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I have been known to forget meetings and appointments in the past. I have been more aware as of late how many things I have to get done in one day. I worry about forgetting important phone calls or even making pastoral visitations when church life gets busy, as it seems to be through Thanksgiving and into Advent. And then there are the personal things that need to be attended to—cards to be mailed, appointments to be made, family gatherings to attend—the list goes on and on. This year, however, I have discovered some new tools and strategies for staying sane, organized, and even feeling satisfied at the end of a productive day.
1. Use Your Calendar. This seems like a no-brainer. I prefer to use an online calendar such as Google Calendar. I enter in all of my appointments and meetings on it, including any scheduled pastoral visitations. I share my calendar with my husband, which you can do through Google, so he has his own calendar but we can both see when our meetings are to avoid any scheduling conflicts for family. I can enter appointments either on my computer or smart phone and it updates in either place. I prefer this to a traditional write-in calendar because it can only be seen at certain times and it’s easy to double-book or forget appointments.
2. Use Task Manager. Google has one, but my phone came with one and since I go everywhere with my phone, it’s easy for me to access. Task Manager helps manage your to-do list. I use mine to set reminders throughout the day or week of things I need to do such as “write newsletter article” or “plan worship” or other things I need to do that aren’t specified by times but “finish-by” dates.
3. Use Task Manager reminders for phone calls. I set each one on a separate reminder throughout the day. When that reminder alerts on my phone, I simply stop what I am doing, or find a moment to pause, and I make the call. I don’t erase the alert from my phone until I have completed that task. I use it for personal reminders as well—such as “Call the Dentist” at 1pm—that way I remember to make an appointment without trying to remember with all the other tasks.
4. Set reasonable deadlines. Don’t try to get everything done at once. I try to give myself 3-7 days before a task is due to finish it, using Task Manger, but I spread the deadlines out throughout the week. I don’t try to accomplish more than 2-3 things in a day, because let’s be honest: how many of us ever finish exactly what we set out to do in a day? How many of us are interrupted throughout the day? Stick with 2-3 things. It is OK to move a deadline reminder from one day to the next if you know you can’t get to it that day. I have done this when an emergency call has come up, or another task took much longer than I thought.
5. Take breaks. I do this also through Task Manager. I set an appointment weekly for 1 hour to read. I should do more, but when it gets busy, this is how I keep myself from overworking (or should—I have been known to ignore this reminder—but I’m attempting to get back into a more healthy style of self-care). You can also double-up self-care and ministry: I have also been known to book a pedicure appointment and bring a theology book to read. Sometimes you can engage in very interesting conversations with other patrons or workers that way!
6. Let some calls go to voicemail. If you are in a larger congregation and have an administrator, it is ok for them to take messages and pass them along to you later. If you are alone, let them go to voicemail now and then. As I said in #3, most of us are interrupted throughout our days. One pastor once told me a day in the life of ministry is a series of interruptions. As we need to plan for Advent and Christmas, it is ok now and then to finish the work we have started (emergencies, of course, do happen).
7. Delegate. For those of us in solo positions, sometimes things pile up on our desk. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help. Even if the pastor has been the one to set up the Advent wreath year after year, ask someone else to do it this year. You can delegate those parts of worship, too. Ask someone to find the readers. Ask someone to call the local newspaper to do the advertising for the special services. For those in larger congregations, it still is OK to ask someone else to do the things expected of the pastor that were not in the pastor’s job description. Oh, and it is OK to ask someone else to preach now and then. Maybe you don’t want to do it in Advent, but the Sunday after Christmas, or a Sunday in January, find someone else who is willing to fill the pulpit. Don’t have money for pulpit supply? Find someone in your congregation who has an interesting story to tell or testimony/faith story to share. Give a young person an opportunity to preach. Find a retired minister who wouldn’t mind coming in and recycling a favorite sermon. You can still be at church, but it gives you a break and allows the congregation to hear a different voice now and then. You can also always go for an old-fashioned hymn sing (just be sure to ask your accompanist in advance!)
8. Personal/Family Time. Again, use the Calendar, but be sure to schedule in as soon as possible school and social events for your family. If you are a single pastor without children, find a concert or another event that you want to attend and schedule it in. Allow for no exceptions, save a funeral or other emergency. Remember, your being out in public is also ministry and is important. When I go to the local PTSA events at our elementary school, I think of it as ministry time. I am there for my son, but I am also there to learn what the community concerns are. These events are not only important for me to go to as a parent but as a pastor in the community. Same with single pastors without children—it is important to go to other community events and be present as a pastor in the community. It’s also important to relax and enjoy something that you didn’t have a part in planning, as much as possible.
9. Establishing a ritual or tradition that is your own. This is something my husband and I did the first year we were dating—we are both clergy and we began dating in November of 2003. My husband suggested that we each buy each other an ornament for Christmas instead of a gift, and this has continued to be our tradition. It takes away the stress of buying each other a gift and it is our own thing to do. Another tradition we have is eating an early Christmas Eve meal, usually out at a restaurant around 3pm or so in the afternoon. We haven’t always done this, but our first few years of marriage and after AJ was born, we found that with Christmas Eve services, this was a way for us to enjoy Christmas Eve as a family. We then relax after the services with Christmas cookies and a Christmas movie. Other times in the past we have done “Epiphany Parties” that are near the end of the Christmas season, in which we invite our friends over and have food, because there simply wasn’t time before, but it is still the season!
You can do this at other times of the year, when the season are busy: many clergy take the Sunday after Easter off. Maybe that is the weekend you go away for a mini-vacation every year. There are other times you can find to establish a new ritual to honor the season and to honor yourself and have a break.
10. Remember why you are in ministry to begin with. Pray. Reflect. Attend a worship service at another church if possible (many congregations have midweek services and other events during the holidays—see if you can find one that works with your schedule). Make appointments or schedule it in your Task Manager. Read your Bible. Schedule a retreat at another time in the year. Do something to reconnect with your spirituality that is comfortable and right for you. It’s important to remember this isn’t just a job, this is your calling by God. Find a way to reconnect with that spirit when the spirit of the season just isn’t cutting it.