Tag Archives: GTD

On the Ministry: Tasks Verses Relationships

One doesn’t have to serve as a pastor for very long to come to the realization that the Holy Ministry in America is in more than a little bit of crisis. Some of the competing models for the Pastoral Office include: shepherd, maintenance man, leader, enabler, facilitator, therapist, evangelist, social worker, community worker/activist, and the like. I’m sure there are another dozen or more titles or job descriptions which could be used. It is no wonder that pastors don’t know who they are or what they are given to do!

As I have tried to think through what it means to be a pastor, I always come down to the tension between tasks and relationships. Pastors are given certain tasks that they are to do day in, day out. Preach, teach, administer the sacraments, judge doctrine, perform acts of mercy on behalf of the body of Christ, etc. I can sit down in any given week and map out all of my time in terms of the tasks that I am to do as a pastor. Of course, I just listed the nice and easy and obvious list of tasks. There is also the other, unspoken list. Things like editing the bulletin, going through the mail, preparing for and going to meetings, newsletters, correspondence, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, nearly every one of those primary tasks of the Office only have their purpose when they are given out to the flock. My work as a pastor is about people. It is about delivering Christ to them, in season and out of season. While this again may seem obvious, it is incredibly easy as a pastor to forget it. I can get so wrapped up in getting things done that I forget who I am doing them for in the first place! Yet if I spend all my energies simply and only working on relationships, I can just as quickly lose sight that I am here to deliver Christ and not myself.

Most pastors that I know fall off this wagon on one side or another. Me, I’m much more inclined to get wrapped up in the tasks that I lose sight of the relationships. I think this is the tendency of more academic type pastors. Obviously there are many others who focus more on the relationships. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it certainly makes it so we don’t understand each other very well.

So how does one maintain the healthy balance between what we are given to do and to whom we are given to do it? Here are some of my ideas, but I’d like to hear yours as well:

1. Be aware of the tension. Lots of good things happen as a result of tension. Being mindful of it can make it a blessing and not a source of stress.

2. Pray about it. Pray that God would make you productive in the sense of getting things off of your plate AND of bringing Christ into the lives of your people. They go together. Be deliberate in your prayers.

3. Think in very concrete terms about both tasks and people interaction. Schedule it. Put it on your “next action” list. However you need to do it to make it work. But don’t just allow the water to find its own level. If that is the case, you will simply gravitate toward your own interests.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?


Getting it outside your head

I have been thinking and working a lot with productivity lately. One of the aspects of this learning process for me has been the benefits of externalization.

What I mean is this: I by nature keep everything inside. I let things root around in my head, create a life of their own, and become monsters that are way larger and more scary than they really should be.

Any good counselor or psychologist will do this. If you can get something written down on paper so that you can look at it with some level of objectivity, you can see it for what it is and not let the voices in your head make it into a monster.

This happens in the Psalms all the time. In Psalm 88, for example, the Psalmist is hurt and angry with God because he is near death and it appears like God has cast him away (v. 14). His words are hard and bitter, and they free him (and us) to be straight up with God and not afraid of the consequences. God is a God of mercy, not wrath.

So when something is eating at you, write it down. Tell someone else. Get it out of your head so that you can look at it for real. Take it to God in prayer. This process will be helpful to you, whether you are talking about the big things of life or the nagging thought that you need to call and make a dentist appointment.

Be at peace, friends. Let it out!


How to handle getting back in the groove

We are back from vacation and I am looking at mounds upon piles upon loads of things that all have to get done RIGHT NOW. Everything is a priority when you get back in the groove of things. As I have started to work through the piles on my desk, the books in my “to read” stack, and all of the stuff in my various inboxes, my general inclination is quite simple:



I don’t think this is unique to those who suffer from depression, but that does make things worse. When you have a lot of things to do, with many different responsibilities that often compete with one another, it is very easy to go into shut-down mode and not be able to get off the ground.

How do you move forward? Here are a few things that work for me:

1. Recognize what’s going on and be honest about it.
2. Try to gather everything that has to get done into one place, one list, so that it is all there and there aren’t any loose ends niggling at your mind.
3. Try to prioritize as much as reasonably possible what has to get done when.
4. Work it down to manageable chunks of what you can actually DO.
5. Start on the list.
6. Breathe and remember that you are one person, not a god. You can only do what you are able to do.

That’s what comes to my mind. What’s in yours?

The Things in My Head


One of the things that I struggle with is how to not stress and freak out about all of the little tasks that run through my head all the time. It seems as the piles of tasks big and small continue to crop up and have a tendency to overwhelm me, so that I go into “shut down” mode and just stare at the wall for a while. Now where there is some benefit to staring at the wall, I don’t think that’s where I generally want to be as a pastor or a person.

So how does one Get a grip on all of the stuff of life so that they don’t fill your mind up? Overstimulation is one of the big causes of mood change for me, and there’s no doubt that if I am weighed down and anxious about the growth of the physical and mental piles building up, something has to give in the process.

So to that end, here are a few tips. I’ve gleaned some of these from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, and others I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Write it down. God gave us paper and computers for a reason. There is absolutely no need to try and juggle everything in your head. Why waste energy on remembering WHAT to do when you could be actually DOING it?
  2. If it takes less than two minutes, just do it. This one has become completely liberating for me. My general mindset has been “if it takes less than 2 minutes, I can do it anytime.” The problem is, you don’t do it anytime, and so what really is a little pittance becomes a great mental debt.
  3. Don’t allow the tools to become the craftsman. This is really important for me, since I am by nature a techno-geek galore. It is very easy for me to sit and fiddle and tweak and stare and doodle on the computer, and forget that I have certain things to do. The tools are there for me, not the other way around.
  4. Schedule relaxation time. This is really, really hard. I can pack every waking moment with stuff to do, but if there isn’t built in time for playing with my kids, watching a movie, golfing, or whatever it is, then the little tasks become the sole reason for existence.
  5. In the same vein, schedule time for prayer and meditation in the Word. Sometimes I am tempted to use my freedom in the Gospel as an excuse for not praying. There are a lots of reasons why it is hard to pray (there’s a nice section in the book on this, btw), but if I schedule it so that this is a part of my identity as a husband/father/pastor, then it works its way in as a habitus that will have staying power.

That’s what I’ve got for right now. How do you stay ahead of the piles?


All of the Voices in My Head (getting organized)


I’m on an organization kick right now. Every once in a while I go through this. I spend a few days trying to wrap my brain around a new system for task management, etc., etc., etc. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this. Probably since before I was sick.

Now for me, being a complete geek, getting organized means finding some nice computer program to help me. I’ve tried Things and Omnifocus this time around. They would both work well, but I’m going with things.

The whole process, though, has really gotten me thinking about the process of managing information, and what that means for mental health. If you’re like me, there are a thousand things going through your brain at any given time. I run around putting out fires, trying to stay one step ahead of disaster in all of the spheres or realms that I operate. Church, home, school, opera, DOXOLOGY, Higher Things, and who knows what else. With each of these comes big tasks and little tasks. Projects and emails and phone calls and meetings and contacts and people and jobs…you get the idea.

I had a revelation a couple days ago that part of the reason why I go into mental shut down is that I am trying to remember and juggle all this stuff in my head. Whatever seems the most pressing at the moment is what gets the attention. What that usually means is that my own health and well-being ends up last, until I crash and have to recharge.

Furthermore, these lists and piles and STUFF literally keeps me up at night. I’m so afraid of forgetting something that I can concentrate on nothing.

I’m no expert, but this just doesn’t seem like a good pattern to me.

So what I’m trying to do is a few simple steps to help me keep my sanity. Here’s my list so far:

1. Deal with things as they come in. Do it now, schedule it later, give it to someone else, or delete it.

2. Don’t allow lingering projects to just hang out there. Resolve them as much as possible.

3. Actually plan for relaxation time. I wish this were not necessary, but it really really is.

4. Schedule time for prayer and meditation. If I don’t have that as a regular part of my routine, it simply never happens. If it is a choice, as often as not I will choose no.

That’s the start of my list. So far it’s been helpful, but it is a tough road.

What do you think? How do you keep the voices in your head from driving you mad?