Youth Work Time Management… no really!

(edited 14)

Time management – those two terrifying and ridiculous words that send us hap-haphazardly into the very frenzy they’re trying to save us from! As a youth worker with an incredibly spontaneous, sporadic and random timetable I have to learn to take this seriously. Luckily for us there is some great practical help on the matter.


Doug Fields in his book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry makes four undeniable points on p.31:

  • ‘You’ll be busy!
  • You’ll have only 86,400 seconds to live each day.
  • You’ll struggle in your youth ministry if you can’t manage your time.
  • Plan your time or people will plan it for you.’

This last one is a particular killer!

Whatever life you live time management is going to be important. Some people seem to be freakishly gifted at it. They seem to live as if some supernatural, quirky, trans-dimensional alarm clock imbedded itself into their schema. However, for myself – and possibly the vast majority of youth workers in the world too – it doesn’t come easy. In fact I’ve got as much natural time-management skill as a monkey on a banana bender.

Of course thinking about ‘time-management’ as a productivity skill to develop is kinda like learning about tire friction in order to drive better – it can’t exist in isolation. Time management is all mixed up with procrastination, priority choices, family development, sleep patterns, personality traits, work scheduling, people skills, diet, how well your football teams doing, personal b.o. awareness etc. It’s like a three course meal mechanically blended together (crockery included) that you have to separate out and serve in time for dinner with the in-laws who are picky about food presentation.

The Basics
For me good time management is like getting into a car and driving as fast as I can with my eyes closed and arriving near my destination without crashing or killing defenseless kittens on the way. It’s about the best I can do. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t work at it for the Glory of God right? So I’ve spent a good deal of time (probably mismanaged) reading and thinking about time-management. There are some basic common themes, namely:

  • Set achievable goals & work up
  • Break your day into workable units
  • Organise ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ priorities
  • Shoot elephants and throw off monkeys


First, Setting achievable goals and working up.

Hmmm. I’m personally rubbish at this; I have what I you could call a ‘blitz’ personality. I can happily accomplish a massive task like cleaning the whole house in an afternoon, but I can’t accomplish all the little habitual tasks that keep the house from being destroyed in the first place. I can happily spend three weeks hard core learning a language, but I’m hopeless at doing a daily bout of vocab to keep the language fresh.

However this point is really important for people like me. If we can break down goals into manageable steps we can build a bunch a time management habits that when put together should work a wee bit better than the mismash before that.


Second, Break your day into workable units.

Some people go hour by hour, others Like Doug Fields in go for three timed units: 9am – 1pm, 1 – 5pm, and 5 – 9pm works, while others say simply ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ – whatever works for you go for it!

But that begs the question: how do you find out what works for you? What I did was keep a ‘motivation journal’ for three weeks. I didn’t make any habit changes (other than keeping the journal itself), I simply kept a spreadsheet with me with the headings: ‘time,’ ‘activity’ ,‘who with’, ‘where,’ ‘how I felt,’ ‘what I’d accomplished.’  This told me what my best times to work were, etc.

I found out from this that my best admin time was 8-11am. noon-3 was ‘dead time’ where I just couldn’t get anything done, ‘3-7’ was my best meeting and event time, and ‘7-10’ was my best chilled artistic time.

The other obvious question is, why bother? Surely when you’re on a roll you just go for it, and when you can’t be bothered – you don’t! Well, they’re probably luxuries you can work on once you’ve got your habits down a wee bit better later.  Workable units are just that – workable. They acknowledge that in general there are just certain times that your better at certain tasks and activities. Keeping things in units sets mini goals and keeps priorities (like eating and pooing) in balance.


Third, Organise ‘Important’ and ‘Urgent’ Priorities

This also includes preparation like setting out clothes for the next day, setting your alarm, having a time to fill in your time-sheet, maybe even making a daily schedule. The most important thing to do though is organizing weekly, or even daily priorities from your to-do list and figuring out based off their importance and urgency which you need to do first.

This is how I do it: I make a list of say 10 things then I give them numbers (example below). The first number (1-5, 1 being highest) I give depending on how important it is. The second is based on how urgent it’s due, and the final number is the total two added together. I then can order them based on what they scored. This allows me to have a descent plan for what I will spend time on that day/week and it gives me something tangible that I can look at while I’m allocating time.

– Prepare Bible Study notes,  2,  1 = 3
– Write Bible Study material for partner church,  3,  3 = 6
– Write order for all-age service in two weeks,  2,  3  = 4
– Email leaders with rota for next month,  2,  4 = 6
– Email 2 or 3 leaders with encouragement,  2,  4 = 6
– Finish designing & writing newsletter,  4,  4 = 8
– Write blog post,  5,  4 = 9
– Call old friend,  3,  3 = 6
– Spend time with wife,  2,  3 = 5
– Make dentist appointment,  5,  1 = 6


Forth, Shoot elephants & throw off monkeys.

So the old saying goes that the hunter’s job is to shoot elephants but he can’t because monkeys keep jumping on his face. It’s not necessarily his calling to throw off the monkeys – but if he doesn’t do it he can’t shoot any elephants either – thus he misses his calling anyway!

Shooting elephants is probably the key things on your two do list. We all know however, that the monkeys are little blighters! They take the form of ‘can I just grab you for ten minutes?’, or ‘can you fill in for this?’  or for me the worst, ‘*bing*…inbox (1)’.

These are the things that we must immediately throw off it order to get back to the elephants. This is simply dealing with and delegating off small diversionary problems as they arise rather than putting them off until you become more monkey than youth worker (see my photos for a living example).

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