Yesterday, I posted about the need for self-evaluation. It is important from time to time to evaluate not what you do but how you do it.
One of the biggest things I am finding to be true in my life is the need to think projects and not tasks.
Let me explain.
Most people speak of productivity centered around a to-do list. Whether it is sticky notes, productivity apps, or whatever method you might use, many people will organize lists in order that they don’t forget one of their many tasks.
To-do lists are very helpful in accomplishing tasks.
My problem with to-do lists is that they cause me to do many extremely different type of tasks back to back. In any given week, I will do the tasks of a preacher, professor, worship leader, musician, computer tech, designer (web, graphic, video), organizer, mobilizer, songwriter, team leader, teacher, planner, counselor, accountant, and a few other items.
I was drained with the week-in and week-out to-do lists. Doing the same thing each week became monotonous and I lost creativity and excitement over God-given tasks.
What I find is that it is very difficult for me to get into a creative and productive rhythm when I jump from role to role and task to task.
I find when I do the same task over and over, I get faster and more effective as the time goes. And that is why I choose to think projects instead of tasks.
I do one thing over and over and get ahead on it rather than do a lot of little things that are different.
Jack of All Trades (Master of None)
It’s the same principle in how most athletes choose one sport at which they focus. While certain athletic specimen can go from sport to sport, most will find a specific sport at which they excel and focus all of their attention there. While they could play many of them, they focus on one. After a while, the muscles, reflexes, mindset, rhythm, and simple ease at that sport becomes a natural function in which to compete. It becomes habit. The complex becomes simple. The challenging becomes natural.
In most of our work days, we are hopping from sport to sport. Function to function. Not even task to task, but type of task to type of task.
We often have the phrase around our office that many of us feel like a “jack of all trades, master of none.” Most of us will not find a job in which we get to focus solely on one task in which we excel. But what I try to do is to do one project for a long time, get ahead in that area, and then move to the next project. It helps me get better, faster, and more effective.
Here are some examples:
- Preaching/Teaching Preparation – When I have a series of messages or lessons to teach, it takes awhile to get into a rhythm. Once you got it, you don’t want to slow it. I find myself working better when I am working on all of them together. It helps them run together more seamlessly, I have a direction for where it all is going, and it helps me decipher when and where certain content needs to go. I don’t have to try to get it all in at once.
- Worship Planning – I try to plan at least a month at a time now. Now that I am in this rhythm, I can’t believe I used to be so week-to-week as what I once was. Planning worship 1 month at a time allows me to make sure I am not introducing too many new songs, getting stuck in a planning rut, overusing volunteers, or missing the flow of the biblical text we are preaching. Most of my worship planning happens on Planning Center Online’s planning matrix which allows me to see weeks at a time. It is a daunting task to look at many weeks at the same time, but it all starts coming together eventually. When I send out the email with requests to our team, it is an amazing feeling to know that all of our team begins to work on their tasks weeks out and the biggest portion of preparing the team has been accomplished.
- Social Media – Social media is a tool. It can be used for good or evil. It definitely can be a time waster. So, I try to stay off of it as much as I can. The irony is that, most likely, you are reading this article because of a link on a social media site. I see social media outlets as a pulpit. It allows a microphone for me to communicate issues on faith and family. Most of my posts are pre-scheduled from an external app. You will probably have seen that I will post this link 1-4 times over the span of 48 hours and I pre-scheduled all of them. It helps me do it all at once, and it can make sure that I don’t linger too long digesting media feeds when I don’t have time. I try to schedule blog posts and links about a week at a time. Getting into a rhythm makes me more effective and also helps see the big picture all at once. I also can schedule to post links to an event (“1 hour before our service starts, hope you can make it…”) when I am busy preparing for the event. Currently, I use Hootsuite to help schedule these events all at once and keeps me organized and fighting against laziness.
- Laundry – Yes, I am serious about this one. And it is a game changer. With our family, we have gotten into the routine of preparing clothing for days or weeks at a time rather than a day at a time. Just the other night, Amanda was on the phone after we had finished putting up laundry, and I started ironing clothes for about 2 weeks while I had some open time. I hung my ironed shirt on the same hanger with my ironed pants and I won’t have to rush around the house in the morning doing all of these nagging steps (finding clean, matched clothes, turning on iron, getting water in iron, ironing clothes, running around the house, etc.). This simple task every couple of weeks allows more time with the family in the morning and ensures being on time for work, and I don’t have to do a task I dislike doing day in and day out. Don’t judge me for throwing laundry onto this list, but it is remarkable for me when I even see a task like ironing clothes as freeing me up to be on-time, prepared, and ready to go.
Punch In/Punch Out
For me, it has been an amazing change of direction for me. I have a dual role in my church (in addition to teaching at Lander University and other occasional projects). My title is Family & Worship Pastor.
I am learning how to punch in one job while I punch out of the other job.
The way I am learning how to operate is that some days or some weeks, I am more Family Pastor. I then clock out and become Worship Pastor for the next week. And during that time, I work feverishly to get ahead.
- When I taught a 12-week World Religions course, I spent about 10 days doing all of the study, prep, handouts, booklets, and presentations. Once it was done, it wasn’t me having to revisit it each week. I just had to pull it up and go when it was time.
- We just finished a series of 5 very-complicated Christmas services last month. Due to the difficulty of the music and the unique nature of how we were trying to present it during the most hectic month of the year, I had to look at it all together. If one vocalist couldn’t sing on Dec. 28, it made Christmas Eve off because everything was building upon each other. But once I sent out requests mid-November, I was done and could trust the team members to do their job because I had done mine.
- I spent a week songwriting for The Word project and going back and forth between songs. Locked away in an intentional space, this process allowed me to do songwriting with all my tools in one place and my focus on it all day long.
- I am getting ready to address a tool that will allow parents to disciple their children but it needs concentrated, uninterrupted time. I am carving that out on the calendar now because it will require focus and rhythm.
What’s Next for You?
The best advice I can give you is what I am in the process of doing right now. I get out everything that needs to be done all out onto one place. Whether it is a whiteboard or a word document, I just have a mind dump where I get overwhelmed at all the things coming up or the items that need to be addressed at home and at work. I then begin to address them systematically. I don’t prioritize my schedule, I begin to schedule my priorities and block out time to address these projects.
Maybe that’s what you need to do next.
- Maybe you are a church leader wearing too many hats and can’t figure out how to reorient your congregation.
- Maybe you are a homemaker who can’t seem to get a system in place for organizing the daily chaos.
- Maybe you are in a business and feel like it is just week-to-week full of draining tasks.
Start looking at the big picture and stop trying to do everything by tomorrow. Do one thing a bunch by tomorrow.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise (Prov. 6:6). If you watch how ants operate, they are in constant motion focused upon one task that they repeat over and over. Lots to consider there.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:15-17). What is God’s will for your life? To make the absolute best use of the time allotted to you. Maybe instead of doing so many things in one day, focus on doing one thing really well and then do the other stuff that has to be done.
While this process has helped me so much, I am studying other ways to do this as well. I am looking at event planning in this way. I am trying to implement all email and text correspondence this way versus constant interruptions side tracking workflow. I have even been studying the cook and freeze a bunch of meals all in one day (I think that idea is sheer genius).
It is incredible how you can feel a sense of progress and alignment when you start focusing all your efforts.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… -Col. 3:23
Think projects – not tasks.