Time management in youth ministry: setting priorities

This post is part of the Time management in youth ministry series. In youth ministry, there’s always more to do than we have time for. If your to do list is anything like mine, it can become quite a challenge to determine what gets priority and what will have to wait. I use very two effective ways to determine my priorities that I’d like to share with you. In another post, I describe the INO system, which is a third way of determining priorities.

In youth ministry it’s essential to set the right priorities. We can’t do it all.

80/20 rule

In short, the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle) says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Some examples for youth ministry:

  • 80% of the students take up about 20% of your time. It’s the other 20% that takes up the remaining 80%
  • 80% of your ‘success’ in youth ministry comes from 20% of what you do
  • 20% of your church does 80% of the ‘work’
  • 80% of the complaints you get come from 20% of the church (and you can fill in the names yourself…)

Well, you get the drift. The key thought here is that you have to focus on the 20% activities (your priorities) that make up 80% of your ‘results’. That requires that you take some time to analyze everything that’s on your to do list (just group them together in general activities or tasks) and then determine their overall importance. Do they contribute to the success of your youth ministry and can therefore be considered a priority, or are they either the ‘finishing touch’ or more or less a waste of time?

I’ve done this analysis a couple of times to get a clear picture of what was contributing to the growth and success of my youth ministry. While it’s not always easy to determine, it’s very helpful to gain insights into your key activities and priorities. By the way, a good way of identifying time-consuming activities that have little result is to do some time tracking.

Once you’ve identified your key 20%, setting priorities on a day-to-day basis becomes a whole lot easier. You just ask yourself: is this in my key 20%? If so, it should get priority. If not, it will have to wait till you have the time.

Covey’s time management matrix

Stephen Covey is famous for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People of course, but in another book he wrote (First Things First) he gave a time management matrix that I have found to be very effective in setting my priorities. It divides all your activities into four quadrants, based on two questions:

Is it urgent?

Is it important?

These are the two questions you can ask for every item on your to do list to determine what quadrant they’re in and therefore, if they are a priority. At first, this may seem like a hassle, but eventually it will become a habit and it won’t take any time.

The key here is to stay out of quadrants three and four, the unimportant stuff. That’s for when you have time to spare, which will be a rare event I’m guessing. It may take some effort to convince yourself to leave the stuff in quadrant three and four be, because they may be important to others and if you’re anything like me, saying no isn’t much fun (which is why it’s a good idea to prevent these kind of activities from showing up on your to do list in the first place!).

Another key is to work out of quadrant 2 as much as possible, doing important things that are nor urgent (yet). Because if you spend the majority of your time in quadrant one with only important and urgent stuff, you’ll end up having a lot of stress because of all the deadlines involved.

Staying as much as possible in quadrant two doing what has priority, but isn’t urgent yet, means you’ll have to plan in the important things and do them before they become urgent. In my experience, this often means blocking time for big things. When we start ‘doing stuff’, we often start with the smaller things and then we end up with no time left for the big things. So plan those in first.

What do you do to determine your priorities? What helps you to say no to certain activities?

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