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Time management in youth ministry: Getting Things Done


We’d never heard of the name David Allen or the book Getting Things Done when we picked it up at JFK airport in September 2004. But it proved to be one of the most valuable and life-changing books we’d ever bought, because it showed us a way to become more productive without working harder. Here’s some of what I’ve learned and how it applies to youth ministry.

The concept of the inbox

Allen describes the inbox as the total sum of everything you have to process, everything you have to do something with. It can be a newsletter you have to read, an email you have to answer, a phone call you have to return or the latest copy of Youthworker Magazine you want to read. It’s all stuff you have to process, to deal with. That is what’s called your inbox. It can consist of anything and everything you have to process and it doesn’t describe just one digital or physical ‘inbox’. The idea is that you go through your inbox regularly, for instance every day. Make sure you collect everything in there, both private and work related, so you have a complete overview.

My physical inbox is a very simple paper tray on my desk (I have three actually: an inbox, one with papers I still have to scan into Evernote, and one with stuff I have to file, like drawings of my son I want to keep). Everything I come across that I have to do something with goes into my inbox. My digital inbox is in Evernote. If I have something digital that requires action, I put it into Evernote. Even emails that take me longer than 3 minutes to answer get forwarded into Evernote (did you know you can email stuff directly into Evernote? Awesome, isn’t it?)

Tip: gather everything in as little inboxes as possible, create one physical one and one digital inbox.

The concept of actionable items

Before I read this book, my to do list would contain items like:

  • Organize weekend retreat for leaders
  • Evaluate youth service
  • Write sermon for next week

You know what the problem is with these things? They’re not actionable. They’re groups of tasks, combined into a general task. And because some of them are so huge, I never get around to start on them. Because how will I ‘organize weekend retreat for leaders’? There are several steps involved and those are the actionable items I actually want on my to do list, like planning a date, checking with pastor if date is okay, call John if he wants to help me organize, etc.

Tip: check your to do list. Are all your items actionable? If not, split them up into actionable tasks.

The concept of a ‘Waiting for’ file

This is truly brilliant. Often when we’re doing something, we’re dependent on others for part of the work. The pastor needs to give his approval, the ordered materials have to come or we need an answer from a parent if we can borrow their van. If we are waiting for someone else, our task becomes un-actionable. Thus, we move it to a Waiting for file, which we review every week or so to check how things are progressing. Anything that we can’t do right now is taken off of our to do list.

Tip: are there things on your to do list that you can’t do because you’re waiting for someone else? Create a Waiting for file, either digital or physical.

The concept of Do, Delegate, Defer (or drop)

When you’re working through your inbox, anything that needs to be done and takes less than two minutes, you do right away (do it). Everything that takes more time you have to decide whether you’re the right person to do this. If not, delegate (Delegate it). If you are the right person, you’ll have to put it on your to do list and schedule a time for it (defer it). And if it’s not actionable at all, either store it in a so called tickler file for later reference or drop it entirely (also known as: throw it in the trash).

Tip: do you ever ask yourself the question if you are the right person to do this? What items are there on your to do list that need to be taken off if you answer this honestly?

This is just a tip of the iceberg of what David Allen discusses in his book Getting Things Done While I don’t use everything he advices (I’ve sort of combined his concepts with those of Stephen Covey), this is one of the few books that has truly changed the way I work for the better. And it got even better when Evernote came out and I could integrate the concepts of Getting Things Done with Evernote, but more about that in another post.

Have you read Getting Things Done? What did you think?

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  1. […] a big fan of the Getting Things Done system, but any other to so system is fine as long as all your to do’s are in one place. All of […]

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