I like a good dramatic story. I like stories of success where people had a chance encounter or a surprise discovery that will forever change the way they do business, ministry, relationships, etc.
So believe me when I tell you that nothing would make me happier than to wow you with some tale of how I met Steve Jobs late one night at a hole-in-the-wall fondue joint in East London where he shared with me his secret to a life of meaningful work.
But it didn’t really go down like that.
It was actually my father-in-law, and we had the conversation in his kitchen over a couple bowls of Lucky Charms.
Those less-than-dramatic details aside, his advice has produced some very dramatic results. “You need to start taking balcony time,” he explained as I lamented my ever-growing to do list. “That’s where you set aside 3-4 hours at the beginning of every week to work on your life rather than in it.”
“3-4 hours??” I took a break from my sugary cereal to slowly explain that my problem was having too much to do and that I didn’t think adding a 3-4 hour task sounded like the right solution. He listened, and then explained that most of us are drowning in a to do list of items that don’t really matter to the long-term health of our ministries, and by taking that 3-4 hours of balcony time, I could save myself from a lot of unnecessary stress. And maybe even more important than that, I could actually take my ministry somewhere on purpose rather than just running around to put out fires.
The idea of balcony time plays on the image of a factory manager leaving the floor to stand in the balcony and observe the entire operation. From that position, the manager won’t be able to make a single widget, but frankly, that’s not her job. Her job is to make sure that the entire factory is working together as safely and effectively as possible – a job that cannot be done if she is busy doing tasks on the factory floor.
Similarly, during balcony time, I have to get comfortable with the fact that none of my to do list will get done. I won’t answer my phone or email, and I won’t pay those bills. I simply step back to organize my life and ask questions about what my ministry needs in order to be most effective.
Since that bowl of Lucky Charms, I’ve tried to make these hours a part of every week. For me, it has been a game-changing approach to dealing with the many demands of ministry.
Feel free to take a look below at my balcony time checklist. It’s not dramatic or flashy (and it didn’t involve Steve Jobs), but I have to tell you, it helps.
Stage One (Every week):
- Review last week’s calendar (providing prompts for any open assignments) and add/update tasks to task list
- Review the next two week’s calendar, and update task list appropriately.
- Review master task list to identify the items that should be on the coming week’s task list (then put the master task list aside).
- Collect stray papers, notes, tasks, etc., and file them or move them to your task list.
- Name your #1 priority task for each of your roles and add those tasks into this week’s task list
- Health Expert
- Financial Manger
- Spend 30 minutes on your number-one, non-urgent ministry task for the week.
- 5 minutes clearing desk
- Write or review your personal visioning documents.
- Select three mission critical tasks for the coming week (ideally items that will impact your ministry a year from now)
- Draft or evaluate progress toward achieving your ministry’s goals and benchmarks.
- Spend 5 minutes on each of the 3 mission critical items
- Spend 5 minutes on each of your upcoming six lessons, sermons, or talks
- Spend 5 minutes encouraging or coordinating key volunteers (or setting appointments with them as necessary).
- Collect illustrations, stories, and quotes and file for future messages or articles.
- Ask (and answer) “What will I do this week that normal people don’t do?”
Stage Two (Every week, as time allows)
- Complete expense form (as needed) and attach receipts
- Record your mileage
- 5 minutes updating/de-cluttering computer files
- 5 minutes de-cluttering office
- Review family budget (or input into something like Quicken)
- Work on your next getaway or date time.
- Work on your next solo away time.
- Set appointment(s) with at least one coach.
- Work on assignments from coaches.
Stage Three (As needed)
- 30 minutes on recruiting volunteers
- Identify/prioritize the books you want to read.