Productivity super-gurus are all talking about it: Time Blocking. See here, here, or here for example.
A significant part of Christian ministry, especially if you are a teaching and preaching minister, is going to be devoted to study and writing.
By nature, these are solitary activities and are not always evaluated as important activities if you are a working minister. Typically in a church office distractions are the norm...and let's face it, oftentimes "distractions" are when some of our best ministry will happen, so we don't want to avoid them lots of the time.
Nonetheless, we need strategies to ensure that those very important, concentrated, and solitary tasks (such a sermon prep, study, and writing) will all get done (each and every week!).
Enter time blocking.
When you've got a project that requires deep thinking (such as prepping a sermon), block out hour-long "meetings" with yourself to devote your full attention to it. During your time block, forward the phone to voicemail, shut down email, silence your cellphone, and if you have to, leave your desk with the materials you need and focus solely on the task at hand at another location.
For something like sermon prep, you might time block 1/2 day increments where you get away from the office, or even spread out several 2 or 3 hour time blocks over several subsequent days (such as Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday if you like to get the sermon done early in the week).
In my schedule, I've time blocked space for sermon writing, bible class writing, Thursday bible study prep, and Friday evening devotional prep. Most of the time I do these time blocks in my minister's study with door closed. I'm always available by cell phone, but I like to maintain the preparation for these activities as standing appointments with myself because these are important teaching and preaching activities that come around each week and they need to be prepped no matter what else is happening that week.
Because I'm a pastor-theologian and try to maintain some presence in the academic world (via publishing articles and book reviews, conference presentations, etc.) I even time block some daily writing time, which is essential if you are going to publish anywhere. I was convinced of the need to time block a daily writing time by the excellent little book How to Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul Silvia.
Now, I realize that time blocking doesn't sound so revolutionary at first glance; after all, you're just making an appointment with yourself in order to get something done.
However, there are several things that I find very significant and productive about time blocking:
- The first is that it is scheduled as an appointment. Meaning, when folks need you for other stuff, you look on your calendar and you DON'T schedule stuff during that time slot. It's a basic concept, but the implications are tremendous.
- The second is that you shut down all electronic distractions and position yourself to not be interrupted unless it is an emergency. That means turn off the email and eliminate the ability to check social media through software solutions such as Self Control.
- The third thing I like about time blocking is that it lets me see what it is I need to be doing every week. You might consider mapping out a time blocked schedule for important activities. This sample one below doesn't allow free time at the margins of your time block activities, but you get the idea...you have appointments: