Written by Nick Diliberto

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How often do you feel frustrated at the end of a day because you didn’t get enough done?

Do you feel overwhelmed because there never seems to be enough time to tackle everything on your to-do list?

Are you exhausted because despite working long hours for what seems like an eternity, there’s always more to be done?

Summer is over. It was awesome, but tiring. Back to school is in full swing. You barely get a chance to breathe in between the two. Ministry is ongoing. It never stops. 

What is a youth leader to do?

As mentioned in a previous blog post, there are things you can do to avoid burnout in ministry. 

Beyond that, increasing your productivity can be a huge game changer. 

Instead of constantly feeling frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed with a never-ending number of things to do…

…I believe it is possible to feel focused, at peace with what you get done each day, and energized. 

In fact, I know this is possible because I’m living proof. 

In this blog post, I share a number of habits and practices I’ve implemented in my work life to increase productivity and feel the way I just described. 

So, let’s get started. 

#1 – Embrace the mindset that “less is more.”

It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s very true. You could even disagree with me, but keep an open mind and hear me out.

Focusing on doing a few things with excellence is WAY more productive than doing a lot of things average, and it’s much more fulfilling and joyful. 

At one point in full-time ministry, I was coordinating 8 weekend services, a Tuesday night program for students, a Friday night program for students, monthly events, summer camp, and more. I was building relationships with students one-on-one, recruiting/training a growing team of volunteers, and everything else that comes with ministry. 

On top of that, I was newly married with three young kids. 

I had a HUGE heart to point students to Jesus and was passionate about every ministry program I was overseeing. 

If it was possible to devote 100 hours a week to ministry, and still have enough left over for my family, I would have done it. 

Because I didn’t have the “less is more” mindset, I eventually burnt out. Over time I lost passion, joy, and purpose in ministry. I eventually made adjustments and had to approach ministry from an entirely new angle. 

Looking back, if I would have embraced the “less is more” mindset, I would have avoided burnout, enjoyed the process much more, and would have been MORE effective at reaching students. 

In my case, what could I have done differently?

There was no way around weekend services, and the Tuesday night program. They were church programs that required my attention. I could have cut the Friday night program or trained a team of volunteers to run it, and I could have done quarterly events rather than monthly. That would have allowed me the space to focus on making what I was doing even better. It would also have given me more time to recruit/train volunteers. 

Although possibly similar, your situation is probably different than mine. Everyone is in a different circumstance. But our approach to ministry is something we all have in common.

I have a question for you. What’s your mindset… “Less is more” or “more is more”?

I think many of us in ministry think that “more is more.” We have a passion to point students to Jesus and make an impact in students’ lives. We have a call from God to disciple students and see their relationship with God thrive. So, we do what we can to create an environment for God to move. We naturally assume the more we do, the greater our impact. 

However, there is a limit on what we can effectively do. When we spread ourselves too thin we decrease, not increase, our impact on the lives of students. But when we recognize those limits, we’re way more productive. The quality of what we choose to spend our time on dramatically improves. We maintain our passion and joy for reaching students over the long haul. 

Think of Jesus’ ministry. He spent only 3 years in public ministry. While there are probably numerous reasons for this, I believe one of them is because he embraced and modeled the “less is more” mindset. 

What Jesus did in those years fueled the birth of the early church and lasted over 2,000 years until the present day. 

What could we accomplish if we embraced the “less is more” mindset? My hope is that you are challenged and inspired by that question. 

You’ll have to be crystal clear on your top priorities. You might have to eliminate, consolidate or delegate some programs. You might even get push back from students, parents or church leadership. You’ll have to learn the word “no” and “not now.” You’ll need to embrace limits. And all that takes courage, discipline, focus, and persistence. 

Hopefully, I have convinced you it’s worth it. Or at least softened you up to the idea. 

If you choose to embrace the “less is more” concept, the next thing to consider is how to do it. And what habits and routines can you implement to help you stay focused?

Great questions. Let’s dive in.

#2 – Plan on doing less every week and every day. 

This logically makes sense, right? If you’re going to overall do less, then your daily to do list should be shorter.

But, practically speaking it seems virtually impossible.

However, I assure you with patience and determination it is possible. 

Here’s how I do it. 

Feel free to come up with your own adapted version of the approach. It’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you.

At the beginning of the week, write down ONLY 5 TASKS in each of the following categories:

A – Five most important tasks of the week.

If these were the only tasks you completed during the week, you would be satisfied.

B – Tasks of secondary importance.

Write down only five, and do them only after you have completed tasks in category A.

C – Additional tasks.

Do these 5 tasks only after you have completed tasks in category A & B. 

Now, you have a total of only 15 tasks to complete for the week. Doesn’t that sound much more doable than your current to do list?

This approach accomplishes a couple of things:

First, you’re much more realistic about what can be accomplished in one week.

As a result, you’ll feel more satisfied at what you crossed of your to-do list. Your anxiety levels will decrease because you got done what needed to get done.

Second, you’re forced to prioritize. 

You’re now focused on what’s most important. You have a greater sense of what you do matters. This one thing alone will significantly increase your productivity. 

Next, let’s take a look at your daily to-do list.

Each morning before you get in work mode, write down your to-do list for the day.

#3 – Determine your most important task each day. Do it first, give it 100% of your focus without multi-tasking and free of distractions.

You’ve already written your top 5 tasks for the week. Each day, focus on one of them.

Doing this one thing is a game changer. Out of everything I just wrote on how to “do more with less,” this is the most powerful. Try it. 

Let’s take a closer look. 

Determine the most important task of the day. If this was the only thing you did that day you would be satisfied. Sometimes this is the one thing you’ve been putting off because it’s difficult or requires a lot of time and energy. The best way to determine this task is to apply the 80/20 rule, which says that about 20% of what you do produces approximately 80% of the results. The most important task for the day is that 20%. Identify that task each day. Furthermore, it is important to determine only ONE task that’s your top priority. This brings awareness and focus to that task. 

Do the most important task first – BEFORE checking email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. You’ll get to that stuff later. For many, this will take a lot of self-discipline and intention. But trust me. It’s worth it. You might also be tempted to do other quicker, less time-consuming tasks first. Resist that temptation as well. When you tackle the #1 task right away, you will feel so much more productive. You hit the ground running, which will set the tone for the rest of the day. 

Give 100% of your focus to the #1 task. Don’t multi-task and eliminate all distractions. Studies have shown over and over again that multi-tasking actually reduces productivity rather than increases it. So, avoid it all costs. Single task. You’ll also want to eliminate all distractions. Close your office door. Turn off your phone. Stop all notifications on your computer. If you’re online, shut down all browsers except one. If in a public setting, I often put earbuds in my ear even though no sound is coming though. It’s a great way non-verbal way to communicate to everyone that you’re “in the zone”. 

Single tasking and eliminating distractions enable you to enter a flow state. According to Wikipedia, Flow (or being in the zone), is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time. 

How would you feel if each day you entered a flow state first thing in the morning? How would that affect your overall well-being? How would it affect your performance? 

At the very least single tasking and eliminating distractions will increase focus. The more focused you are on your most important task, the more productive you’ll be. 

After the #1 task is complete, feel free to check email, Facebook, phone, etc. If this is a new practice for you, at this point you’ll experience a decent level of withdrawal pains. Now is your time to indulge. However, I do recommend to put limits on how long you are there. 

Give it a try for one day. Seriously. Try it one day as an experiment and see what happens. Don’t let the simplicity of the method fool you.

#4 – Identify and execute secondary tasks and additional tasks for the day. 

As much as possible, keep the list short. Only 3-4 items total (1-2 in each category) for each day. The shorter the list, the more likely you’ll actually get them all done. The goal here is to be realistic and maintain focus. 

You’ve already listed 5 in each category for the week. Use that list to determine what you’ll do each day. 

Secondary tasks are basically priority 2 tasks, and additional tasks are priority 3 tasks. Remember, only do secondary tasks after completing the #1 task. Only complete additional tasks after completing secondary tasks. Yes, this seems elementary. But in practice, we often fail to follow through. 

Sometimes you won’t get to some of these tasks. If so, no worries, put them on your to-do list tomorrow. 

#5 – Review your productivity level daily and weekly. 

At the end of the day, rate your productivity on a scale of 1-10. Make a quick note what you did right if the score is high, and what you could have improved on if the score was low. Use that feedback to make improvements for the next day. 

At the end of each week, write down your major wins and areas of improvement. Take a quick glance at those then when planning for the next week. 

You only have 24 hours in a day. 

Nobody has more or less than 24 hours in any given day. It’s a constant measure of time for all of humanity. Past. Present. Future. There is nothing you can do to change it. 

Only a portion of that time can be devoted to doing ministry related tasks. You have to eat, sleep, shower, nurture your own relationship with God, maintain relationships with your family, spouse, etc. 

So, if you regularly feel that there isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done…the problem IS NOT time. The problem is either you’re doing too much or you’re not efficient. The good news is you can do something about both. You have the power to change!

I’ve given you some ideas that will help you have worked really great for me, and I believe they’ll work for you too. 

The next step is to take action.

The Productivity Planner

One tool that has significantly helped me recently is the Productivity Planner, created by Intelligent Change. 

In fact, a lot of what I just wrote is based on the principles based on the planner. 

The planner costs $24.95 and is by far the best purchase I’ve made in the last 4-6 months. I don’t make a commission or any money whatsoever if you purchase it by clicking on the above link. I’m just trying to be helpful. 

Of course, you can do all this on your own without the planner. 

One more thing… let’s talk about spirituality and productivity. 

I believe that everything is spiritual, including productivity. I’m a big believer in having a morning routine BEFORE you get started on your to-do list. And things like reading the Bible and prayer are great to incorporate into that routine. 

I also think prayer is useful when deciding on your priorities. 

As well as allowing space in your day to be interrupted by people who need your help. Like students, parents, volunteers, etc.

I didn’t think it necessary to go into detail about those situations because I assume you already have a pretty good handle on them.

Ok, needed to get that off my chest. 

One other factor related to productivity is intentionally getting out of “go” mode every once in awhile. 

In this blog post, I go into detail about why and how to do that. 

Well, there you have it. You’ve reached the end of this blog post. 

I hope you have found it helpful. 

– Nick Diliberto, Ministry to Youth

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Written by Nick Diliberto. Nick is the creator of Ministry to Youth, a collection of youth ministry websites (including this one). He’s married to gnarly triathlete and dad to three teenagers. 

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