Over the years I have mainly been involved with start ups. We helped start Athletes in Action ministries at the University of Kentucky and Virginia Tech. We started a college and young adult crew at a growing church, we helped plant churches in New Jersey for almost eight years and today we are in the process of starting a new non-profit ministry.
Working in such settings requires a certain kind of motivation, self-discipline and personal organization. It is easy to be lazy and unorganized or its also easy to work all the time. It requires one to prioritize and schedule one's own work life in a way that is both effective and healthy. In such settings if you don't get things done, nothing gets done. In this brief post I want to share a few things about the way I have developed a system to get things done. Still not sure if I've been highly successful or not, but here is the way I do things.
Begin with a block schedule
Block out time each week for the regular tasks, meetings and priorities related to your most central roles. I include things like exercise, devotional time with the Lord as well as things central to your vocation/work. What things are in the must do category each day, each week, each month, each quarter, each year. Block out and reserve the time. I also think it's wise to include specific blocks for correspondence and any necessary administration. For example, don't do your email all day, block out times when you will (and will not) answer emails. Also remember to block in some margin to do some fun things like watching Premier league soccer games early Saturday mornings. :-) Keep in mind that proverb about "all work and no play" and more importantly God's command for us to rest. Block it all in and this will give you bones for the skeleton of your life and schedule.
Find a system of triage that works for you
Triage allows an ER doctor to evaluate a patient and make decisions as to how to prioritize her care and attention. If a guy comes in spurting blood at the neck, a good triage system will put that person ahead of the guy with the sniffles. Triage also needs to be applied to the relationships, tasks and opportunities that you wish to make or come your way. In doing effective triage, I do think some sort of quadrant system of important, unimportant, urgent and non-urgent and is helpful. If something is urgent and important, do it now. If important and non-urgent, schedule it. If not important and urgent, run! Just kidding. Lovingly help that bit of urgent on to someone for whom it can be important. Finally, if not important and non-urgent simply say "no" because ignoring it to death may come across rude and uncaring. Saying no quickly helps us all know what to do next. A system of triage helps you sort through tasks, needs, etc. It also gives you a way of thinking and acting to determine if you are the right person to do something.
Place tasks or to dos into your life and schedule
I personally like to put anything I'm going to do in my actual calendar and forgo complex to-do listing. For me, if I cannot determine when something will be done, I'm not sure it's mine to do. Now I will use a whiteboard or a notepad to map out some short-term tasks but these are usually tasks related to things that I have put in my calendar. Modern calendaring software allows us to schedule both events and the corresponding work for them along with timed reminders. If you love to-do lists by all means go for it. Just make sure things land in your actual life and you triage that list well.
I underestimate my productivity when I calendar things
This may sound strange but this is an important way of doing things for me. What this means is that if something ends up taking me 40 minutes and I have allocated an hour to the task, then I will have time for reflection, minor diversions and a bit of a release from focus. It allows each day to not feel as frenetic in pace. So if I need to do something and I know I can get it done in 50 minutes or so I block off an hour. If I'm not certain how long something will take I block off an hour. I always make time allocations generously but not wastefully. It would be equally unwise to block out an hour for a 10 min task or phone call. Giving myself ample time for my work also makes me feel super victorious on the days where I have high-energy and efficiency and get a whole lot done.
When calendaring anything count the full cost
Whenever you go about accomplishing anything you have to account for the full amount of necessary time for the task. This means blocking out actual preparation time along with any commitment to a project, person, speaking engagement or group meeting. Scheduling in the time for preparation, prayer and focus helps to see what the actual cost of something is to my life. How much energy, prep and focus do I need to do XYZ and to do it right? This also helps with decision-making as to whether something should be on my plate or not or I should say yes to any invitation or not.
And this may be a little ridiculous...but I also record all my actual time
When I deviate from my schedule and do other things during the day I put in my calendar what I actually did that day. This helps me reallocate time for things not yet completed as well as to hold myself accountable for what I'm actually doing each day. Furthermore, this practice also allows others (staff, church elders, boards, wives and family) to know what you do with your time. Remember, we are accountable to God and others for how we make use of our days. Additionally, having mysterious "time sinks" in our lives will hinder our effectiveness. Did I also mention that we are to have time in our life for devotion, thinking and exercise and fun? We don't have to be all work and no play to account for our work and play. :-)
These are just a few principles I use to manage myself day to day in settings where the structure and workflow must come from my own initiative. I'll close with a listing of a few tools I use in my own flow of things.
Tools I use most frequently
Covey's classic work has helped me to try to work within my roles and relationships. Allen's work has helped me triage emails and tasks effectively in order to GTD. Both works I still find helpful for focusing my life and energy.
I use my google calendar and multiple color coded calendars like a crazy person. My calendar, my kids Futbol travel calendars, practice schedules, even the games of my favorite sports teams all make it in to my week view with special colors. Any modern calendaring system can use shared and online calendars. So whether it's Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal or something else, you can implement this. For mobile, I particular enjoy Readle's Calendars 5 for iOS and an app called Fantastical.
I do use notepads, whiteboards and Evernote to dump and dictate thoughts. I find I think well out loud, so talking and capturing those things with speech to text I find effective although it leads to some typos LOL. Finally, for team work and leadership, collaborative task and communications, applications like Trello and Slack have been helpful of late.
However you skin the cat of your daily workflow and productivity, I do pray that you find focus to love and serve well with the time you have been given. I hope some of the above may help you along the way as well.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15, 16