Rebuilding a Healthy Schedule

A couple months ago I was confronted with my out-of-whack workload and schedule. No one in particular said anything to me, but my body began going haywire. I'll skip the details and just say that it became evident that I was doing too much, resting too little, and had allowed boundaries between work and family to weaken. This made me less effective at work and at home. It wasn't just that I was working too hard, but that I had also started listening to Devil's lies. So I talked with my coach (a pastor who speaks into my life re: gospel, church, family, etc.) who told me to talk to my wife and elders, and rebuild my schedule from the ground up getting their input. I wont bore you with my new schedule, but I thought it would be helpful to share what I did to get myself back on track. It's been a couple months now and I am feeling better and bearing more fruit in my work as pastor, husband and father. Before I could begin constructing a better schedule I had to confront the lies the devil had been whispering in my ear that I was actually believing

I shared these lies on twitter at the time, but here they are again with a little explanation.

Lie #1: You aren't too busy or tired, you're just being a baby.

Lie #2: You should be doing more, not less.

Lie #3: Your church is too small for you to feel so overwhelmed.

Lie #4: If you don't do it, it will fall apart.

These lies overlap quite a bit and were able to hit me on a very personal level. As a little kid I was known for saying "Do it myself!" dismissing help even when I needed it. When failing I was committed to doing things on my own until I exhausted every option. I'm a natural stoic, I guess, and my mantra was "man-up!" even when a boy. The Devil knew how to leverage this lie in my life as a Christian, and could lead me away from two important truths.

1. Every man must work hard in his calling, but every man also needs rest. Only God has limitless power, and even he rested after six days of creation work. God commands us to rest because we are created, finite beings who need refreshment to get back to our calling and vocation. Rest is a good and necessary gift.

2. Man-upology not only leads me away from rest, it also leads me away from working in the strength that only God can provide. The verses that God used to call me into ministry speak to this when Paul wrote, "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." (Colossians 1:28-29 ESV)

Of course there is always "more" to do, but the deceit here is that 1) it all falls on me, 2) that I can do it all, and 3) that it can all be done now. I believed "less is more" applied to what women do with their hair, and what men do with cologne, but not what I did in my calling. In fact even the idea of a nap seemed to me at best a luxury, or at worst an example of laziness (I have since changed my tune).

In tempting me to do more the Devil was leading me to actually accomplish less. I heard wise words early on from leaders in Acts 29. "In your church plant, don't try to do too much too early. Focus on the few essential things you need to do, and do them well." I may have listened to that counsel as it applied to the church, but not as it applied to myself. I had heard and seen other men collapse and burn out, but they were pastoring very large churches, and were surely doing much more than I was, right?

In all of this the Devil was appealing to both my love for the church as well as my own pride. You want the church to be served well? Yes! (This is good.) Then you better do everything, because if you don't things will fall apart. (This is arrogant and demonstrates a lack of faith in God and trust in others).

As I began to "preach to myself" concerning these lies, temptations and sins I was able to begin constructing a workload and schedule that was healthy and allowed me to work hard without burning out. Everyone will have differing workloads and schedules based on personality, calling, stage of life, etc., so what follows is simply what I did to put together a better rhythm and system for life as a husband, father and pastor.

10 Things I Did to Rebuild a Healthy Schedule

1. Establish roles, priorities and goals. This is the starting point. By roles I mean what you are called to do in every context in whch you live life. For me that is most importantly husband, father, pastor. Understanding your role determines your responsibilities. Priorities are those things which have the most value and therefore come first in your various roles. Yes, you have to rank the things in your life. Goals, both short term, and long term, are those results/achievements that you want to see become reality. You need to do this for your personal life, family, and ministry. Ask questions that will clarify steps or processes that will lead to the accomplishment of such goals.

2. Let some things go. You can't do everything you want to do. #1 will help determine #2. You will have to delegate some things to others. This will require you to trust others and, more importantly, trust God.

3. Schedule everything. Yes, everything. Work, rest, date night, play time with the kids, family worship, exercise, sleep, etc. Break each day of the week into hours, or half hours, and plug everything in. This takes some time as you figure out what will and will not fit. Be sure to allow for flex time where possible. This doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous, or that you won't have interruptions. It does mean that you have thought through and worked through everything you need to get done and have found a schedule that makes it possible.

4. Create boundaries. Boundaries are safeguards that protect you and your family. For me, this meant I do not work on my day off. Not at all. Not any more. It also means that my evenings and mornings are protected. See below for more details.

5. Turn off my cell phone when I'm with the fam/wife. By dinner time I'm at home, my cell phone is out of my pocket, in the charger, and the ringer is off. To be present with my family, and to turn off my own brain, I need to separate from my phone. Otherwise while I'm eating dinner, or playing with the kids I'll try to sneak a peek at incoming email, texts, and social media. If there's an emergency enough people know how to get me on my home phone. Putting the phone away when I'm with the family has been very helpful.

6. Kill social media updates and notifications. Those little updates distract me from being present with the fam, or focusing on work. So while I am still tied into Twitter and Facebook, my phone no longer tells me when something new is happening. I have to go and check these networks to interact.

7. Organize and manage my email. My inbox is now consistently empty. When working I either respond to email immediately, or throw it into one of three folders/labels and get to it as soon as I can. Keeping the inbox empty and those folders in play is keeping me organized and less stressed out.

8. Get feedback and input on new schedule/boundaries from wife, coach and elders. Be sure others are helping you work all of this out. Some of us will be tempted to do too much, while others will overcompensate and do too little. Good leaders don't typically struggle with the latter.

9. Give it time. I'm tempted to fall back into bad habits, and not working all the time feels unnatural to me. You will need to stay on top of your new schedule.

10. Anticipate surprises/interruptions. Things will come up and challenge what you're trying to do. You will have to know when to flex, and when to push back.

This is what I've done, and have been working for a couple months now. I'm healthier, happier, and bearing more fruit as a result. I'm actually accomplishing more now than when I was trying to do more before. I'd love to hear what you're ding to balance your life and maintain a healthy workload and schedule. Feel free to share in the comments.

Relevant Resources: Inbox Zero, Merlin Mann (43 Folders) Reverse Engineering your Life, Mark Driscoll (Seattle 2007) Biblical Productivity, C.J. Mahaney (PDF) Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview Series, C.J. Mahaney, Jeff Purswell, and Joshua Harris