How to Get Your Evenings Back

Posted in: Leadership

If you are like me, when you get to the end of your workday you still have a substantial amount of tasks left incomplete.  I’m sure you still have emails to process, phone calls to return, tasks to work on.  In ministry there will always be one more thing to do.

You work hard, you set priorities, you do your best.  In spite of all your efforts, it seems impossible to leave the day without fear that you are forgetting something.

I’ve spent many evenings trying to sneak just a little more work into the day.

If I had a few minutes, I would sneak a peek at my email. Or I would rehash a conversation that happened earlier that day that I wished had gone better.

We cannot allow our tasks list to determine when we stop for the day, rest, or spend time with our famlies.  I’ve implemented a shutdown ritual that I follow at the close of every work day.  I leave the office confident that what needed to get done is done, and that everything else can wait until I get back to the office the following day.

Don’t misunderstand; I know that ministry is not a 9-5 job.  As anyone in ministry can attest, reaching a point where all your obligations are handled is impossible.  A friend of mine said it like this,

“Ministry is not like a set of clothes that you can just take off, it’s like your skin, it goes with you everywhere.”

Fortunately, you don’t need to complete a task to get it off your mind.

I’ve realized that much of what I spent my time doing in the evenings was unimportant and could have waited until the following day.  I decided that I won’t allow even a brief intrusion of email and internet surfing to creep into my evenings.

Have you ever made the mistake of glancing at an alarming email right as you pull into the driveway for the night, and then have it haunt you the rest of the evening?

If you want to create margin in your life and give yourself time to recharge, you need to create a daily shutdown ritual.  Below is the Shutdown ritual I follow before I leave the office for the day.

  1. Final review of email: The goal is to ensure that there is nothing requiring an urgent response before tomorrow.
  2. Capture open loops in todoist: This is where I capture any tasks that are still on my mind or scribbled on a legal pad into my official task list.
  3. Review: I review tomorrow’s calendar and task list in todoist to get a clear picture of what is coming up.
  4. Plan tomorrow: Make a rough plan for tomorrow and identify my top three priorities.
  5. Get organized: I organize my desk and clean up my office.
  6. Pack up: Pack up my laptop, grab my keys, coffee mug and anything I want to take home.
  7. Text my wife: Before I leave the office I text my wife that I am on my way home.

By following these simple steps I give my brain confidence that my work is done for the day.

If I find something during my ritual that can’t wait until the following day, I stay a little later to complete it.

Your average email response time might suffer.  But you’ll more than make up for it by accomplishing more when you are at work.  Why?  Because you are rested and refreshed.

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About the Author

Andrew VanDerLinden

Andrew is the Executive Pastor at Community Church in Eastern PA.

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