Aaron Buer on November 2, 2022
Every once in a while, I have to fight to get my life back. What I mean is that the demands of ministry and my propensity to try to keep everyone happy land me in a space where I generally hate everything and want to quit. Maybe that was overly dramatic, but I think you get the picture.
Every once in a while, I have to reset my schedule and my priorities so that I can get my life back and return toward health and happiness.
I’m guessing you’ve been there or are there now. It’s mid-fall in ministry and this is just one of those times when you stop and realize, “I’m too busy. I’m not making good progress on the most important things and I’m not having fun.”
Time for a reset. If that’s you right now, here are a few strategies that guide me when I’m trying to get my life back.
Identify What You Have to Do
You were hired to do something—to lead a strong children’s ministry, preach engaging sermons, bring organization to a team, or reach students.
When it comes to your job, these are the tasks that are most important. These are the things you have to do well, if you’re going to be successful in your role. And, these are the tasks and roles that if you don’t do well…well, there are going to be problems.
When I’m trying to get my life back, I stop and write down what I have to do to be successful in my job. These are the things I should be focusing my time and energy on.
Pro Tip: There should only be 1-3 of these tasks. If you’re coming up with 7 or 8, narrow the list down. If you are struggling, ask your supervisor or your board to bring clarity to the 1-3 things that are most important—as in, your job depends on them.
Clarity around what you have to do is really important, but what often happens in the busyness of ministry is we find ourselves doing a bunch of things that aren’t really high priority tasks.
Identify What You Shouldn’t Do
Look, no shame here but over time, we all start doing things that don’t have much to do with the success of our job. There’s just some kind of weird magnetic pull toward adding more tasks.
I remember being a young youth pastor and practicing playing the drums on work time—just in case the drummer cancelled. I didn’t know how to play drums and I was investing several hours a week in learning the drums, just in case we needed a drummer.
Now, it’s probably kind of obvious to you that this wasn’t the best use of my time. You might even be laughing at me right now, but what are your “drums?” What’s something that you’ve been doing that really has nothing to do with the success of your role?
Over time, we have this tendency to accumulate tasks that don’t help us accomplish what is most important. When I’m trying to get my life back, I find it helpful to stop and make a list of things I’m doing that I really shouldn’t be doing.
Again, asking your supervisor, board, co-workers or spouse can be helpful here.
Manage Your Energy
There are aspects of my job that fill me up and there are aspects of my job that drain me. Often, the reason I end up tired and annoyed with everything is because I’m not doing a good job of managing my energy.
Here’s an example of how this plays out in my life. The way that I’m wired, one-on-one meetings drain me. That doesn’t mean I hate them. It doesn’t mean I don’t like people. It just means that for whatever reason, they drain my energy.
If I pack my afternoon with a series of one-on-ones, I will be totally drained by the end of that afternoon. And, if I do that day after day, I will be in a bad place by the end of the week. And, if I do that week after week, I’ll burn out.
I have learned that I can handle one or two one-on-one meetings per day. Anything beyond that and I’ll be living at an energy deficit.
Here’s the point: Do you know what fills you up and what drains you? Understanding this about yourself is vital to getting your life back.
Here’s an exercise that can help. List out all the tasks you are responsible for right now. Then, mark each one as either green, yellow or red. Green means that this task energizes you. Red means that this task drains you. Yellow is neutral.
Now, look at your weekly schedule. If you have days that are filled with reds, or have back-to-back reds, you now understand why you feel the way that you do at the end of those days! You may want to rearrange your schedule so that you are managing your energy wisely.
One of the most important learnings in my leadership journey has been understanding that managing my energy is just as important as managing my hours. Even if I keep my hours within 40 hours a week, I’ll end up in a bad place if I fill those 40 hours with draining activities and tasks.
When it’s time to get your life back, get strategic about managing your energy.
Identify When Is Your Most Productive Time
One last concept that has been a game changer for me. Do you know when you are the most creative and productive? Every person is different.
For me, the hours of 8-11 in the morning are prime time. Before that I’m still warming up and after that I’m just not very productive. After 9 pm, I’m utterly useless—you can ask my wife.
The most strategic way to invest your time and energy is to schedule your most important tasks during your most productive time of the day. For me, I plan and write sermons between 8 am and 11 am. And (this is crucial), I don’t pursue my most important tasks during non-productive parts of my day—because I’m not as productive. You’ve probably already guessed, that’s where I put one-on-one meetings. 😉
I’m guessing one of the reasons you want to get your life back is that you are stressed about your most important tasks and roles—you’re just not giving them adequate time. The tyranny of the urgent keeps robbing you of your time.
My advice is to schedule your most important tasks when you are most productive and to not let anything interrupt that time.
My hope for you is that you could find a more sustainable rhythm in ministry. I want you to thrive because when you are thriving, you’re a better leader, better spouse, better parent and better friend. I challenge you to take your life back by taking control of your schedule. I hope this has been helpful.