday. Sermons are developed on Thursday. In each case, it is like writing a draft of a paper. I develop the draft and have enough time to "forget" about it, so that when I review it, I can see it with fresh eyes and make appropriate changes. Therefore, I have sufficient time blocks allocated on Monday and Thursday to accomplish these tasks. As a pastor, flexibility is needed at times (for instance, people having surgeries, meeting with the sick or dying, or funeral preparations), but if I do not have a schedule with which to begin, then I will certainly overlook some important tasks later.

This post has provided a philosophy for scheduling time. Essentially, I am most effective when I set aside time based upon the day certain items are "due" and the hours necessary to do deep work first. From that point, I can begin to place other items in place. Over the past few years my random placement of tasks based merely on the time available was adequate but was not allowing my brain to remain properly engaged for a full day. Thus, I needed to take one more step. I needed alignment of my thoughts to be most effective. I have touched on this in a previous post (here), but I will go a little deeper in next week's post. In subsequent weeks, I will then share how I am using certain software applications to tie all of this together.

Again, I appreciate all who read these posts. I write them in the hopes that, at least, one person may benefit from my journey through this process. And, even if the article does not help others, taking time to write is giving me a chance to crystallize my thoughts - which is helping me as I make adaptations to become more effective and be better equipped to become the man God has called me to be. Ultimately, to live in, not of, the world (the basis for fotonni) requires me to live by faith (Heb 11.6) but to do so by maximizing what God has given me to do (Matt 25.14-30; Luke 12.48). So, thanks for indulging me, and I hope it can help you become the person God has called you to be as well.

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