Grrrr…interruptions are the bane of pastoral ministry. It can be hard to get anything done when a church member pops into your office or sends an urgent text message, or a staff member says, “I just need five minutes of your time.” Even meetings are interrupted by someone choosing to take a phone call or glance at a text.
But when I sit back and really think, I find the worst culprit is me. I interrupt myself, and I’ll bet you do, too. I stop something important I’m working on to answer emails or check Facebook. It’s a huge productivity-buster. I’ve gotten better, and I want to share with you some ideas that have helped me.
Here are four ideas to stop interrupting yourself, from small to big-picture:
- Turn off notifications. If your phone is beeping at you every time you get an email or text, you’ll never be able to focus. You’ll be less present to the important work of visioning, preparing to teach or preach, or even to the conversations you have with others.
- Use a timer. I’ve used a timer for household chores for years. I can do something for 15 or 20 minutes and then I stop. I’ve found it helps with work, too. If you are stuck on the sermon, set a timer and tell yourself you can stop after 20 minutes. Or 40. Then you can take a break. Some people swear by the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. Right now I’m working for two 40 minutes chunks before checking email. That’s how I’m writing this article. If I check email first, my thoughts are distracted by whatever has come in, and I’m not as focused.
- Use an accountability partner. I send my friend Jill an email each morning on what I want to do that day, and another at the end of the day. I’m much less likely to get distracted by unimportant matters when I know I have to report in. And if something truly important comes up that changes my plan, I can report that. Your partner doesn’t even need to be in ministry-Jill is an editor and writer.
- Be clear about purpose. I know my overall purpose is to help leaders grow. If I’m spending too much time reading other people’s writing online and not doing my own writing, I won’t contribute as much to leaders. I’m also thinking about my purpose each three months and every day. It helps me stay on track. I interrupt myself less because I want to achieve my purpose.
Those are the four tips I use in my life, but let’s be honest. I still interrupt myself and lose focus every day. But I get back on track a lot faster than I used to.
What helps you keep on track with your most important work without interrupting yourself?