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  • Hannah Williamson

Time Battles - helping young leaders manage their time in a world which thinks it owns your time!

I recently found my old ‘Quo Vadis’ dairies from the first 5 years of my working life as a youth pastor. In some ways it made me chuckle to see these paper diaries where I used a pencil to plan out my week and to see the random things I would get up to. They reminded me of times gone past where my Dad spoke to me about organising my time. It was never a sit down structured meeting about time management but often comments here and there about how he planned his time. He always had a 'Quo Vadis' diary and he was very particular about using a pencil in it - ‘Never use pen as you don’t know when things will suddenly change in pastoral ministry.,’ he would say. Penciled into my old diaries were times I would go into local schools, time I spent mentoring young people and time preparing for preaches amongst all sorts of other things. You’ll be glad to know I moved on eventually to using the calendar on my computer but I look back now and think how transformative it was to be taught how to manage my time as a young leader. It certainly set me up for the future.

These days I sit with a lot of young leaders starting out on their ministry journey and inevitably, in the first few months we get onto the topic of ‘diary management.’ Proverbs 21:5 in the Message says

‘Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; hurry and scurry puts you further behind.’

Profound words. I am often struck by the detail of planning that went into the building of the temple in the Old Testament. Sometimes it’s a bit onerous to read but the reality is it shows us the necessity of planning. Having said that, if we go too far on our planning it can remove the spontaneity of an often surprising God so I guess we plan but allow God to change those plans where necessary (why we use a pencil not a permanent marker!!!).

I wanted to write this blog to look at how we can help younger ministry leaders coming through to maximise their time whilst learning to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I have often liked to ask leaders that I am learning from what their average week looks like in hope to gain pointers in order to be someone who is both efficient with my time and also open to the spontaneity of God. Here are some of the things I have learnt/am learning and the things I most speak to younger leaders about…..

FOCUS - start with your focus

One thing I am constantly reviewing is my ‘focus’ - what are the things that I should be doing? What are the things I am called to do? For everyone this is different. When I was youth pastoring the top 5 focus points for me in the early days were, 1. Personal Growth/study, 2. Youth Team, 3. Friday programme, 4. Schools work, 5. Young Leaders Course. These things had to fit into my working week and so I gave focus to these things on different days or half days of the week. At some points more focus was given to certain areas but they all fitted somewhere in my week. I would and still do review my focus about once every 3 months. Does it need to change? Do I need to give more time to one element of it than the other? Am I missing areas of focus. Although the above is just relating to work, of course outside of work needed focus too and so I tried to make sure I was looking at that too, but more about that later!

To think about for a young leader - What are your top 5 focus points in the work that you do? Are they in line with what you are called to do?
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - How can you help a young leader get their focus on the right things rather than being distracted by ‘other things’ that need doing?

2. BLOCKS - block out time

Once I have or had decided on what my focus needed to be, I then opened my diary and began to block out time, normally in half day chunks. Of course, you have to work out what works for you. Some people like to block things out in hour slots or even smaller than that. For me, blocking out a few hours at a time helped me to give consistent focus to the things I needed to do. Opening a week view of my diary also allowed me see how much time I was giving to these blocks. Was I giving enough time to study and develop myself? This can often be one that gets squeezed out when things get busy! Of course amidst the blocks would be meetings I needed to attend but generally the blocks helped me identify the space to work on particular things.

To think about for a young leader -Use a diary!! Don’t use the classic ‘it’s in my head’ line! The more full your time and the more expectations you have the less your head will remember!
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - It can be easy when managing people, to throw more jobs on them without really understanding what the person is already doing. This can then cause tension for the younger leader who is trying to learn to balance their time. Rather than just ‘give more jobs’ ask ‘Do you have space in your diary to work on XYZ? You can then enter into a conversation about how you can help them find time rather than assuming they’ll figure it out.

3. SABBATH - ‘daily divert, weekly withdraw, annually abandon’

I was fortunate to live in a home where my parents saw the value of taking time off. I speak to so many young leaders where this is not the case and what has been modelled to them is just ‘hard work’. I believe I’m a hard worker but we have to remember to take the sabbath seriously - it was a command from God after all! One of the best bits of advice I ever heard on this was a small phrase at a conference that said, ‘daily divert, weekly withdraw, annually abandon.’ I think it’s important for young leaders to learn this early. Every day there should be time for you to spend with Jesus - its central to what you do and not something that should be skipped. It should be more important than anything else you do. We should encourage young leaders to weekly withdraw and take time to do things without the distractions of work - time with family and friends, time alone with Jesus, time to enjoy life. I want to note on this, we should be encouraging a day of rest and enjoyment not a day of doing ‘house chores.’ I have worked hard in more recent years to ensure the day I do all my errands is different to my ‘day off’ so that I can really give focus to the sabbath like God taught us to! Finally, encourage young leaders to PLAN to annually abandon. That may involved saving each month so that you can go away and get out of your normal context to spend time on holiday - this is so important and a habit that it is important for a young leader to get into.

To think about for a young leader - taking time to sabbath daily, weekly and yearly takes planning. Take a look at your diary - are you spending time daily? How well do you take a day off? Do you plan your holidays?
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - Model this for young leaders. If you work 24/7 they will follow your example and think that’s what you expect of them. Also, ask the questions and challenge where necessary!

4. MARGIN - allow space!

It’s easy to get ‘extreme’ about planning your diary but what I think is important is to plan in ‘margin’. I love books that have a lot of margin because I often want to write my thoughts or comments or things that stand out to me. My bible has a journalling part to it down the side - a massive margin allowing for space to write what God is saying. It’s important to ensure you don’t fill up every moment so that if something comes up - maybe a young person that needs your help or another staff member who needs some encouragement, you have the time for this. Because I am quite focus driven I found that at times if people interrupted my flow it would drive me crazy, but I needed to learn to at times be spontaneous and allow for things to not always go the way I thought they would. I love how Jesus would plan to do something but sometimes he had to abandon his plans to give more time to the people that needed Him!

To think about for a young leader - Don’t get so stuck into your schedule that you can’t be flexible when people need you.
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - Maybe as a senior leader ‘margin’ could look like interrupting a younger leader, sitting in their office and asking how they are doing. The conversation doesn’t need to take hours, but taking the time says a lot about what you value. Or stopping yourself and making tea for your team…..create margin in your own diary to bless. \

5. TOP 10 - achievable targets for each day

I was once at a conference where someone spoke about setting yourself 10 things to do each day. It sounded too simple and a bit ridiculous but I tried this method of planning and have done it ever since. I plan 10 top things to do each day. Some of course may take longer than others like ‘write a report about ???’ and some may be short like ‘drop and email to ???’ Helping me take focus on the exact things I needed to do helped me to be more productive. I would look at my ‘time blocks’ that we spoke about earlier and then list out 5 things I needed to do within that block. For example ‘Young Leaders Course’ block would be in my diary for half a day and I would then write;

1 - Text young leaders to remind them of the start time.

2 - print worksheets for leaders

3 - plan what food to buy for meal with leaders.

4 - tweak notes for preach about ‘serving’

5 - remind youth leaders about event

You can see that each task would take different amounts of time, but breaking it down helped me to get everything done! At times when things were busier I might have to increase top 10 to top 20 but generally keeping to 10 felt more manageable. And if I completed my list, I would have extra time for other things or was able to get ahead!

To think about for a young leader - You might not be a list person but try out the 'top 10' by writing out everything you need to do in a week and deciding when you will do it….give it a go and see if it helps you get more productive! Don’t forget to cross off when you have done a task!
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - Don’t assume young leaders know how to manage their time and ‘get things done.’ We learn skills like this from others and you just don’t know what their home life was like to know if planning was part of the day to day. Help young leaders learn how to get things done.

6. Space - praying/ thinking/listening/dreaming

One thing I am challenged on more and more is allowing space to think. This is not a common thing in our world. Most people when they have a quiet moment grab their phone and start scrawling. Even in a work setting to ‘think’ means it may look like you are not working. But I think it's important to spend time thinking, listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit and dreaming out of what God is saying to you. It’s in this time you may review what your time looks like. It may be in this time you are prompted by God with a great idea for your ministry. I think its important to plan in this time and also create space for it to happen. This may mean going for a walk or sitting in a coffee shop with your phone off. It may mean taking a day away from the office to breathe, think, pray and dream. One time I took a group of my youth leaders away to do this. We went to stay with some friends, outside of our normal setting. I think we went on a Friday night and then on the Saturday we spent time praying, thinking, dreaming and listening. I’m sure it felt unusual for my team but it was such a great experience. Some was spent alone, hearing God and then at other points we would share together what God was saying.

To think about for a young leader - Do you plan in time for Prayer, listening, dreaming, thinking? If you are unsure if you can take this as part of your work, ask permission from your line manager/leader to take a day a month to do this. Plan out that day ensuring you can switch your phone off, journal, pray, walk, listen, read etc.
For a senior leader with younger staff to consider - Maybe you could arrange a retreat to help your young leaders learn how to do this. Let them watch you do this so that you can help them know how to spend this time.


Senior Leaders - over and over again, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is to model good time management. I think it is easy to wrongly assume young leaders know how to do this. I think one attitude that can often be adopted is to throw a young leader into a role and see how they do. Although there is some benefit to them learning in this way, more often than not they can feel unsupported and underdeveloped. They need you to coach them and help them learn what it means so prioritise their time well.

Younger leaders - ask questions to learn! One of the things I mentioned before that I often do is when I sit with a leader who is older or more experienced than me I ask them how they manage their time and what the flow of their diaries look like. This isn't because I'm nosy but because I want to learn.

God has given us time and I believe we have to steward it well - we have one life to live and must ensure we use it wisely!

And in all this don't forget to....


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