One time a mentor casually asked me if I answered the phone on Tuesdays. It took me a moment to process his question but it soon registered; he was asking if I was willing to interrupt my study time for a simple phone call. He knew the Tuesdays were the main day that I used to study for my sermons. He also knew that I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails throughout the day and it would be very easy for me to answer them and stopped the study that I’m called to do in order to prepare well for the pulpit ministry I serve in on Sundays.
I reluctantly answered his question with, “well… Sometimes I have too…” however, I knew as the words were leaving my mouth that I was due for a small lecture.
My mentor continued to tell me that with every phone call I took, even if it was only a few moments in length, I was stealing at least 30 minutes away from my study time. One small phone call may derail my study train enough to cause me to have to take more than a half an hour to get back on track where I left off. He explained how he used to answer the phone or look at his e-mail during his study days. It all seemed innocent, or even productive multitasking, but in reality it was one of the worst time management traps he had ever fallen into. Two, three, four or even five phone calls on Tuesday (even if they’re all only 5 min. in length) could take as much as three or four hours out of my productive study day because it would unfocused my time by focusing on something other than God’s Word.
Dear pastor, I speak to myself as much as I speak to you: we must not allow interruptions on the main day that we study. It is important for us to sit still, stay focused, and study hard. Yes we want to be good shepherds and take care of the issues that come up, but often those issues take away from the main thing were called to do – feed his sheep by preaching his word faithfully. 98% of the time an issue can wait another four, six, or even eight hours until we can return the phone call. However if we give up that precious study time, you know as well as I do, we may never get it back.
Here a few things I do to ensure that my study days protected:
1. I let everyone in my life know that Tuesdays are my study day. This way my elders, my staff, my wife, and my family all seem to leave me alone a little bit better when they know that I’m studying diligently on that day.
2. I will often turn my cell phone and all other notifications off on Tuesdays. However, I always let someone know where I am studying. If someone really needs to get a hold of me they can call the coffee shop that I am at or the seminary library that I’m in. There was a day before cell phones, and believe it or not, people could still be found; on my study day I simply revert back to that kind of communication system.
3. I still check e-mail and voicemail at 11 AM (while I am eating lunch) and 5 PM (before I head home). This way my elders and staff know that I will lease check in two times a day but I only open and reply to the urgent e-mails and voice message. However, this rule is not always a hard and fast rule. If I’m cruising in the middle of writing and studying, I won’t stop to check my voicemail, e-mail, or any other communication device (or even eat) because it’s more important that I keep rolling then I get back to the people that need me at that moment. One the train gets going, I try to enjoy the ride without interruptions.
You see, I didn’t used to protect my study day this firmly. In fact, it wasn’t until my mentor asked if I protected it that I finally realized the importance of doing so. I don’t ignore people on Tuesdays because I don’t care, I ignore people on Tuesdays because I care so much about how God’s word is handled and ultimately communicated to their souls.
So how do you protect your study day? If you are not a pastor, what do you do to to protect yourself from yourself and others so you can do the most important part of your job well?