Saving time by grouping similar tasks

This post is part of the series on Time Management in Youth Ministry. In my opinion, the whole concept of time management is not to work harder, but to work smarter. Our goal should be to be both effective and efficient in youth ministry, meaning we accomplish our goals with as little energy as possible. There are many smart ways to accomplish more in the same amount of time and today I want to share one simple thing that can save you lots of time: grouping similar tasks.

The goal of time management techniques is not to work harder, but smarter so we become more efficient and effective in youth ministry

Why grouping similar tasks works

We humans aren’t nearly as good at multitasking as we think. Our brains are actually wired to see the whole picture and it will try to connect the dots, which it can’t do when we keep switching tasks and roles. Our brain has the marvelous ability to super-focus on one task or role and when we allow ourselves to get into that flow without being interrupted for other things, we accomplish a lot more.

I bet you know that feeling when you’ve been fully immersed in something and the work just seemed to flow out of your hands…uninterrupted, focused time increases our productivity (and our creativity!). When we constantly switch between different tasks, we lose a lot of time because our brain isn’t as focused and we need time to get ‘reconnected’ with what we were doing. We lose track of what we were doing and it takes us one or two minutes to get going again. It’s the reason why you should turn off the notifications on your email, Facebook, Twitter, etc because they will keep interrupting your work flow.

Another reason for grouping similar tasks is that it takes us more time to do a little bit each day, then a lot at once. A perfect example is the financial administration of the youth ministry, it takes more time to register a few expenses and stuff each day than it does to do the whole batch in one session. So if you have tasks that you have to do on a regular basis, group them. It’ll go much faster, though it won’t make it more fun (which is actually the slogan of the Dutch IRS: we can’t make it more fun, just easier…)

Defining similar tasks

Grouping similar tasks is therefore a good time management technique, but how do you define ‘similar tasks’? Well that’s the tricky part, you’ll have to start to tune in to what your own brain is telling you, because what’s a natural group for me, doesn’t have to be the same for you. Here are some thoughts on how you could go about grouping similar tasks:

  • Tasks that use a similar tool, or software, e.g. handle email, Twitter, Facebook all at the same time
  • Tasks that require a similar role of you, e.g. ‘preacher’ or ‘pastoral worker’ or ‘blogger’
  • Tasks that involve the same people
  • Tasks that occur at the same location

The second one is one I benefit a lot from. I group a lot of activities according to role, because I’ve found it helps me to see the bigger picture within that role and it stimulates my creativity. Examples of roles are for instance parent, spouse, small group leader, organizer, coach, leader of leaders, etc.

Here’s what you could do to find out which way of grouping tasks works for you:

  1. Write down a quick and rough list of all you have to do in a week
  2. Try each of the above four methods to group tasks
  3. Experiment with different ways of grouping, which way feels most natural to you?

Mind you, your ideal way of grouping similar tasks can be different for different tasks. For instance it makes sense to combine grocery shopping and buying water balloons for a youth ministry game because you can do them in the same mall, where you’d want to group writing policy on pastoral talks in youth ministry with a discussion with the pastor about some pastoral ‘cases’ because it involves the same role.

Let’s close off with some practical examples to help your creative juices about this flowing:

  • I always group everything having to do with my to do list and other lists I maintain. It takes me about 15-30 minutes a day I’d say to go through my inbox, update my to do list, plan stuff in my weekly or daily schedule, update my other lists etc.
  • I take one block of time a week to work on improving this blog. I collect ideas during the week and put them in Evernote and once a week I work through these and think about what I could do.
  • I group writing blog posts as much as I can. I’d rather write three or four blog posts in one morning than write one every day. I’ve discovered the words and ideas come easier when I’m in this ‘flow’.
  • I wrote the weekly news mail for the youth itself, the youth ministry newsletter for the church, the prayer letter and anything for the church’s website or news bulletin always at the same time.  I could even cut-and-paste a thing or two!
  • I often grouped writing a sermon and organizing that same service, because it helped me to visualize the service as a whole.
  • I do all our laundry whenever possible in two days and then fold multiple loads at once. It’s just the ironing that never seems to get done ;)

Hope you’ve been given some food for thought with this time management technique. Do you have any experience with grouping tasks? How do you go about it?

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