How To Increase Productivity Without Sacrificing Your Family Time

Burn out is a legitimate fear that happens to a lot of people both in and outside of the church world.

As Americans our stress level is out of control.

  • 77% of Americans feel they regularly feel symptoms of stress on a regular basis.
  • 73% of Americans feel psychological symptoms of stress.
  • 54% say stress has caused a fight with people they are close with.
  • 76% say work and or money is the main cause of stress.

We are stressed to the max.

$300 billion a year is lost in health related caused by stress that impacted work attendance.

So most of us are stressed. And our body doesn’t distinguish between a minor stress or a major stress. When we feel stressed, and we do not take care of it, we will feel the effects. Effects include cognitive functions impaired, premature aging, drained energy, and a lack of effectiveness and clarity.

According to researchers stress causes “cortical inhibition.” In layman’s terms “cortical inhibition” explains why smart people do really foolish things. Stress affects a part of your brain to make wise decisions.

So the question is what do we do about it? In life you either become a part of the solution or you are part of the problem. The following are some suggestions. Feel free to add to them. This is simply one part of the potential solution. The other part is what you do with this.

How To Increase Productivity Without Sacrificing Your Family Time:

1. Define What Fuels You.

I love Parker Palmer’s definition of burnout,

“Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what you do not possess.”

Imagine trying to run a marathon without training. Imagine going on a road trip without filling your gas tank. You would never do that. And yet, when it comes to ministry we often take off running without filling our tank.

Working a lot of hours doesn’t burn you out. Working a lot of hours at something you are not passionate about burns you out.

When I play basketball I can play for hours. Sure we take some time outs and there are some subs, but overall we play for hours. If you were to ask me to run for hours I would tell you that, “You are Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!!!” What’s the difference? I like playing basketball but I hate running. I know there is running in basketball but it comes with a purpose. The only reason to train to run is if you know in advance someone is going to chase you. Stick with me on this.

Burnout comes not from working hard, but at working on things that do not give you life. If you told me to run every day it would exhaust me. I do not enjoy running. If you told me to play basketball every day I would enjoy it immensely even though it involves running.

What is it in life that fuels you? Do that. Prioritize that. You are not anti work. You are resistant to work that drains you. If you feel it’s a struggle to go into the office then you are doing the wrong work.

Now, at every job there are times where we must do something we do not love, but we have to balance that by fueling our life tank.

What fuels you?

There are parts of my job that give me energy. Studying to preach and then preaching energize me. Meeting with people brings me life. Talking about numbers drains the life out of me. I just need the bottom line. When I have to do budgets it drains the life out of me. I have to do the work, but because I know it drains me I can balance it with something that gives me life.

Also, once you define what fuels you and what drains you then you can delegate the tasks that you don’t love to someone who does love them. There are people who are energized by the very things you hate to do. Even if it’s a volunteer.

But what do you with the draining parts of your job that you cannot delegate?

2. Eat Your Vegetables First.

All the rest of the points have to do with vehicles. This title doesn’t, but there is a reason. I think this illustration makes a lot of sense.

I don’t hate all vegetables, but there some that I find gag nasty. Lima Beans are the spawn of Satan. They look like little alien pods. I’m convinced that every time someone eats a lima bean a demon gets it’s wings. I kid, I kid.

There are times, as an adult, that I have to eat vegetables I do not like. Whether it’s because I’m a guest at someone’s house or because I’m trying to set a good example for my kids. In those moments I save what I love to eat for the end. I start with the gag nasty vegetable to get it over with.

This principle works for your work as well. If you put off what you don’t like to do it hangs over your head all day. Stress comes from allowing it to hang over you.

Consider the parts of your job that you do not like but have to do your vegetables. Get it over first thing. Start early and knock it out. As soon as you discipline yourself to do this you’ll find your stress decreases.

3. Build Guardrails.

No one is going to protect your family time for you. So often in life we allow our schedule to dictate what we do or do not do without setting up any guardrails to lead us.

Guardrails are typically set up in a safe zone to protect you from going into a danger zone. The guardrails on a road are designed to protect you if you were to veer off course. Literally they are built to cause the crash to have as much minimum impact as possible.

What are the guardrails in your life?

Here is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. As a pastor I spend the majority of my day working on the church. The people who attend church often have full time jobs so when they have a need they want the pastor to be there for them at night. This is a massive tension when it comes to family time.

A few years ago I set up a guardrail to protect my family time. I do not do any counseling after 5 PM.

Most people do not like this. In fact I’ve received some major push back from it.

For some reason when it comes to doctors, lawyers, and other professionals we work around their office hours, but when it comes to pastors we expect them to work around us.

For the health of my family I ask people to consider an appointment with me like they would a doctor, dentist, counselor, or other professional. I’ll meet during lunch if that will help. If it’s important enough people will make it a priority.

I had to learn this the hard way because I was doing so many weddings. With each wedding I do four sessions of premarital counseling. With multiple weddings came multiple sessions at night, or on Saturdays.

After one summer of giving up way too many Saturdays or weeknights I decided to set up a guardrail. I don’t apologize for it. My doctor doesn’t apologize that they can’t see me at 8:00 PM.

Over the last few years I’ve started scheduling family events in my calendar. I treat these like a meeting. My son plays soccer and has practice at 4:30 PM on Wednesdays. I want to be there to support him. As a six year old it still means something to him to have me at his practice. Some Wednesdays I have to go in a little early. But every Wednesday at 4:30 PM I say no to everything else because in my calendar is a scheduled meeting.

Guardrails protect you from falling off a ministry cliff.

4. Create Margin.

In a car you need some margin between you and the other vehicles in order to not crash. In life you need some margin between what you have to do so you don’t burn out.

A lot of burnout is our own fault. We put off doing what we have to get done until the last minute. We fail to plan and thus, as the famous saying goes…we plan to fail.

So much stress is caused by poor planning.

We leave late for a meeting, hit traffic, and then feel stress because we are late to the meeting.

We put off writing the sermon/lesson/or meeting agenda until minutes before and then the printer does not work. This adds so much stress.

We over spend and then feel stress for paying the bills.

Margin allows you some wiggle room.

Most of us are living without any margin and thus we are creating extra stress.

There are lots of ways to create margin, but here are a few practical ones.

  • Get two weeks ahead. Whether it’s sermon writing, scheduling, or curriculum plan ahead at least two weeks. It’s not easy to do, but worth it. If you are the primary preacher one way to get ahead is to invite a guest speaker to come on a week where you can still write a sermon. You are now one week ahead. Do this twice and you’ll have some margin.
  • Start big projects first thing in the morning. This takes discipline. Often we wait until the last minute and then we add stress to our lives. If you have a sermon to write close your door and write hard for the first few hours of the day.
  • Plan out time to do nothing but think. We find ways to fill our time. Often it’s with Facebook, looking at Fantasy Sports, or socializing around the office. There can be time for all of that if you have margin. My office hours are 9-5. During the office hours there are always a lot of distractions. With office volunteers, staff, and just life…things happen. I get to the office between 8 and 8:30 most days. It allows me to have some quiet time. I get my best thinking done during this time. No distractions. Thinking allows me to problem solve and deal with upcoming issues. It also gives me creativity for things like sermon prep etc.
  • Set a budget and stick to it. So much stress revolves around money. Whether you have a lot or a little budget it. When there is no margin in your finances it causes stress.

5. Check Your Spiritual Gauges…Often.

It doesn’t take much for pastors and church leaders to sacrifice their personal time with God. We can easily fall to the lie that because we are in the church world we can sacrifice time with God.

Just like your car has to have regular oil changes you need some scheduled check ups. Being busy is not an excuse to not prioritize and schedule time with God.

If you are trying to lead people spiritually out of an empty tank you will burn out.

We can only lead people to where we have been. Are you leading out of an overflow of God’s spirit and love? If not, why? What would it take for you to lead out of a spiritual overflow?

6. Prioritize What’s Important.

We all feel busy. But don’t mistake busyness for productivity. You can be busy doing nothing. In order to increase productivity you must prioritize what it is that only you can do.

As long as you are alive no one else can replace you as a mom or dad. You must prioritize family time. At the same time you must prioritize things at your job. What is it that only you can do for your church?

When you define what’s most important, delegate the rest, and create some margin you’ll find more productivity and less stress.

Wrap Up:

At the end of the day so much of our issues are our own fault. Sure we don’t always get to dictate our schedule, but very few people are disciplined when it comes to schedule. A few tweaks, a little discipline, and some intentionality will go a long way to help you become more productive in ministry without sacrificing your family time.

We love hearing from you. What’d we miss with this? What was most helpful? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being fully energized and 10 being burned out) where would you rate yourself right now?


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