Friday, August 17, 2018

Alignment - White space and its Purpose in my Tasks

Last week, I shared my general philosophy for how I schedule my time with the promise that I would get more specific this week. To get more specific, I must re-state what I have previously mentioned in this blog. My work-related responsibilities are focused in three primary areas - pastor, adjunct professor, and leader of a non-profit training organization. Additionally, I sometimes assist other churches with administrative/leadership issues. And, I have a wife, two grown children, a son-in-law, a pseudo-adopted son, and a few very close friends. So, yes, like others, I am busy. But it is not THAT I am busy that matters, it is HOW I am busy that allows me to function.

The key for me is stated in the title for this series - Alignment. As I began this series, I mentioned the importance of alignment as I sought to get back on track from my lull in effectiveness. As I mentioned then, my primary method of accomplishing tasks was to find a day with fewer tasks and add any new tasks to that day until I had to move to another day and so on. However, the problem with that approach was the loss of brain power as I moved from one area to the next. One of the challenges those of us who are busy have is finding margin. Juliet Funt calls this whitespace. Funt's organization focuses on helping companies find whitespace ( The idea is to remove as many "low value" tasks as possible to allow people to focus on what is more valuable. This principle is critical, but is not always easy to accomplish in the moment. Besides, as Funt says, "We are too busy to get less busy." (1)

Therefore, let me gently redirect our thinking of whitespace to where we see it most - in the margins of books, newspapers, magazines, etc. A book without margins (or very small ones) is difficult to read. We desire that white space to allow our eyes to better focus, to be less strained, and to be less tired as we read page after page. Likewise, our lives can be better focused and we can feel less strained and tired if we have white space in our lives. But what do we do with that white space?

In a newspaper or magazine, we rarely do anything with it. But, in a book one is meant to learn from (i.e. not a book being read for entertainment), many people will write notes (at least non-Kindle books). Why? To focus their thoughts on what has been read for future benefit. I use my white space the same way in how I schedule my tasks. I want the down time between tasks to prepare me for the next task. (I am only speaking of moving from task to task not taking extended breaks like lunch or something similar). In my previous arrangement when I added tasks based upon my busyness, I had to "switch gears" from my role as pastor to that of adjunct or leading PTC and back. Now, I have aligned my tasks with certain days being focused on on or two of those roles. Within that time of focus, I complete tasks related to one of those roles for the entire day or accomplish everything for one role before moving to the next. Furthermore, I have scheduled a task for each day that reminds me of the intended focus for that day.

My rationale for using the dead time (white space) this way is because with multiple responsibilities, it is not easy to shift from administrative tasks for the church to answering student emails, and then planning a course for PTC. It can certainly be done, but if my mindset is already focused on church-related matters, I gain some synergy by moving from task to task because my brain is already engaged in the general responsibilities of a particular role (pastor, professor, PTC). Although this alignment has only been in place for a few months, I have found my effectiveness has greatly increased.

So, what does this look like practically? Well, Monday or Tuesday is a church-related day. The day of the week depends on which day I teach on campus. If I go to campus on Monday, my church day is Tuesday and vice-versa. This semester, I will be teaching on campus on Tuesday, so my Mondays are largely administrative in nature, but the entire day is related to church-related ministry until I have accomplished each task. This includes catching up on emails, sending a preparatory email for the coming week, preparing for a lesson on Wednesday, as well as any meetings I might have for the week. Currently, another Monday task is working on updating policies and procedures for the church. To gain the maximum benefit, it is helpful for me to combine the preparatory email (for the week's worship service) and the Wednesday night lesson together and all of the other administrative aspects together. In this way, I am focused on teaching and the Bible in one block of time and all administrative matters in another.

This Fall, Tuesday will be centered around gathering materials for class in the morning, generally a meeting over lunch, and teaching from 2:30-5:20. With an hour and forty-five minute drive each way, most of my Tuesday is done. Usually, I am fairly tired when I arrive home, so I use the rest of the evening to relax and prepare for the next day.

I shared a typical Wednesday a couple of weeks ago (primarily church-related), and Thursdays are church-related as well as it is my scheduled day to prepare my sermon, and Sunday-night lesson, as well as any items related to the bulletin that need to be added. When this is finished, I typically will do something related to the seminary (such as grading or checking discussions if I am teaching online).

Friday is primarily a day for PTC when it can be. This includes preparing lessons or thinking strategically. I need the day to become more centered on making contacts and building a network of pastors and churches to be involved in the ministry.

Saturday is often a day for personal matters, but I also use the weekend to catch up on any items that I did not get completed on their scheduled day. (I will have more to say about this in next week's post.) Sunday is primarily a church-related day, but the afternoons can be a time to process other items as well. Sunday evenings after church are typically a time to prepare for Monday.

So, that is a typical week of aligning my tasks. Next week, I will review the idea of prioritizing those tasks with a mention of the software I use. The key for anyone is not which software to use (several good choices exist), but to know how to use the software that meets your needs in the way YOU want to use it. I will say more about this in a future post as well.

For now, I must stop as this post is much longer than I would typically like. So, once again, if anything I have written helps you, I am thankful. So, until next week, take whatever steps you need to become more of the person God would have you to be.

(1) Juliet Funt, Global Leadership Summit, 2017

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