Top 6 Productivity Hacks for 2017

How to get more done in less time!

One of the biggest questions on the minds of people in a leadership position this time of the year is “How can I be more productive with my time?”  In other words, how can I get more done for my organization, my personal life, my family, or my faith community?

If you want to accomplish more in your life in 2017, you have two choices:  (1) Work HARDER (longer hours, late nights, etc.); or (2) Work SMARTER!  The second choice is by far the healthier option of the two.  So, to that extent, I want to share with you my Top 6 Productivity Hacks for 2017.

  • Keep the big picture in mind – take time to reflect on why you are doing what you are doing.  Plan out your year.  What are the goals that you have for the various areas of your life (personal, professional, family, etc.)?  Take time to make of list of the goals that you want to accomplish in 2017 and, then, post them where you will see them every day.  That could be on your bulletin board, your computer monitor, your desk, or even your refrigerator – anywhere where you can see and be reminded each day of what is most important in your life.
  • Employ the Pareto Principle – this principle, as applied to time management, states that 20% of the tasks that you do will yield 80% of the results.  The remaining 80% of the tasks that you complete will only provide 20% of the results that you are seeking.  So, make a “to do” list of all the steps needed to accomplish your goals.  Then, determine what 20% of those tasks will give you the 80% ROI of your time.  Focus on doing those things – you might even be able to decide not to do some of the other 80% because it won’t add much value to reaching your goal.
  • Get organized – spend time getting organized and looking at what you need to do.  David Allen calls this a weekly review.  Spend time at the beginning of each week looking over your goals, your calendar, your appointments, your projects, and any other items that you need to accomplish that week.  Then, schedule it all into your calendar.  Plan your week.

In addition to a weekly review, I also recommend a monthly review once per month to keep a focus on what you will be doing in the next 30-90 days, and a daily review each night to plan your next day.

  • Spend time in the balcony – most people spend so much time in the whirlwind of day-to-day life that they fail to spend enough time in the balcony.  The balcony is the place where you are up high looking down at your organization, your life, and your goals.  It gives you a perspective that you don’t have in the whirlwind.  It gives you the time to determine if you are on track to meeting your goals, or if you need to make a few mid-course corrections.
  • Do everything “Off Peak” – there are times throughout the day when things are at their busiest.  For example, you have to schedule a lunch appointment and you know that your favorite restaurant has a lunch rush that begins at 11:45 am.  If you come after that you’ll spend valuable time waiting in line and waiting for your food.  Instead, arrive at 11:30 am and get ahead of the crowd.  With a little creativity, you can do quite a lot of things “off peak” and shave minutes, or even hours off your day – time that you can use on other projects and goals.
  • Make a “Don’t Do” List – most people have a “to do” list, but very few have a “don’t do” list.  A “don’t do” list is a list of tasks that will take your time, but not add much value to your life.  By removing things or delegating tasks to others, you create more time for the tasks that are most important in helping you reach your goals.

So, this year, employ my Top 6 Productivity Hacks for 2017.  You’ll be more productive, have more time with the people who are most important to you, and have less stress.

ACTION STEP:  Choose one or two hacks from the list above and begin using them RIGHT NOW!

30 Days of Intentional Living

Day 9: Knowing What to Put In Your Calendar First

Intentional Living Day 9

When it comes to your calendar, either you will fill your calendar or someone else will. It is so easy to get your calendar filled with appointments that you fail to have time left for the important things in life. Today, John stressed the importance of placing time with your family in your calendar first. That way, they never receive the leftovers of your time. As pastors and leaders in the church, it is important to keep this a priority. However, there are times when our busy schedules takes us away from our family for longer periods of time. When that is the situation, trying to plan extra family time on either side of that time away whenever possible, shows them that they are an important part of your life.

We must remember that our families are vastly more important than our ministries. If you are having trouble with that statement, let me put it another way. Our families are the most important aspect of our ministries. Growing up as the son of a pastor, I learned from my father the importance of taking time for family in the midst of serving God in ministry. That is something that I trust I have passed along to my two adult sons. There are only three people in this world that have “interruption privileges” in my life – my wife and my two sons. At any time, they can contact me and “interrupt” my schedule if they need me. They can even interrupt me in a meeting if it is something time-sensitive and urgent.

Here is a list of some of the things that find their way onto my calendar BEFORE MY APPOINTMENTS:

  • My quiet time with God – time to pray, read the Bible, and reflect on what God says to me
  • My date night with my wife – plan a night each week where it is just you and your spouse and let nothing interfere with that time
  • My time with my family – even though my two sons are grown, when they are in town I prioritize time with them
  • My planning time – time away from the whirlwind of my busy schedule to spend some “balcony time” reflecting and planning for where I am heading nextMy vacation time – time away to recharge and rest
  • My growth time – time to study, attend a conference or an online webinar, or just read a book
  • Then, I plan my schedule and calendar my work/church responsibilities

How would your life change if you put your family in your schedule first?  How would it change if you put some of the other items in my list on your calendar first?

ACTION STEP:  Set aside 15 minutes to look at your schedule over the next month.  Plan in some of the things in my list, or make your own list of priorities.  Then, schedule the other events in your life.  Either you fill your schedule with what is important to you (intentionally), or someone will fill your schedule for you.  The choice is yours.

Discovering God’s Vision for Your Church

Vision Profile

The topic of discovering God’s vision for your church has been discussed time and again in numerous books, blog posts, and verbal conversations.  So, why bring it up again in yet another blog post?  I believe it is important because, even with the vast supply of resources on the topic, very few pastors and/or churches have a vision for their future.

I believe that many have been taught that vision is a mystical revelation from God.  So, we pray and wait.  We pray some more and wait some more.  The result is that most pastors have no vision for their church.  Add to this the truth of the scripture in Proverbs 29:18 regarding the lack of vision and we are hounded by the fact that if we can’t find a vision for our church, then the people will perish.   So, we pray some more and wait some more and most times come up empty, without a clear vision for the future of our church.

Is there a simpler way to discover God’s vision for your church that you can begin to implement right now?  The good news is…THERE IS!   

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4 Steps to Take When Your Plans Go Wrong

This past week, a major snowstorm hit the east coast dumping massive amounts of snow on the New England states.  In my town in Pennsylvania it was predicted that we would get between 8-14″ of snow overnight.  In preparation for that storm, businesses advertised they would be closed the next day, some schools would be closed, parents allowed their children to stay overnight with friends, and school teachers stayed up late knowing that they would not have to go to work the next morning.

Then, the unpredictable happened.  As the evening went on, a small high pressure system developed over our area and remained in place the entire evening.  It was snowing to the west and to the east of our location, but this small area of high pressure formed a wall that kept the snow from  hitting our area.  The result was that we had no snowfall throughout the night.  However, everyone had made plans based upon the forecast.

The next morning we discovered a very different world than was predicted just the night before.  The plans no longer worked, the strategy no longer fit the circumstances, and everyone was scrambling to figure out how to respond.  Sounds a lot like the church, doesn’t it?  We plan our plans and dream our dreams only to find out that something unpredictable has changed our world.  We are left asking the question:  “What do we do when our plans don’t work out right?”  Let me suggest 4 simple steps to take.

  • Reevaluate your plan:  Take a fresh look at what your strategy or plan looked like and what has changed in your current circumstances.  Even when things work out right, it is a great practice to continually reevaluate why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Develop a new plan:  Based upon the changing circumstances, develop a new strategy or plan.  Reevaluate your strategic goals and develop new goals based upon the new circumstances.  Our world is fluid and is constantly changing.  Many times this takes us off guard and we find ourselves behind in the game.  That’s when we need to reevaluate and develop new strategies for this changing world.  See my post on 3 Level Vision Planning for more help in this area.
  • Respond immediately:  When you find yourself off track, begin immediately taking steps back toward the right path.  The longer you wait to respond, the further you will get from your intended target.  I am famous for getting “in the zone” when driving and talking at the same time.  One time I was leading two vans full of people toward our destination at a retreat center.  Finally, one of the team asked me why we were heading the direction we were traveling when I should have taken a left turn back at a certain intersection.  The problem was that he waited 25 minutes to let me know I had missed my turn.  I learned that day the quicker you respond to changing circumstances, the shorter the time it takes to get back on the right path.
  • Learn from your mistakes:  When we miss a goal or our circumstances change, there are always things that we can learn from our mistakes.  Back to my snow storm example for a moment.  As the evening progressed, the high pressure system developed and remained stationary.  Had the business owners, parents, and schools kept an eye on the developments, they would have noticed that throughout the evening the forecast began to change and the snowfall amounts were lowered.  The indicators were changing and the weather forecasters were adjusting their predictions.  Thus, the events of the next morning would have been different if someone had kept an eye on the circumstances as they were changing.  It could have been as simple as staying up and watching the weather forecast instead of being distracted by their favorite TV show.  Most times, the predictors of change in your circumstances are there to be seen, but no one is watching for them.

Our world is changing faster than we can imagine.  Even our best predictions and goal setting efforts will fall short many times.  However, implementing these four steps will help you make sure your plan is as effective as possible and will help you make a better difference for God’s kingdom.

How will you implement these four steps into your goal and strategy planning?

3-Level Vision Planning


When I first began in ministry over 25 years ago, a lot of discussion within the church leadership setting centered around long-range vision planning.  We were taught that each church should set goals for what they want to accomplish over the next 20 years.  These goals were based upon the vision that God has given to your church and they enabled us to set milestones to accomplish 15 or 20 years into the future.

Most experts agree today that long-range vision planning in the church setting has at best become ineffective.  With our rapidly changing culture in America, long-range planning is outdated as soon as we begin implementing it.  Three to five years into our plan we discover that the long-range goals are no longer valid due to the rapid changes in our church and community.  So, how do we plan effectively in order to accomplish the vision that God has given to our church?

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Principle #2: Spend Regular Time in the Balcony

The view from the balcony

In their book, “Leadership on the Line,” authors Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky share a great leadership principle:  get off the dance floor and up in the “balcony.”  The dance floor represents the day to day pressures and commitments of leading your church, while the balcony represents a strategic viewpoint from where you see the overall picture of the church or organization.  It is in the balcony that you take time to plan, strategize, review, pray, and get a clear understanding of the big picture of your church.  It is the time spent in the balcony that gives you the clear picture of what to do on the dance floor. You need to take yourself out of the day-to-day “doing” of ministry and spend time “planning” what you need to do in ministry.  The balcony gives you perspective and informs what you should be doing and how you can be most effective in achieving your goals and God’s vision for your church.

To be effective in leading your church you need to move back and forth between the dance floor and the balcony.  But, with all the pressures of ministry, how do you spend time in the balcony?

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