Worship leaders, have you ever had someone asked you what it is you spend your time doing all week? Here are some of the guesses that I’ve experienced over the years:
- “You get paid to sit around and listen to music, that must be nice!”
- “You’re on staff? You mean they pay you to sing?”
- “I bet all you do is sit around and play the piano all week, right?”
- “Why do you even need a desk? Isn’t your job description fulfilled with a guitar or piano?”
There have been many more. Of course, nobody means to be underhanded when they are trying to figure out just what it is that we as worship leaders actually get paid to do (at least I don’t think they do). And at times, it can be hard to simply explain what it is that we do for our churches.
But here’s the bottom line: if we are privileged to be compensated by our churches for the service that we provide, then we should at the very least be as intentional as we can about also being productive in our efforts.
Granted, God isn’t concerned with our time sheets as much as our supervisors may be, but what God IS concerned with is HIS KINGDOM. And we get to be a participant in reflecting God’s glory here on this earth. The practical manifestation of that sometimes includes our “work.”
So here are some thoughts and tips on being PRODUCTIVE while also being a creative soul.
1) Myth: I’m a creative so systems and processes don’t work for me.
Let’s get this one straight right off the bat. There is no such person in the world who doesn’t benefit from being intentional about time. People who use creativity as an excuse to be lazy, thoughtless, and careless do not serve well. Oh, they might sing or play well, but they do not serve well. This does not mean that every second of your day needs to be structured or logged, but as a creative you actually NEED more structure than you might think you do.
Embrace the processes. Embrace the systems. They are like guard rails on a high mountain road. As creatives we have a tendency to speed through life, allowing inspiration and art to carry us recklessly along the road. Guard rails will keep you from plunging to a fiery crash! Systems and processes will allow you to move through your creative bursts with intention and purpose.
Find a system that allows you to rest and work in a rhythm. Look for daily and weekly disciplines that you can incorporate into your life. Disciplines lead to habits. Habits lead to routine. Routine leads to rhythm. You want your LIFE to be a rhythm. Just like your heart beats in rhythm, without you having to tell it to, our lives should also flow in rhythm as well.
2) Rest well.
Rest – it’s not a word we throw around a lot when we start talking about productivity, but it is a very important word to keep at the forefront of our life rhythms. You will not reach your potential creatively and/or productively if you are not resting well.
This starts with sleep. Regardless of how you feel about burning both ends of the candle, there is no scenario in which constantly NOT sleeping is good for you. Productivity and creativity reach their full potential when you are rested well.
God created Adam on the sixth day and then the very first full day that Adam experienced was the seventh day on which GOD RESTED. The creator of the universe kicks off mankind’s rhythms by starting us off with a day of rest.
Often, we get this rhythm backwards and we work, work, work until we crash. I believe a better pattern is to rest and then to work. Charge the batteries FIRST, and then work from that charge. A crash is not resting well.
Here are some tips for resting well:
- Be intentional about your sleep.
- Sleep in a cool, very dark room.
- Eliminate electronic devices (laptops, smart phones, tablets, tv screens) from your bedroom at bedtime.
- Early to bed early to rise.
- If you feel the need to be productive when it’s dark outside, do it before the sun comes up. Go to bed early and wake up earlier.
3) Identify and knock out your big tasks first thing.
Whether or not you’re a to-do list person is not really the issue. The issue is that you prioritize and complete important tasks. How you actually do that is up to you. But you should make a point to identify 1-2 MUST-DOs for each day, and then spend the first part of your work hours doing that thing. The other things will fall into place.
In my own personal process, I don’t check email until I’ve worked at least 1-2 hours on my big things for the day. Some days, that actually does include email, but I’m not writing and replying to emails until I finished my big tasks.
4) Batch your mundane office tasks like email and and phone calls.
If you spend time in the church office (most paid worship leaders do), then make it a point to eliminate unnecessary interruptions to your big tasks. Having your email ping the server every 5 minutes is a surefire way to be distracted throughout the day. I actually ONLY manually check my email.
I check my email 2-3 times per day. If someone REALLY needs to get a hold of me they can shoot me a text message. I also (for the most part) stay off of facebook during my work times. There are exceptions to this, but generally speaking I save my Facebook surfing for lunch time and after work hours.
If you need to make non-urgent phone calls, plan a half hour block to knock them all out at once.
5) Write something every day.
It doesn’t have to be five thousand words. It doesn’t have to be one hundred words, but you should strive to write down (or type) something that exercises your creative “mental” muscles. I base my own personal daily writing on James Altucher’s concept of writing down at least ten ideas. He shares about this creative Daily Practice on his website:
“Write down ten ideas. About anything. It doesn’t matter if they are business ideas, book ideas, ideas for surprising your spouse in bed, ideas for what you should do if you are arrested for shoplifting, ideas for how to make a better tennis racquet, anything you want. The key is that it has to be ten or more.
You want your brain to sweat.”
These ideas can be creative ways to generate income or observations about movies or books. They can be things you like about someone or something. They can be song ideas or painting ideas. These are not limited to any one area. Each day you choose an indivudal topic, and then you write down at least ten ideas or observations about that topic. It will stretch your “idea muscle.”
6) Exercise. Yep. Move around some.
There are plenty of studies to reinforce the notion that exercise enhances mood and creativity, but in our culture of fast paced events and activities, of cozy comforts and convenience a lot of us find it hard to fit the time to exercise into our schedules. But the bottom line is this: YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE will be enhanced by exercise.
What exercise program should you choose? Which one is the best one for you? The one that you will do. That’s it. No secret formula. No one size fits all, no my program is better than yours. It all boils down to what you love and what you will sustain.
As a CrossFit certified trainer, I love my program. I love my gym. However, I recognize that it’s not for everyone. But there is some form of movement that works for just about everyone. Find what you love and DO IT!
Where should you start if you’re new to this whole moving thing? Walk. That’s right, just go for a walk. Try and walk for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times per week. If you can do it daily, that’s even better. If you can get outside that’s even better. Fresh air and sunlight are also mood and creativity enhancers.
7) Spreadsheet, schedule, calendar everything.
You don’t have to get obsessive with this, but until you get you turn your disciplines into habits into routine into rhythm you’ve got to do something that helps you stay on track. Management thinker, educator, and author, Peter Drucker, said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
One of the best ways to measure something is to track it. My own personal system is a Google Sheets spreadsheet and iCal. This keeps my personal schedule in check and also allows my wife to schedule and share family events. Every event, every meeting, every music lesson, every pick up and drop off at daycare, EVERYTHING is in our “spreadsheet.” Since we adopted this method of tracking our days and weeks, my productivity has increased and my relationship with my wife has seemed to get “sweeter.” It’s hard to describe, but as a “creative” i have the tendency to double book and to forget events and responsibilities, which in turn would bother her. With this simple little spreadsheet system, all that has changed.
Your “log” may look different than mine. That’s ok. I’m not suggesting a specific system for this, but I am suggesting that you specifically implement a system if you don’t already have one! Like I mentioned above, this “guardrail” has given me much needed intentionality during my days. I’m not coasting through my days pick and choosing tasks here and there. I’m attacking them with purpose and creating margin for other tasks to be completed. I’m working more creatively and less distracted.
Ultimately what is happening in my own journey is that my time is so much more efficient. I’m still working the same hours each week. But I’m getting a few more tasks done, that I may or may not have been able to get to before. My mind is much clearer and I’m not bogged down by “office” time like so many of us creatives can be.
I want to be clear that increasing my productivity in this season isn’t racing through tasks quickly and carelessly, so that I have time to do other things. It is working less distracted and more intentional. Which in some circumstances does allow for me to add a task or 2 to my daily output. But what it REALLY does for me in my position is allow a little more time for creative exploration. As a worship leader sometimes we just take for granted that we have time to just create. In my experience, unless you have systems built into your routine to allow for that, it just doesn’t happen.
One other thing that a free and clear mind is allowing: more relational activity. I’m able to mentor and coach more creatives. I guess you could even use the word disciple. My long term goal is to be very productive in the daily tasks so that I’m free to influence people more than I am now. What good is creativity and productivity if it doesn’t lead to spending more time with people!?
What it all comes down to is I feel like my offering of SERVING God for His Kingdom is getting sweeter and sweeter. I think with just a few minor adjustments we can catch our creative productivity up to the intentions of our hearts. We all WANT to serve well. With just a few disciplines we can create rhythms that lead to us being better at serving!
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Russ Hutto is the Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church, where he mentors, oversees and helps lead Family and Student worship environments. He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community.