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Why You Can’t Seem to Manage Your Time

Boba Fett Keeps Me On TrackTime management. Of all the people I know who ever focus on this concept, only a small handful are confident that they’re doing it well. Most of us feel out of control. We feel that our specialty is time mis-management. Why is this so?

I believe it’s because we fail to see the bigger picture. Time management isn’t enough. It’s one small piece. Typically, when we think about managing time, we’re visualizing our to-do list, as if everything on it occupies an equal priority in our lives. When we can’t get it all done, we assume we’ve managed our time poorly.

The problem is, not everything we think we should be doing should actually be done. Some things should actually go undone on purpose. But that’s not the primary reason we can’t manage our time well. The biggest reason we struggle here is that we keep thinking of time in a merely logical way. We see every hour as equal in value to all the rest and there are never enough of them in a week.

There are actually at least four dimensions to managing time well, and we need to understand all four if we’re going to feel any better about how we’re investing the time we have.

Time Management Has a Logical Component

That is to say, managing time is a little bit mathematical. We have 168 hours in a week and 45 to 50 of those should be spent unconscious. With the remaining 115-ish, we have to divide our time among our various priorities such as family, work, friendship, rest and entertainment, etc.

This is the side of time management most of us are familiar with. Doing it well will require a calendar, a to do list, and some basic organization. But that’s not all there is to it.

Time Management Has an Emotional Component

We totally underestimate the weight that emotions have in relationship to our time. I can get more work done if I sacrifice family time, but that drains me emotionally, as it probably should. Every new task I take on brings with it a certain amount of pressure from whomever is expecting us to complete the task.

It isn’t just a question of how much can I do or will this fit into my schedule? It’s also a question of how much emotional pressure comes with this opportunity? If you really want to manage your time better, you’re going to have to become more self-aware of your own emotions as you spend your time doing whatever it is you’ve committed to doing.


For a Christian, Time Management Has a Spiritual Component

Another layer we often overlook is the spiritual element of time management. That is, my relationship with God is affected by how I spend my time. In traditional time management, we might spend the first hour of our day knocking out email, but for a Christian, that first hour (or half hour or however much you and God agree on) is crucial for praying, listening, and journaling about what God is saying to my heart.

Furthermore, as a Christian I want my time to be invested, not just spent. Anyone can spend time, and everyone does. In fact, we often blow through time like a kid with a wad of cash at a toy store. But I want to invest my time into things that matter for the Kingdom’s sake.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they should “redeem the time” (5:16), which literally meant to squeeze every drop of usefulness out of every opportunity, knowing that time is limited and the clock God started, he will eventually stop. That doesn’t mean trying to work at an unsustainable pace. It means knowing what matters the most and the longest and investing our time in those things.

Time Management Has a Relational Component

One of the most profound lessons I remember learning was from Dr. B. Gray Allison, who served as President of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He was speaking to a group of Pastors, of whom I was a part, and said, “Gentlemen, there are only two things on earth that will last forever – the Word of God and the souls of men. Give the rest of your life to these two things.”

To tweak what Dr. Allison was getting across, I would say that the single most important thing I can focus my life, my time, and my energy on would be relationships.

My relationship with God requires time spent in reading, praying, studying, writing, and listening.

My relationship with my wife requires time talking, holding hands, praying together, and enjoying each other.

My relationship with my kids requires time playing, chasing, being caught, and sharing deep truth.

My relationship with my church family requires gathering on the weekend and scattering in small groups during the week, pouring into staff members and other leaders, and studying to share life-impacting truth.

My relationship with myself matters too – not from the selfish perspective of “I need to be happy first…” but rather from the perspective of “I need to know and understand myself.” This requires time for introspection and personal growth.

Time isn’t just mathematical. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s relational. It needs to be invested, not just spent. And at the end of the day, my time is way more valuable than my money or my talent.

3 Luxuries That Should Be Essentials

Reading and ListeningThere are three luxuries I never feel I have enough time for – reading, writing, and creating. Why? Because they tend to follow the “have to’s” such as financial management, relationship management, task lists, and deadlines.

Have you ever said something like, “I don’t have time to read another book, write another blog post, or craft a new sermon… I have too much to get done.”? Somehow, we need to flip that on its head. How? I don’t have all the answers, but I think I have a few:

1. Read, write, and create early in the week, and early in the day, saving the to do list for later. W. A. Criswell always had excellent advice for young pastors, whom he would advise to “give your mornings to God and your afternoons to the ministry of the church.” He studied at home, in seclusion, each day from 6 to noon, then headed to the office, and still managed to lead a church of tens of thousands of Dallas residents with its many ministries and sub-organizations.

2. Think long term instead of short term. There is great short-term gain in getting a to do list accomplished and knocking out tasks. It’s called “productivity” for a reason – it produces results. But if, after months of intense productivity, we dry up spiritually and feed no one, what good have we really done?

3. Redefine “success” and “effectiveness.” We tend to define both in terms of output – the numerical measurement of the results of our work. But perhaps being effective and achieving success have as much to do with input as output – not merely the result of our work, but what we’ve invested into the improving of our work to begin with.

4. Start. Now. As I write this, I have a lengthy to do list filled with important tasks and assignments, but I’ve read a chapter of a new book helping me to understand tripolar spirituality more clearly, I’ve written most of this blog post, and I have yet to get my son off to school. Sometimes you just have to dig in and force the “luxuries” to become essentials – for the good of your soul, the organization you lead, and everyone else around you.

In other words, sometimes making the luxuries the essentials is a means of accomplishing the greater good. Imagine if we applied the same principle to devotional time, family time, and introspection time. Our whole world just might change for the better.

Photo by Joel Bedford.

3 Ministries of Every Church Staff Member

Some churches view the staff as hired workers. If that is the case in your church, respect your leaders and don’t blame any rebellious attitudes on what I am about to say about this. Other churches view the staff as interdependent creative thinkers and leaders. In the first case, the usual mentality is “anything you aren’t doing for the church should be done ‘off the clock’.” In the second case, the mentality is “everything you do as ministry and mission benefits us as long as your priorities are in order.”

When I was at Saddleback, I learned some pretty great lessons about systems, structures, and staff leadership. In spite of our blessed chaos and the “fast, fluid, and flexible” environment of the southern California megachurch, I learned a ton about leadership and how a church staff can function in a healthy way.

One of the principles Pastor Rick often shared was that every church staff member is expected to fulfill three different ministries, on or off “the clock.”

1. Every church staff member has a ministry to the lost. And our ministry to the lost trumps our other responsibilities every time. We advocate for the lost, relate to the lost, and give our time and energy to bringing lost people to Jesus, first and foremost.

By the way, have you "liked" Grace Hills Church on Facebook yet?

2. Every church staff member has a ministry to the church. It is this second priority that is made first in many churches, probably to the detriment of the creative potential of the staff collectively. We wind up falling into the trap of just doing the work we’re expected to do with little time for independent, creative thinking. Apple, Google, and thousands of other tech startups could teach us some important lessons here about freeing people up to think beyond what currently exists. Gmail, for example, was a product born out of the personal development time granted to some employees who were free to play around on the clock. Today, it’s a core Google component. If we aren’t thinking about the lost and how to creatively reach them as much as we think about getting our jobs done, we’re toast.

3. Every church staff member has a ministry to his or her peers. That is, we have a responsibility to pour into and invest in our parallels. As Pastor Rick put it, Saddleback’s receptionists were to minister to other church receptionists, children’s ministry leaders to other children’s ministry leaders, etc. This is the trickiest of all for established churches who see “outside” ministry interests as competing with the productivity of their own staff. But it boils down to a matter of stewardship. If my church is blessed with knowledge or resources, it’s up to our staff to share that blessing with others. Ministering to our peers keeps us in the company of encouragers, prevents isolation and burnout, keeps me up-to-date and sharp on leadership innovations, and is ultimately good for the kingdom (and heaven knows how we need more kingdom-minded churches!).

It’s a tough shift. If you lead a church to be clock-punching and productivity-obsessed, you’ll get a lot done and perhaps build a larger, more effective church. But if you care about developing people into more influential leaders and growing the kingdom as much as you care about growing your institutional machinery, you’ll at least open yourself to the possibility of releasing your staff to think more about the lost than your church and also spend time investing in their peers.

Graphic background by Zach Fonville.

Ordering the Priorities of Life


Priorities are a continuing struggle for most of us. For people in ministry leadership, this struggle usually doesn’t result from a lack of commitment, but from a lack of clarity about our commitments. That is, we’re either over-committed or we’re committed to mutually exclusive priorities. We are all given 168 hours in a week, but some of us use those hours more effectively than others.

So how do you order your priorities in such a way that major areas of your life don’t fall behind? How do you juggle all the stuff of life so that nothing hits the ground and breaks? First realize that you can’t juggle perfectly. No one can, but if practice makes perfect (or at least grows us toward the goal of perfection) then practice we must!

Define Your Roles

You may not like labels, but I do. I don’t want to be boxed in or defined by a limited perspective, but I do like the clarity of identifying who I am and living out my life according to my God-given roles. For example…

  • I’m a disciple. That’s my first role. before anything else, I’m a child of God, which comes with certain realizations (well-stated in the “Radicalis Declaration“). So my priorities begin with who I am as a believer.
  • I’m a husband. God put me into a till-death-do-us-part, one-flesh relationship with the love of my life and I have certain things I need to be concentrating on when it comes to growing my marriage and growing as a husband (and my wife will attest that I have a long way to go).
  • I’m a Dad. God has given me two of the most precious kids on the planet, and they need for their Dad to focus on how to be a better Dad.
  • I’m a Pastor. And as a Pastor (literally shepherd), I have a focus on people – caring for them, teaching them, mentoring them, and I have plenty of room to grow here too.

The list goes on. I do freelance web design work. I volunteer my services for some organizations. I’ve been a member of some boards and committees. I’ve been a speaker at meetings and conferences. Those are some of my labels – my roles – and I could probably come up with dozens, just like you.

Until we understand who we are in Christ and whom God has called us to be and to become, we won’t have a good grasp on what we’re here to be doing each day. Because of my roles, my priorities begin with prayer and reading God’s Word. My priorities include intentionally thinking about the needs of my wife, my kids, and the other people God has placed under my shepherding care.

What about you? What are your priorities? What are the big roles you need to be thinking through?

Photo Credit: Richard Summers

How Do You Juggle It All?

Right now, I’m managing the re-launch of, several creative projects, multiple blogs, and a few other odds and ends. Some of you are managing much more (like toddlers, messy husbands, or air traffic control).

I’ve written before that I believe this is the age of many hats. One of the questions I hear a lot is “how do you manage it all?” I not only hear it asked of me, but I hear it asked of nearly everyone. We’re all busy… or we’re not that busy, we’re just whiners (compared to the Puritans at least). Either way, we certainly live in an age of immense complexity.

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