Some thoughts on productivity and leadership from a creative

Productivity is a growing field among evangelicals and I’m so grateful for this. Gifted men like Matt Perman and Michael Hyatt have helped us think through the best way to do be most efficient in our respective callings. At ERLC we are blessed to have our very own productivity guru, Daniel Patterson, who has taught me much about efficient ways to communicate within an organization and how to establish good work rhythms.

We live in an increasingly fragmented world. As a busy leader, I need all the help I can get to manage my many responsibilities as a husband, father, pastor, executive, team leader, writer, and speaker.

What I am learning is that productivity is not so much a template or a system, but a way of life. Men like Perman and Hyatt and Patterson are helpful not because they offer a one-size-fits-all way of doing things, but because they recognize that each person is wired differently. There are common things that everyone should do, obviously,but what works for some may not work for others. And vice versa. the bottom line is to ask the question, “How best can I invest my time, my gifts, and my resources for the people I’m call to serve?”

This looks a bit different for everyone. For instance, I’m a leader who is also somewhat of a creative. I like to dream and plan and chew on big themes. Ideas come to me fast and furiously. I don’t have a regular writing rhythm. I write when I a) have a deadline b) have an idea. This is pretty much all the time.

However, there is a side to me that appreciates order and discipline. For instance, when I pastored, I planned out my entire preaching calendar for the year, including titles, pericopes, and series. Ironically, it was this kind of high-level planning that spurred my creativity. I take a similar approach to my writing. With each article, I plan the structure, plan the sections, the chapters, etc. Same way with meetings. I don’t like meetings that have no agenda and no purpose.

So I’m a planner and I’m also spontaneous. This tension somehow works for me, though I’m still learning ways to be more efficient. One area I’ve grown is in managing email. I check it frequently on my phone (can’t break this habit), but I’ve disciplined myself to answer email in designated chunks of time. And I realized, about a year ago, that if I get my inbox down to about ten pending emails, I feel good. I don’t have inbox zero and Jesus still loves me. I’ve also learned to “calendar” things like reading time and writing time.

Perhaps the best approach with productivity is to periodically reassess our workflow and to listen and learn from others. When I was a pastor, one of my favorite things to do was to talk to other pastors and leaders and ask them what their days looked like. I learned from them, not by mimicking what they did, but by gleaning little ideas, pieces of their daily rhythms that might work for me. In fact, the day that I released my desire to be exactly like my heroes was the day I began to grow in my leadership.

I think we need to do two things as leaders. First, we must be humble, teachable and adaptable. Secondly, we should hold our productivity tips and rhythms loosely.

God often puts us in community with people who are wired differently than us, whether at work, in the home, or at church. This is how he sanctifies us. We’re forced to work with, to love, to serve those who do life differently than we do. So not only should we find our own work rhythms, we should adapt to the rhythms of others in order to serve them well.

I’m still work in progress. Some days I’m on my phone way more than I should be. Some days I don’t plan my time as efficiently as I should. Fortunately, for these days, we have grace.

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